Monday, January 31, 2011

Bestiary of Badassery: Master of Puppets

Sometimes, you start with art.
For the record, Brom has never painted anything I’ve hated. His work is moody, surreal, and gave Dark Sun and Nightbane their _edge_, y’know? His spooky paintings make you ask questions, and the answers to those questions are often monstrous and strange.
Also, I’m reading his book. It’s quite good.
So the questions I’m asking of Mr. Sadness the Clown here are thus:
1) Who are those people, and why do you have them dangling from barbed wire?
2) What does the key open?
3) The little bauble on you right side: what is that?
4) Where did the nails come from? That looks very uncomfortable.
My own answers to these questions are:
1) The young lady is a warforged wizard. She was specifically designed to look and act like a human girl, but there are still signs of her mechanical nature (she looks a little doll-like in places). The young gentleman is a damsel in distress. By the look of it, he is quite distressed right now.
2) The key opens a door that is actually a portal to a place where a dingus lives. The dingus in question is very important to the quest of our heroes. Alternatively, it opens nothing. That would be unfortunate.
3) The bauble on his right side is the monster’s pull-string. If you somehow manage to cut the string off, he has a short time to act before he powers down entirely. In the alternative situation in Answer 2, this is the real key.
4) The nails having nothing to do with this monster. The nails are a gift from the monster in the next room.
So what exactly is this guy capable of? I think, for one thing, dominate effects are in play. Because I like the interactions with players a little more, I’m going to suggest that my own “Possessed” status might be a better choice; players get to choose one action to perform, but the monster chooses the other two actions for them.
Barbed wire is slightly horrifying, so we’re going to have to work in ranged binding attacks that are sustainable and deal damage. The creature will also have horrifying minions that do it’s bidding which aren’t actually a part of the powerset, but more a question of encounter design. Having something of a spider’s web of possessed people trying to kill you can be pretty horrifying.
I’m also thinking that this creature is stationary. He’ll have one of Chris Sims’ donut auras that makes him nearly impossible to kill from range, so the player characters will need to wade through the minions (and maybe a lieutenant or two) to get to him.

Master of Puppets
Level 21 Solo Controller
Medium shadow animate (construct, undead)
XP 16,000
HP 784; Bloodied 392
AC 32; Fortitude 36; Reflex 30; Will 39
Speed 0
Resist 15 poison, 15 shadow; Vulnerability 15 fire
Saving Throws +5 against dazed and stunned effects; Action Points 2
Initiative +15
Perception +15
Blindsight 10
O Shadows of Protection • Aura 3
Attacks that originate from outside the aura deal half damage to creatures within the aura.
O Shadows of Negation • Aura 6
Attacks that originate from outside the aura deal no damage to creatures within the aura.
Standard Actions
Barbed Whip • At-Will
Attack: Range 20 (targets one creature); +24 vs. AC
Hit: 2d10 + 12 primal damage and the target is slowed until the end of the Master of Puppets' next turn. .
Barbed Tangles (artifice, primal) • At-Will
Attack: Burst 1 within 10 (targets enemies in burst); +24 vs. AC
Hit: 2d10 + 13 primal damage and the target is grabbed. The Master of Puppets can sustain this grab as a minor action. If the grab is maintained this way, the target takes an additional 1d10+8 damage.
M The Master's Touch (reliable) • Encounter
Attack: +27 vs. Will
Hit: 4d10 + 8 damage, and the target takes ongoing damage equal to half its bloodied value (save ends).
R Strings on Me (psychic, charm) • Recharge at the beginning of the master of puppets' turn, if no creature is possessed.
Attack: Range 6 (targets a single creature); +27 vs. Will
Hit: The targe is possessed (save ends).
Move Actions
Summon Puppets • At-Will
Effect: Burst 4; The Master of Puppets summons 1d4 Puppet Minions into empty spaces within the burst. Until the end of the Master of Puppets' next turn, Puppet Minions summoned this turn gain a +2 power bonus to their speed. .
Minor Actions
Pull my String • Encounter
Effect: Burst 1 (targets up to two Puppet Minions within burst.); The target dies. Master of Puppets gains 196 hit points.
Triggered Actions
 • At-Will
Trigger: The Master of Puppets is hit with a critical hit.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): The Master of Puppets' string has been cut. It enters into the Berserker Stance. While in this stance, the Master of Puppets adds one die to the damage of all of its attacks and gets a +5 bonus to attack rolls. At the end of each turn, the Master of Puppets takes 75 artifice damage and until the end of the encounter cannot be healed.
Str 20 (+15)
Dex 20 (+15)
Wis 20 (+15)
Con 20 (+15)
Int 20 (+15)
Cha 20 (+15)
Alignment      Languages
© 2010 Wizards of the Coast LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All rights reserved. This formatted statistics block has been generated using the D&D Adventure Tools.

Puppet Minion
Level 21 Minion Brute
Medium shadow animate (human)
XP 800
HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion
AC 33; Fortitude 33; Reflex 32; Will 32
Speed 6
Initiative +13
Perception +12

Standard Actions
m Craftsman's Hammer (weapon) • At-Will
Attack: +24 vs. AC
Hit: 12 damage.
Move Actions
Ain't Got No Strings • Encounter
Effect: (Targets one creature.); The Puppet Minion shifts up to it's speed, beginning and ending the shift adjacent to the target. The target is immobilized (save ends). .
Minor Actions
Liar Liar • Recharge 4 5 6
Effect: The Puppet Minion gains reach 2 until the end of it's next turn.
Str 25 (+17)
Dex 23 (+16)
Wis 22 (+16)
Con 18 (+14)
Int 12 (+11)
Cha 15 (+12)
Alignment evil     Languages Common
Equipment cultist robes, longsword
© 2010 Wizards of the Coast LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All rights reserved. This formatted statistics block has been generated using the D&D Adventure Tools.
Formatting tables in Windows Live Writer is stupid. I may need to look at new blogging software. Again.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Peculiar Curios: Eye of the Storm

As I’m sure you may have guessed, a lot of my creation is driven by the fact that I have certain things happen at my table that make my life slightly more difficult. This would be one of those things. See, I have a couple of arcane classes in my party, and they can be a real bitch to try and deal with sometimes, especially since they’re designed to compliment one another very well. Skull is a lightning-based striker, Frizzle is an area-control wizard, and together they can put the hurt on large groups of bad guys very quickly, from a distance, where I can’t hit them with my paltry villain-powers.
I could change that up, of course, and the Time Mage that I featured in the Bestiary of Badassery on Monday was as pretty solid incarnation of that. Creatures that are very mobile fuck with arcane casters in a big way. It’s hard to run away from a thing that has 12 squares of movement and ranged attacks. The sorceress is definitely the more difficult to challenge; she has built her character on punishing people for hitting her those few times they get the beatings in, and then running the fuck away to the other side of the map (then shooting things with unending bolts of lightning).
So Exalted Iron Skull, Storm Sorceress of the Spine, this one is for you.
Eye of the Storm
Level 18

This banner flies slowly and steadily against the wind, and an eerie calm follows it across the battlefield.
Level 18
85,000 gp
Property (Aura 5) Creatures within the aura take half damage from lightning and thunder attacks that originate from squares outside the aura.
Power (Encounter): Free Action. If you are within an area of effect, that effect ends.
Power (Encounter): Immediate Interrupt. Trigger: You are hit with an attack power with the lightning or thunder keywords. Effect: The creature that made the attack becomes the target for that attack.

Also, if anyone has a really solid template for writing up magic items (because obviously hand-making them sucks… Too much to ask for an “Item Builder?”) I’d love to get my sweaty little mitts on it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Encountering D&D: 5-19 Yulbraxis

There are a few things going on in this session that are interesting for bringing back to your home games. The first is that Yulbraxis, Young Black Dragon starts the encounter already bloodied. The second is the introduction of Chandera, a half-elven priestess that is going to give Lord Drysdale some much-needed healing.

For both story reasons and mechanical reasons, I love that Yulbraxis starts the game bloodied. A level-four solo creature against a mish-mashed party of level threes is a bit much, but if you cut that creature's hit points in half, you might be able to get it done within the allotted hour. Also, it means that your players get to fight a big-ass dragon for the third time in the season without overdoing it on the resources lost before the Boss Battle next week.

The story reason for the dragon having been bloodied could have been a lot more dramatic, in my opinion. Something like this gives you a chance to join a combat in media res.

You come to a square just in front of the inner keep. The broken and bleeding bodies of dozens of men and women litter the cobbles as a battle rages on beyond them. Lord Drysdale fights alone against a cadre of lizard folk and an ebon-scaled dragon the size of a heavy clydesdale.

Drysdale plunges his sword deep into the dragon's shoulder and the creature spews acid and hatred into the square. It knocks the lord to the ground and lunges, burying it's claws in Drysdale's body before turning to look at you.

Two of the lizard men scurry off into the inner keep, dragging Drysdale's body between them. "It's too late," he hisses. "If the little lordling isn't dead, he will be soon." A cadre of guards arrives from the south, behind you.

"Ah good," the dragon whispers, licking its lips. "I was afraid this would be too easy."He roars, then charges.

Now, I know I don't actually give a shit about Lord Drysdale, but I think some players somewhere do, and to have him brought low right in front of you is a lot more dramatically intense than having the dragon offhandedly remark about how he's probably dead right now. Just saying. Plus, describing battle in D&D Boxed Text is a lot more fun than describing a black dragon that's just sort of... y'know... wandering around.

Chendera, the half-elf priestess that is hiding out in the alley, is an interesting addition to the adventure mostly in that I've always loved challenges that involve escorting less powerful characters through a difficult encounter. I mean, she has 35 hit points, and a couple of weak attacks, and she's supposed to survive DRAGON BREATH? Still, there is a nice chunk of experience reward for keeping her alive, so if you can make it happen, it's totally worth your effort.

I'm really loving the allies sub-theme in this final chapter of the season, and it seems that Mr Sims pulled out a lot of stoops in making it one of the more engaging and mechanically interesting chapters thus far. The role-playing opportunities touted for this season have been relatively solid, and it looks like the season is going to wrap up with a bang.

Good on you, Chris. You did a damned fine job putting this together.

In other D&D:E News!

We have some information about the new season, namely how the whole thing starts, and some rules changes that are coming into effect. It looks like we're going to be doing the "Y'all signed up with a caravan of settlers," thing. Which would be fine, if it didn't so closely resemble the opening to the car-wreck that was D&D:E II: Dark Sun. I do hope this Encounters season more closely resembles Sims' work on D&D:E III. I'm not at all familiar with Mr. Thompson's work as an adventure writer, so I can't say as I really know what to expect.

If you come in later in the season, you're going to be a first-level character. This is going to make some people happy (me) and others a little less happy (players who habitually forget their shit). If you make a new character for the second chapter, your new character is going to be first level. If your character dies, I'm pretty sure the Death Penalty is still an option, as opposed to rolling up a fresh character in the third chapter.

Characters are still using Essentials. I don't really have anything to say one way or the other on this. Essentials is their "introductory D&D product," and Encounters is an "introductory D&D event," so they just sort of... work together. There was an announcement about a hard-core D&D event that doles out the harshness later this year, and since it's aimed at more established players, I hope that it uses options from both D&D 4E Core and D&D Essentials. This is especially true if they want to try and convince us that Essentials is not D&D 4.5 (and I, for one, am not convinced).

Treasure distribution is getting shifted around. I can't say as I ever really cared for the way loot was given out in Encounters. To be honest, this is a lot more like the method of treasure distribution I use in my home games ("A'ight, roll me a d10, and I'll compare it to the packet chart"). I think it's a solid move, though there is a lot more room for maxing out your character's gear when you give the players the option to choose their own outfits.

The season will be using the Fortune Cards, both in the game and as rewards. Those cute reward cards you got during previous sessions are gone, replaced with a product that is going to need some serious reworking to be usable at most tables. I've already decided that I'm going to play the cards straight at my D&D: Encounters tables, but they will not be making much of an appearance in my home game. Unless the Game Master (me) is the one using them.

That's all I've got for this week, folks. Join me again next week, when we're kicking the crap out of Benwick (and I'll tell you all about how I shot him in the face).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bestiary of Badassery: Addendum I

Teamwork wins games.

I've been thinking about this since I read this article, and I've been meaning to address it since. I considered just writing up a couple of guys to showcase how teamwork can be applied to monsters to create a more cohesive threat to your players, but then decided the idea has enough merit that it could stand alone as it's own article.

Tonight, my players faced off against a team of bad guys calling themselves the Orphans. The Orphans are a crack team of bounty hunters who have fought by one another's side for years, facing down some tough bounties, helping one another through the toughest of times and celebrating with one another when things are going well. In a lot of ways, they're like an adventuring party. My cohort Matt suggested that I should use the Mossling Vinecrawler to represent them, but that wasn't really the flavor I was going for; I didn't want my party to fight themselves as much as I wanted them to fight a different party, one that had studied them and knew their tricks.

So I put a team together, led by a Phase Huntress, and gave each of the creatures in the encounter a Teamwork Aura and a Teamwork Ability. The abilities I used are listed below.

Teamwork Aura (Aura 1 - 5)
Whenever an ally is within this creature's Teamwork Aura, this creature may use powers with the Teamwork keyword. In addition, while this creature is within the Teamwork Aura of an ally, he or she gains a +1 bonus to defenses.

Planning Ahead (minor, at-will) * Teamwork (On the Striker)
Choose a damage type and an ally within your teamwork aura. Your next attack deals damage of that type. The chosen ally's next attack deals damage of that type.

Set-up (free action, at-will) * Teamwork (On the Defender)
Trigger: You hit with a melee or ranged attack.
Effect: The target of that attack grants combat advantage to everyone within your Teamwork Aura.

Clear a Path (standard, encounter) * Teamwork (On the Controller)
Burst 2 within 10
Attack: +[Level Appropriate; in this case 18] vs. Fortitude
Hit: You push the target two squares. For each square that you would move a creature that the creature cannot move, deal 1d6 damage to that creature.

Shut Down (standard, recharge 5) * Teamwork (On the Leader)
Range 10
Attack: +[Level Appropriate; in this case 18] vs. Will
Hit: Choose a keyword that is not "melee," "ranged," or "basic." The target cannot use powers with that keyword (save ends).

Planning Ahead and Shut Down are specifically geared towards my group (Mass Resistance and two characters built on element keywords - lightning and cold - have made the group cocky). This is a team of well-trained, badass bounty hunters; they have studied the player characters extensively and have a pretty good idea of what they can do. Some other ideas I've tossed around:

Linebacker (minor, at-will) * Teamwork
You and every ally in your Teamwork Aura gain a +1 power bonus to defenses.

Go for the Knees (free action 1/round, at-will) * Teamwork
Range 10
Attack: +[Level Appropriate] vs. Will
Hit: The target grants combat advantage until the end of your next turn.

Phalanx (move, encounter) * Teamwork
You shift to a square adjacent to an ally within your Teamwork Aura. You and that ally gain a +1 power bonus to your AC until the end of your next turn.

Inspiring Presence * Teamwork
Allies within your Teamwork Aura get regenerate equal to the number of enemies within your Teamwork Aura.

Pass Along (encounter) * Teamwork
Trigger: You hit an enemy with an attack.
Effect: You shift the target one square to a square adjacent to an ally. That ally makes a melee basic attack against the target.

Patty-cake (encounter) * Teamwork
Trigger: You and an ally both hit a single creature this turn.
Effect: That creature is dazed until the end of your next turn.

Really, I could go on like this all night. The basic gist of it is this: sometimes it's better when the bad guys are organized, fight together, have clear goals that they have put extra effort into off-camera. Sometimes, the bad guys have trained to fight you, and that will come through in the powers you choose to give them. If you give your bad guys teamwork powers, give them powers that will specifically hinder your players' characters.

Alternatively, if you want to give some of the local gangs in your setting some flavor, give all of the gang members the same teamwork powers. If every one of the West 57th Street Boys has "Go for the Knees," it gives them a unifying identity, even if nothing else about the characters is the same. This is a mechanic I'll be returning to as the Astral Assault heats up.

Bestiary of Badassery: Tick-tick-tick-tick...

If you want to explore new design space, break a rule. Not all of the rules, just a single rule. When Wizards of the Coast wanted to bust into psionics, they broke one of the rules of their design and gave psychic characters Power Points instead of Encounter Powers. Today, I'm going to play around with turn structure with a bad guy.

In specific, I think this bad girl is going to act at each player's initiative -1. So if you have a party of four guys, this girl gets girlfour turns to act. To balance this, her attacks are going to be more annoying than painful; she's going to be a melee controller with a lot of status effects. Mobile, super-fast, and escapey, but not very strong. I’m imagining her as something sort of like Nightcrawler was from X-men II, where he’d bamf in and kick some ass, but he wasn’t exactly breaking bones.
I like this picture for a few reasons. One, there’s been a lot of talk about depictions of women in gaming over the interwebs the last little bit, and it took me a good long time to find a picture of a woman dressed like she was ready to fuck somebody up without having to fuck somebody first. Second, she looks fresh-faced, like a new recruit to whatever Final Fantasy military she’s joining, which belies her ridiculous time-mages-fuck-with-your-life power-level. I gave her the Elite keyword and set the experience higher just because of her action economy; her hit points and defenses are still pretty low, but given half the chance she is going to fuck with an entire party’s world. Two of these could very well look like a total party kill.
I'm going to start with a phase spider base. At level eight, the phase spider can move, climb and teleport six squares, has one solid at-will attack, a decent long-range recharge and a triggered teleport that gets really annoying for the  melee characters. Also, it has a solid stealth modifier.

Our baddie's attack isn't going to slow her opponents. That just seems mean, given that this girl is acting as many times as the entire group of good guys. Instead, I'm thinking a two-square push will increase her mobility, keep the melee characters off her for a bit, and make her ranged attacks all the more terrifying. We're going to take the damage bonus off, though, making it an unmodified d8+0. We're also going to take off the possibility of unconsciousness, because being unconscious fucking blows.

Her triggered action is going to reflect her time-manipulation abilities even further. Rather than just teleporting across the board whenever anyone gets close to her, whenever someone misses her with an attack, the attacker is moved to the bottom of the initiative. To even out what could be a horrible stacking of turns against the player characters, she's going to have some pretty low non-armor defenses and average armor.

I think I may actually stat this girl up to level 16 and use her to hunt down my player characters this week.
Phase Huntress
Level 8 Elite Skirmisher
Medium shadow humanoid (human)
XP 700
HP 87; Bloodied 44
AC 22; Fortitude 16; Reflex 18; Will 18
Speed 6, teleport 6
Initiative +11
Perception +7
Tremorsense 10
Terrifying Speed
The phase huntress rolls initiative once for each opponent she faces. She gets a full set of actions on each of her turns.
Standard Actions
m Frightening Strike (poison, sleep) • At-Will
Attack: +13 vs. AC
Hit: 1d8 + 1 damage, and the target is pushed two squares.
M Ethereal Strike (teleportation) • Recharge
Effect: The phase huntress teleports 10 squares and makes a Frightening Strike attack.
Triggered Actions
M Temporal Disruption (temporal) • At-Will
Attack (Immediate Interrupt): Targets the triggering enemy; +11 vs. Will
Hit: The target's initiative is reduced to 1. At the beginning of the next round, the target is moved to the last place in the initiative order.
Skills Stealth +14
Str 17 (+7)
Dex 20 (+9)
Wis 17 (+7)
Con 15 (+6)
Int 5 (+1)
Cha 10 (+4)
Alignment unaligned     Languages Common
© 2010 Wizards of the Coast LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All rights reserved. This formatted statistics block has been generated using the D&D Adventure Tools.