Category Archives: D&D 4E

Useful Charts: Treasure by Party Level and Sly Flourish’s DM Cheat Sheet

Back when I started running a 4th Edition D&D campaign, the one thing I always lamented as being absent was a decent way to randomly generate sweet, sweet loot for my players to encounter. Then along came the Essentials Dungeon Master Guide, and in the back of it on page 248 was a beautiful little chart titled “Treasure by Party Level”. My prayers were answered, and now I use that chart to fill out my adventure planning.

As a refresher on how to use the chart if you haven’t used it recently or before, you roll 1d20 once for each reward type. The table assumes a 5-person party, so if you have a different party size, subtract 2 for each person under 5 and add 2 for each person over 5. If you roll a 20 on any field, always take the best result regardless of the party size modifier. Personally, I also modify gold rewards by d%, but that’s because I find round amounts of gold a bit silly. ;)

I’ve transcribed the chart to a Google Document at http://bit.ly/zf1S48 for your pleasure. (There’s two sheets on this document: the first one should be readable on your monitor, the second is larger and should print to exactly one full page.) If you enjoy it, consider picking up the Essentials Dungeon Master’s Kit. The smaller form factor book is easy to carry around, and its comes with other useful tools and tokens.

Lastly, I cannot post one useful chart without referencing what many of us agree to be the penultimate Useful 4th Ed Chart: Sly Flourish’s Master DM Cheat Sheet. It contains standard DCs, damages, defenses, HPs and attack rolls for every level and is invaluable for those of us who make on-the-fly decisions in the game. You can access the PDF at Sly’s website at http://slyflourish.com by selecting “dm cheat sheet” from the right side column.

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D&D 4E Comment Thread Bingo!

Are flame-filled threads about D&D 4E getting you down? Why not enjoy yourself with D&D 4E Comment Thread Bingo!

4E Comment Thread Bingo

Thanks to digitaldraco for the original idea, and the Stewards for fleshing it out (particularly WolfSamurai, countingku, hyperform, and debhaal).

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Gaming Memories: No Limits and Spectacular Failure

Ever since PAXEast came along in Boston, I’ve been looking forward to it each year. Especially after last year, when I devoted most of my time to the Wizards of the Coast gaming area. Now I love my regular gaming group. We meet every couple of weeks and it’s a ton of fun. However, I really love playing with new gamers and people who haven’t gamed in a long time. There’s an excitement there that’s contagious when players realize or remember why this game is so fun. I’ve seen it not just at PAXEast but at Game Day events or when introducing the lone new person the game. Two things seem to alight this realization more than others. The idea that you can try anything and the idea that failing can be fun.One of the modules I ran for WotC at PAXEast was Learn to Play. If you have time at your next con I suggest running a few of these. Few people are more enthusiastic to play then the people who wait in line just to learn. The good folks at WotC gave us some kick solid advice. “Tell them to a roll a d20 and get them to have fun.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, but it really is the core of the game, and it helps to think of it that way.

Players, even experienced players, can get distracted or overwhelmed by their character sheets. Getting players to ignore the sheets really helps showcase what makes tabletop games different than video games. There are no limits to what you can try. You’ll never hit the invisible wall because the designer didn’t script the rest of the street, because you have the DM to continue on with you.

I had two groups move through a small dungeon to eventually face a young white dragon. Both groups got to the dragon in different ways, and both approached it differently. Both groups also had their smiles spread wide when facing this iconic foe and experimenting with the limits of the game.

The first group fought the dragon. They got the dragon between two rooms and flanked it the best that they could. Their health faltered and the dragon seemed no worse for wear, until the rogue got an idea. “Can I back flip onto the dragon?” he asked me. “You can try, but its would be a very difficult check to make.” A look of worry. “However, it would probably be pretty awesome.”

So the rogue went for it, flipping several feet down the hallway and then flinging himself into the air. His acrobatics check was particularly low. The dragon jerked his neck, the rogue slipped, and he fell belly side up in front of the dragon’s maw. They loved it, and the rogue even offered to spend his action point to try to get in an attack as he was falling, which of course I allowed. The party was looking pretty bleak when time ran out. I used a smile face die to epilogue each party member, with the players helping to interpret what each face meant.

The second party found the dragon all together, and it was quite the surprise. He was sleeping. They woke him. Someone had a feeling that this was bad news so they started lying. I don’t remember all the details but it was hilarious. They took a wrong turn, they were just leaving, they all just simply love white. They kept built off how the dragon reacted to each one and it just kept getting more elaborate. Then they ran. Their first instinct was that they lost. After all, they had not defeated the dragon. I corrected them. They had not lost, they simply failed to kill the dragon. They succeeded in living, with treasure no less! I retold the fate of the previous party and they felt pretty good. They got it. They won. They went into an encounter where they had assumed dragon death was the only path to success. That would have been the goal in a video game. Then they decided how they would win. I like those smiles of realization.

I can’t wait for Learn to Play next year.

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Swords to Ploughshares (Part III)

I recently participated in a Halloween blog carnival called “On A Night in the Lonesome October,” where I submitted two adventures. One of them was a 2nd-level D&D adventure titled “The Village Above The Sea.” In it, 2nd-level adventurers stop off and stay in a seaside hotel in a quaint, out-of-the-way village, populated by some very strange characters. However, things are not as they originally appeared, and some of the villagers start exhibiting some extremely bizarre and frightening behavior. The plot thickens when the town drunk, a former adventurer, tells a tale of a secret cult that his group discovered in his youth, that were committing blasphemous acts with the minions of some piscoid god that they had all pledged themselves to. He was certain that he and his cohort had stomped out all traces of the creatures born of this unholy union, but stops there. Events conspire to suggest that there might once again be something unsavory lurking in the waves beyond.

After discovering an elaborate set of natural sea-tunnels carved out of the bluff underneath where the village was seated, the party discovers that the villagers above had been getting kidnapped, and terrible things done to them while they were put under a mind-spell so that they would not remember it. However, the hypnotism had side effects, and that was what originally alerted the adventuring party that not all was what it appeared in this village. After carving through half-human and half-piscoid abominations, maniacal cultists, and other horrible creatures that lurk in forsaken places underground, the party finally discovers that all of it was aimed at summoning an aboleth through a portal, which would enslave the minds of all in its presence and use them as its corrupt minions to further its dominion within this realm as well.

With the aboleth defeated, the mind-controlling effects over the villagers finally abolished, all that is left is to lead the prisoners out from the caves and back up into fresh air. Things have a way of not turning out as planned, however, and it turns out that what should have been assumed to have been the high priest was just yet another crony, and that the real instigator of all of the horrible events was the village priest, who had become corrupted in the mind while abroad, and had heard the whisperings of this beast and become insane. Furthermore, he had planted seeds of taint within the bodies of some of the villagers, which causes them to fall to the ground, die, and rise back up as horrible zombie-like minions, which then try to spread their corruption to the other villagers.

What results is a race against time to first, try to defeat the mad priest, but at the same time, try to save the villagers (who are all locked in the temple with the monsters). Ideally, it seems that the fastest way to solve this problem is to kill the priest, and hope that whatever deep corruption he is drawing upon to command these monsters will be vanquished with his defeat. Certainly it seems the most logical course of action, given that he seems to be in control, more or less, of all of the creatures who are murdering villagers.

But what if he is just under the influence of some external power himself? Wouldn’t simply killing him as the most expedient way to solve a problem be, at the end of the day, murder? Certainly most of the villagers who were spared by the act would probably be able to forgive the situation, given the circumstances, but this is a man, who for all intents and purposes was lawful good until he became corrupted. Another lawful good character might have serious reservations about murder, whether justified or not, especially if it could be possible that he could be saved. It would be terribly unclear whether he was hypnotized or under a spell, or whether he actually had become completely mad. It doesn’t make sense to just try to quick whack him over the head and carry him off, but he also doesn’t seem to be in any sort of state where anybody would possibly be able to reason with him. So what’s the alternative?

I suppose a start would be to try to quickly dispatch the monsters; the villagers who had already been slain by his dark machinations, to wipe them out as quickly as possible so that more villagers could be saved. It is clear that they are dead, and only reanimated by evil magic. The entire time, he will be launching necrotic bolts, and probably laughing maniacally, so it will be sort of hard to not want to hit back, but it would give the whole encounter a very interesting dynamic if it were impressed upon the players that knocking him off was “off limits.” Or even better would be for them to draw that conclusion on their own.

But what would happen once all of his minions were defeated and he was trapped, with 3-4 angry warriors bearing down on him? Would he relent? Would he try to escape? Would he at last try to talk his way out of it? Maybe even if he was irreversibly insane, he would even try to convince them that he had been under a spell, and that he was better now to throw them off. It is this sort of situation that creates memorable encounters for GMs and players alike, and I’m not exactly sure what I would do if this situation arose. It could even be a quest opportunity: seek out this person, this spell, this item, that can clear his mind of evil. The villagers will keep him prisoner until then. All of these options are far more interesting than just simply killing him, and it lays the foundation for many more roleplaying experiences and story points. It allows the players to dictate where the game moves next.

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Swords to Ploughshares (Part II)

The first D&D adventure I ever wrote was a reasonably short one, where the adventurers (level 1, obviously) are hired for a relatively simple task of clearing out a swamp of dangerous frogs, which have been terrorizing the halfling inhabitants of a small farming village. However, the twist was that the frogs had been stirred up by an ancient, buried secret that lay deep within a cursed subterranean temple, which once was home to a cult who worshipped Pelor. What are Pelor worshippers doing underground? This was a sect that believed that life and death was a cycle, much like light and dark, and had embraced a contemplative lifestyle where they meditated on the mysteries of life and light whilst shrouded in darkness.

Flimsy, I know. In order to even access the temple, the players had to either break down the door (which was heavy oak), or else defile graves in order to dig up two keys. Either prospect was not very appealing. With break DCs what they were in the PHB1 days, a level 1 character would almost have better luck shooting the door with arrows until it felt apart than running at it and trying to knock its hinges off. I suppose I’d have allowed a Thievery check to simply remove the pins from the hinges and a Strength check to lift the door clean off and set it aside, but I never really had a chance to test what players would, ultimately, come up with.

The deeper, darker secret was that the cult’s purpose had been abruptly altered when they discovered a portal to the Shadowdark deep within the recesses of the cave, through which dread Things were trying to emerge. In order to protect the world from these creatures, they constructed a very elaborate seal, craft from solid silver and solid gold, and took shifts uttering incantations over the seal to keep the bonds strong. This worked great for a while, until the members of the sect became old, feeble, and died. For some reason they never thought of recruiting, apparently, or sending for help from a more mainstream Pelorean temple. I just made up that word, Pelorean. Maybe they feared persecution? I never thought that part through.

Alas, stranger tides did turn and the last surviving member of the sect, in a desperate bid to try to keep the seal over the portal secure, went through the blackest, darkest ritual to become a wight, under the misdirected notion that becoming undead would enable him to maintain his holy mission for the rest of time. As things like this happen, as time went on, he became more and more corrupt as his soul slipped further and further away, and rather than shedding holy light down upon the portal, he was feeding it with necrotic evil. The wildlife in the swamp outside the halfling village becoming crazed and perturbed was only the first hint that something far more evil was afoot, and thanks to the quick thinking of the adventurers, they’d come up with some way to destroy the wight, and secure the seal.

The wight was a scaled-back deathlock wight (mostly so he was easier for level 1 or 2 characters to hit), but all conversation options ultimately led to him attacking. He also had a neat raise minion undead power I stuck in there to make it a bit more interesting. The way I had the adventure end was after he was defeated, the last bit of power escaped from him and flung the portal open, which caused evil energy to pour out, which inadvertently causes the cave to collapse around the portal, sealing the evil in.

However, wouldn’t it have been even more interesting if there was a way to, ultimately, reason with the wight? At least misdirect him long enough for a thief or some other character to slip by, unnoticed, to at least pull something over on him? If I was a player in this adventure, I’d have been very interested in the documents that the sect left behind (discoverable earlier in the adventure), plus all of the untold knowledge kept safely by the wight in his secret study (he had constructed a dormitory directly adjacent to a small room containing the portal and surrounded himself with all of the things he felt he needed to pass the eons), and would really have liked to have engaged him, if nothing else, in a philosophical debate, which may, eventually, have reminded him of his earlier days when he was still human, alive, and passionate.

Perhaps he could have been convinced, at last, that his mission had become corrupted, and that he was no longer performing the duty which he had sworn to uphold, and in fact was acting, inadvertently, against his own express desires. He certainly couldn’t return to the world above, he was a wight, a thing of evil, he would not be accepted. He couldn’t remain where he was, his corruption was feeding the tear between worlds and making it stronger, his very presence acted to draw more evil things to the threshold. It would be very easy to make the player chacters pity the wight, instead of hate him, and make them want to try to come to an alternative outcome from killing him, at least killing him in cold blood. Even if he attacked, they could attempt, if they sympathized with him enough, to merely subdue him, and try to bring him to sense later.

Heck, if, as a player, I liked him enough, I’d probably even try to come up with some way to cover him up in a cloak, smuggle him out of the city under cloak of night, and secret him away to some temple of Pelor somewhere else in the world, try to explain the sad situation to the priests there, and let the wight live out the rest of his life in penance there. Not only would that have been a very unexpected and novel solution for the problem, but it also would set up the opportunity to have a very powerful (albeit unusual) NPC contact for other adventure seeds. I think that, while alignment can be really useful a lot of the time, at other times it can get in the way of role-playing. If there is an outcome to a situation that is more interesting as a player, but which contradicts alignment, I’d be very tempted to ignore alignment for the moment and just see how the situation played out. Those sorts of moments are often much more memorable than simply smashing the bad guy and calling it a day, and their effects can last for a much longer period of time.

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Because sometimes, talking it through IS the best option…

The following is a Dungeons & DragonsTM 4th Edition theme.

Negotiator

The negotiator is a master of words, capable of talking in multiple languages and with the necessary etiquette and reverence to adequately handle the various races of Nerath. The negotiator is sometimes called a diplomat, or ambassador, and is sent by towns, and royal courts to arrange deals that can help civilizations grow through trade, or survive by stopping the outbreak of war.

Creating a Negotiator

Adventuring negotiators are often royal ambassador’s, travelling with other adventurers for safety, and backup should the negotiations fail, and they have to fight their way out of the meeting place. Negotiators are strong willed, and charismatic people, but often have other hidden talents, such as incredible stealth to infiltrate foreign libraries to conduct research on existing trade agreements, or the ability to wield a fine sword – a sign of wealth and upbringing, or they could be masters of arcane lore, with years of dedications spent reading historical texts.

Starting Feature
The main qualities that make a good negotiator are an extensive knowledge of languages and a strong ability to act diplomatically.
Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus to Diplomacy checks, and you learn one new language (other than Supernal).

Level 5 Feature:
Sometimes negotiations don’t go smoothly, and you must lie to, or threaten those you are dealing with people.
Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus to either your Bluff or Intimidate skills checks.

Level 10 Feature:
After so long on the road, and after so many negotiations, you have an uncanny ability to understand people’s intentions by the way the stand, act, and move.
Benefit: Once per encounter, when you are granting Combat Advantage to another creature, you can cancel the Combat Advantage as a Free Action.

Optional Powers

As you travel around the wilderness and towns of Nerath, you learn new ways to interact with creatures, humanoid or monster alike. The sheer force of your personality allows you to exert your influence on beings, and bend them to do your bidding.

Level 2 Utility Power
In order to negotiate successfully, you need to have the best information that is available, and while you might not actively have the knowledge, those around you might.

Helpful Knowledge
“You rely on your allies for the information you need at a critical moment.”
Daily * Charm
Free Action * Personal
Trigger: You fail a skill check
Effect: You re-roll the skill check, and use the modifier of an ally within close burst 5 instead of your own modifier.

Level 6 Utility Power
Despite your best efforts, sometimes negotiations fall apart and the only recourse is to resort to violence. Unfortunately for you, when things go sour, your in the thick of it, surrounded by tribal leaders and their brutish entourage. In times like this, the right parting words can give you time to escape.

Soothing Words
“Sometimes, the power of words can calm a savage heart, giving you time to prepare your defences”
Encounter * Charm
Standard Action * Close Burst 3
Target: 1 creature in burst
Effect: The target cannot attack you until the end of your next turn. If you are adjacent to the target, you can shift up to half your speed as long as you end your movement adjacent to an ally.

Level 10 Utility Power
When the tide of battle begins to turn in your favour, it’s time to use your most authoritive voice, to call on your enemies to surrender. While it never really works, it definitely weakens their will to carry on fighting.

An End To Hostilities
“With your leader dead, don’t you think it’s time to hand over your weapons?”
Daily * Charm
Free Action * Personal
Trigger: You reduce a creature with the Controller or Leader keyword to 0 HP
Effect: You can make a Hard DC Diplomacy check, with a penalty equal to the number of remaining enemies on the battlefield. If you succeed, all enemies in close burst 5 take a -2 penalty to attack rolls, damage rolls and defences.

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