D&D 4th Edition 4E Hack: "Fiction First" Playtest





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    4E Hack: "Fiction First" Playtest

    Mar 09 2011: Updated the copy of the rules. Still out of date, though.

    Tonight was the first night of my playtest for my 4E Hack which I've been calling "Fiction First". (If this should be in the 4E House Rules forum that might make more sense.)

    First, The Cast:
    Me, who wrote the hack;
    E, whom I've played played various indie games with, old-time RPGer with little D&D experience;
    Mk and Mt, two guys I've just met who came out to play with 3.x experience mostly.

    Second, The Setting:
    In my playtest guide I have a section called "How to Play". A bunch of it is pre-game stuff, setting up the map, the setting, explaining it to the players, etc. I gave them a setting guide full of stuff based on my (randomly-generated) DM's notes for the hex map I made.

    Here is the opening in the Player's Information Guide:

    Opening
    THE NENTIR VALE

    A SETTING FOR ADVENTURE AMID THE TWISTED RUINS OF THE BORDERLANDS

    WELCOME TO THE BORDERLANDS

    The Empire of Man is dead.

    Far from the decaying corpse of civilization lies the broad borderland region known as the Nentir Vale. Wild and untamed, bandits, wild animals, and monsters roam freely throughout the vale, threatening anyone who fares more than a few miles away from the surviving settlements. Cults perform human sacrifice and arcane rites to foul ends.

    The land is ancient. Scattered with ruined manors, broken keeps, and cities of glass and steel that give rise to strange creatures, vast treasures and deadly curses lie in wait for daring adventurers. Death and glory are around every hill.

    Away from the petty squabbles of a dying Empire, the Nentir Vale offers a chance for a bold man to make his mark upon the world – to grab his destiny in both hands and guide it where he will.

    How will you fare?


    I described the setting in quick terms, and then we went about creating characters.

    Third, Character Creation:
    I have a different system for making characters. I have a series of steps that should be followed - but weren't, oh well - for making characters. I was expecting more familiarity with 4E, so this part took a long time to get through; everyone was new to 4E.

    The players start with a vague idea - we had "an arcane caster", "a cleric", and "a basic fighter".

    Next step: roll 3d6 in order, bumping up stats lower than 8 to 8, and changing one stat to 16.

    This is to make sure that you don't know what or who you're going to play before you start playing, but you're always guaranteed an effective character. It's supposed to put the focus on the game around the table; your guy isn't what you think he should be before you play, he is defined by play.

    E rolled average for his Warlock, Mt rolled slightly above average for his Cleric, and Mk rolled very well for his Warlord (an 18 and two 17s after modifiers were applied).

    Next: Race & class. We ended up with E playing a Tiefling Warlock, Mk playing a Dragonborn Warlord, and Mt playing a Dwarf Cleric of the Raven Queen.

    As the only guy with 4E knowledge I didn't step in and offer advice as to what makes a good party. I didn't go into roles or anything like that. This is part of what the game is about - testing the players. They're supposed to learn by playing. I figured this party wasn't too bad, since the healing could lessen the effect of poor choices.

    Mt decided to worship the Raven Queen based on the "liturgies and rites" part of the game. Instead of gaining your Daily Prayers back after an extended rest, you have to perform a liturgy (interacting with the community, performing the liturgies of office) or a rite (a secret ceremony that requires Sanctified Incense). Mt liked the Raven Queen's style the best.

    I just realized: We forgot to pick Oaths for the Cleric. Oaths are Quests that, if you break them, you get a penalty until you spend some cash and perform an Act of Contrition (a ritual).

    Next: Skills & background. I changed the skills from the ones such as "Intimidate" and "Dungeoneering" to skills such as "Dragon's Awe" and "Primordial Blood".

    This change is supposed to do two things: add flavour and colour to the character, and make it so that you can't just say "I Intimidate him"; you have to describe your action in detail.

    We ended up with a very devout, very dwarven dwarf (a "true dwarf", carved from the stone), an awe-inspiring dragonborn, and a deceitful tiefling who grew up in the gutters of the only human city.

    Next: We went out of order and we picked powers and feats and gear and added up all the numbers. This took a long time - no one was familiar with 4E, so this meant character creation took a while.

    Next: Once again, out of order, I asked the players what Quest they wanted. They looked over the information in the setting guide, thought that the gnolls raiding the road sounded interesting (though E's Warlock also wants to check out a huge skeleton of a snake-like creature), so they got a Quest to take them on.

    Next: Warlocks have to role-play out their Pact. This is so we can role-play around it and the details of the Pact become important to the game.

    The Warlock described how he went to an abandoned old wharf with the elders of his clan (his background skill was "Raised on the Streets of Stormwatch"; one of the things he had to describe was how he survived, and he said that he joined a cult). They performed the incantations, drew the magic circle, and called upon Asmodeus.

    I rolled on the table to determine what Asmodeus' goal was and what he needs in order for the Warlock to refresh his Daily Spells. Corruption (of the Warlock) was the goal and Blood Sacrifice was the Pact Obligation.

    We role-played it; now the fact that we had gone out of order and neglected to detail the character's over-arching goal reared its ugly head. I had to ask E what his PC's goal was; he answered that he wanted his raise his clan up high, make it feared and respected by humans and tieflings.

    Asmodeus responded by saying that, if the Warlock used Asmodeus' power and got what he desired - and was still unsatisfied - his soul would belong to the Prince of Devils.

    Everyone was happy with this so we moved on. If there had been some conflict we would have rolled the dice, but there was no need.

    This gives me a lot to work with; now I know how Asmodeus will respond, how I can mess with the PC.

    Next: Finally we got around to detailing over-arching goals. The Warlock's was as above; the Cleric wanted to create a necropolis of the living mixing with the dead; the Warlord wanted to lead a great army (or something, I wrote it down but I don't have it with me).

    With the characters detailed, we started the game.

    I am attaching copies of the playtest documents here as well, if you want to check them out.
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Last edited by LostSoul; Saturday, 5th May, 2012 at 03:37 AM. Reason: new file
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
    -- Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms"
    Burning Empires: Boldaq
    Keep on the Shadowfell

 

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    Starting play:

    I described the town of Winterhaven, where the PCs began. I see it as a western-style town, people wearing dusters and cowboy hats. They went into the inn/saloon, and I described how the people looked up from their drinks at the strangers, then went back to drinking.

    I added a little colour about how the PCs saw the results of a gnoll raid on a caravan - heads on pikes, poorly-constructed crucifixes, ruined wagons. Then I told them about the rumours that were on the lips of the people - caravans raided along both roads heading out of town, food being stolen by ettins, hobgoblins, bandits, outlaws, and gnolls, an insane wizard controlling a town, and the actions of Lord Padraig.

    The PCs asked about Lord Padraig and if he'd be interested in some troubleshooters; they were told they could meet with him tomorrow. Nothing else pressing, they went to sleep.

    I wanted to describe the plight of the people and how their actions could influence their lives.

    The next morning they spoke with Rolf, captain of the guard, who offered them a 5gp bounty on each gnoll or outlaw; a 75 gp reward for bringing the outlaw Douban the One-Eyed (who flies a griffon and works with the gnolls) back to town to face justice, or 50 gp dead; and 75 gp for destroying the gnoll encampment. As well as any of the loot they find there.

    They came up with a plan to take a caravan and try and draw out the gnolls. They spoke with Bairwin, the local merchant, hoping to get him to give them a wagon for free.

    He wasn't about to do it. The Warlock spun a lie about taxes stolen by the gnolls - hundreds of gps - and how Bairwin could get a cut if he invested with them.

    At this point we had a conflict in the fiction, and when that happens you have to go to the Skills in Play system I wrote. We went step-by-step and followed each point. Each player described exactly what his character was doing; we translated this into mechanics; rolled the dice; and determined the outcome.

    Bairwin was impressed by the dragonborn's size and presence, taken by the dwarf's logical ideas, and believed the tiefling's infernal lies. But he still didn't trust them - yeah, it's a great idea, but who are you?

    This led to another application of the skill system, because we had a conflict that needed to be resolved. The PCs got a +2 bonus to their roll because it was directly related to the first one, which they succeeded at.

    The dragonborn spoke up: "I am a dragonborn, my word is my honour." The others tried to Aid but failed, but it didn't matter, the dragonborn succeeded. Bairwin felt like he could trust him and gave them a wagon.

    The PCs debated getting a henchman or some hirelings, but decided that they needed to gather some coin first. So the three of them headed off into the dangerous wild.

    Just how dangerous is it out there? They would soon find out.
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
    -- Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms"
    Burning Empires: Boldaq
    Keep on the Shadowfell

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    The First Encounter

    They travelled west along the King's Road out of Winterhaven Valley, passing through the villages of Fairstocks and Rivencliffe, into the Gardbury Downs. They found it slow-going in the Downs and before long the sun was setting. They decided to make camp.

    The Warlock spent some time along, trying to connect with the infernal messenger of Asmodeus (Kefir, I believe). He used his "Infernal Whispers" skill to try and get an idea of where the gnoll lair was. He failed the roll, at which point I realized that I should have rolled the check behind the screen. Something I need to add to the rules. I simply told him that he got no response and we moved on.

    Watches were set. Shortly before midnight, on the Cleric's watch, he spotted some shapes approaching. Two men alongside three beetles the size of horses. The Cleric kicked the wagon and woke the other two PCs. The strange men called out: "Give us the skinny one and you can leave." The dragonborn responded by threatening them, and we had a combat on our hands.

    I rolled for a random encounter and got "Beetles". I was supposed to set it at level 3 but I got my math wrong and it ended up being level 5! Very dangerous. I rolled for their reaction and got "Uncertain", so I decided that they would try to negotiate but at the hostile action they attacked.

    We used my "Skill Combat" system here. Interesting results.

    The first round: in the skill combat system you begin by declaring actions, everyone at once. Originally the bad guys were going to make a pincer action with one beetle coming up the middle, but when the dragonborn charged into the middle, I had them change their action - the two men moved up in the middle instead, and the beetle spit a web at him. It's a "free-and-clear" phase; you don't lock in until everyone's okay.

    The cleric moved off to handle one of the beetles while the warlock cursed one of the men and blasted him with eldritch fire.

    After actions were declared, we set modifiers and DCs. Then everyone rolls their dice and we see what happens, actions being resolved in order of high roll to low.

    What happened: the warlock bloodied one of the men, stinking corpse-like flesh falling off of him - a ghoul! One of the ghouls ripped into the dragonborn and hurt him quite badly, and he was immobilized.

    Second round: When things went to hell. The warlock dropped his Daily, Flames of Phlegethos (or whatever) on the ghoul but missed and the ghoul and beetle started tearing into the dragonborn, who was trying to second wind and inspire himself, stunning him and dropping him unconcious.

    The cleric moved up but missed with his attack.

    At this point we started the third round and they realized how bad it looked for the dragonborn. I mentioned "Action Points" and was met with blank looks - I forgot how new they were to the game! Even though I want the players to learn by playing, I wasn't too keen on killing off a PC through ignorance, so I allowed a ret-con and let the cleric spend an AP to get a Healing Word off on the dragonborn.

    Third Round: More fighting. The cleric moved up to Turn Undead as the others surrounded the weakest link - the stunned dragonborn. Meanwhile the warlock, who was on the wagon, was being dragged off as their mule freaked out and ran for his life. A single beetle was following him.

    Luckily for the dragonborn, the cleric rolled high and went first, blasting one of the ghouls into nothingness. This, and another healing word, saved his life as the other monsters were tearing into him.

    This triggered a morale check, but it was passed.

    There was a bit of confusion as one of the beetles moved past the cleric; normally there would have been an OA, but none was declared, so no OA. "If you don't do it, you don't do it." More learning!

    Fourth Round: The ghoul ordered the beetle to stand down and told the cleric that he should leave or his friend would die. The cleric blasted the ghoul and the ghoul changed his action to attack the dragonborn. The other beetle bit the cleric and the one beetle just stood down - confused by the ghoul's orders with its little insect brain.

    I discovered a weakness of mine. While I can keep a lot of things going on in my head, I have trouble communicating them. I need to work on that, make sure that I explain everything clearly. The players didn't understand why the beetle wasn't doing anything; I knew, of course, role-playing the beetle: stupid little thing, not wanting to eat its master's meat and totally confused about what was going on.

    Anyway, the cleric blasted the ghoul, bloodied it with radiant damage, and granted the dragonborn another save - which he made, and then was able to breathe fire and hurt the beetles. (Meanwhile the warlock was slinking about, blasting the beetle following after him.)

    This triggered a morale check which the ghoul failed. By a lot.

    Fifth Round: The bad guys ran for it. This time the players declared OA actions as well as standard ones. One of the beetles was cut to shreds but the ghoul and the two others were able to escape.

    At this point the PCs rested for the night, and had no other encounters. They recovered a healing surge.

    *

    Impressions: Very bloody, very chaotic system. Combat turns on a dime. More immersive than the normal system. Must work on my descriptions. Still took a long time to resolve the fight (45 minutes), but I think this was because of unfamiliarity. Still have to work the kinks out. Need to be clear about what modifiers are applied to the roll - when are skills rolled vs. attack rolls? Morale checks are awesome.
    Last edited by LostSoul; Friday, 11th June, 2010 at 06:35 AM.
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
    -- Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms"
    Burning Empires: Boldaq
    Keep on the Shadowfell

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    LostSoul, all cool stuff! (Unfortunately I can't give you XP at this time.)

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    I just got back from the second session. Good game!

    We added a new player, I'll call him S. The first thing we did was to roll up a new character. 3d6 in order, exchange one stat for a 16. He ended up with a Human Fighter.

    This went pretty fast since I was able to devote my full attention and walk him through it. I also created character "Playbooks", a booklet for a character sheet with all the little changes I made and more information about important rules procedures.

    While S was picking his skills, the PC's character emerged. He chose the Human racial skill "Social Class", which ended up being defined as a refugee from the southern lands, a town ravaged and pillaged by gnolls. He was an apprentice blacksmith in his town, hardened by his refugee ways, and one other skill I forget.

    That part of character creation is my favourite - it really acts as a springboard for creativity.

    Anyway, with his character built, we got into play.

    The PCs were enjoying the early-morning mist on the Garbury Downs and spotted a traveller, a human armed with a wicked glaive. They introduced themselves to each other and since they were both out hunting gnolls for the Lord of Winterhaven, they decided to team up. Nice and simple.

    They decided to head further into the Downs, travelling along the road. At about noon they spotted a strange tunnel, stone polished smooth, its entrance covered in images of human sacrifice and snakes. Intrigued by this, they paused; E's Warlock asked Kefir, the infernal messenger of his Patron, what might lie within. They heard groans and spotted some figures moving in the shadows near the entrance.

    This was a skill check, and I took the time to go through the procedure step-by-step. Identify conflict, describe actions, choose modifiers, choose DC, roll, determine outcome. The roll was a major failure; I decided this meant a wandering monster. Once I looked at the result, I knew who they were and what they were doing there.

    A group of androgynous humanoids wearing silver masks and heavy silver robes belted with short swords appeared. I made a reaction roll to determine how they would react; I got "Uncertain, monster considers offers".

    These rolls are all about constraints around which to applying more DM judgement and creativity. They worked out really well! The strange beings called out to the PCs: "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

    The PCs had no idea what these strange people were doing in a tunnel clearly marked as the domain of Zehir and wanted to know more. They made a roll, which they failed, causing the strange masked beings to get agitated. "Leave this place, it is evil, you do not want any part of it!"

    This was a skill challenge, the number of successes needed set by the reaction roll (4 in this case). It ended as the PCs determined that the masked beings were no threat and decided to move on, with the idea of coming back later.

    A couple of random rolls and events are set into motion. I am liking how those rolls are shaping play but aren't controlling it!

    Next up, we try out the "skill combat" (or "hits combat" as we're calling it now) again with some of the clarifications I've made over the week.
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
    -- Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms"
    Burning Empires: Boldaq
    Keep on the Shadowfell

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    2.2 Hits Combat

    The PCs move down the road still looking for the gnolls, trying to come up with a plan that will allow them to ambush just a couple of the foul demon-worshipping creatures.

    The new human fighter, Ian, being a survivor of the gnoll wars, knows a thing or two about gnolls. He makes a knowledge check and gains some information, such as the fact that they go crazy in the sight of blood. Their plan, then, is to catch something and use its blood to bait an ambush.

    Ian, being a refugee, knows how to live off the land. He heads out into the Downs, looking for game paths, hoping to set snares and catch a rabbit. Aided by Baern the dwarven cleric, who sets the traps, they eventually catch something.

    Two notes here:
    1. I decided on the fly that hunting takes 4 hours for a check with no penalty. I have no idea if that makes sense but since it's the same period as wandering monster checks, I figure it will work.
    2. Ian has a skill that's something like "Refugee of the gnoll wars" or something along those lines. It gives him a +5 modifier to his roll when he uses that skill. It's not tied to any single stat; which stat is used depends on the description of the action. In this case I think it was Int, reflecting his knowledge of game trails. Baern made his own check, but since both were working towards the same goal, it has to be an Aid Another action.

    They catch the rabbit and head off closer to the area where the gnolls have been known to raid. As the sun sets, in the distance they see a giant skeleton of unidentified, snake-like creature with all-too-human skull running along the ridgeline. It's massive - the creature's skeletal remains run along the ridge for about a mile.

    They explore closer; this was something that Loukamon va Taroth the Tiefling Warlock (played by E) was interested in checking out. They draw nearer and see hundreds of rats swarming and gnawing the bones. They make out strange runes carved into the bones as well.

    As Baern and Loukamon draw nearer, the rats pick up their scent. Some begin to wander towards the pair. The PCs talk it over while I pick out some minis, and then when I'm ready I describe what's going on: hundreds of rats all crawling over each other, red eyes glowing in the twilight, start descending the ridge towards Loukamon (avoiding the earthy dwarf for the fresh meat of the tiefling).

    More rats drop down from the bones, and now there are thousands of them. These rats seem to be in a frenzy, not fleeing like normal rats would. An effect of the bones, perhaps?

    We go into the skill combat, running step-by-step. Encounter distance is rolled. Surprise is out. No reaction roll since I know what the rats want (in my notes it says they attack on sight.)

    We declare and describe actions. Loukamon sets fire to the brush at the base of the ridge as the rats swarm towards him and Krix the Dragonborn Warlord who is rushing in to breathe fire. Ian moves up cautiously with his glaive, stabbing at rats on the edge, and Baern calls upon the power of the Raven Queen to blast the rats with divine radiance.

    The description of the action determines the modifiers applied. Everyone except Loukamon is using the "Item" modifier since they are making direct attacks; Loukamon, since he's burning the brush, "directly affecting" the rats, gets to apply a skill.

    Setting the DCs is the next step; this is easy, since it's about the rats, so we use their defences.

    Everyone rolls at this point; the order of the rolls determines which action is resolved first from high to low (though it's all pretty much happening at the same time). Loukamon burns the brush but the rats, mad with hunger, rush through, getting badly burnt. They climb all over him, biting and gnawing at him; as Krix gets into the melee to breathe, rats swarm all over him as well.

    Krix lets loose with a gout of flame and kills hundreds of rats, injuring many more. Then Baern lets loose with his radiance and hundreds more are destroyed in a burst of grey light. Ian gets in there and stabs a few rats but doesn't make a dent in the swarm.

    Next round:

    Loukamon and Krix ended up with a few rats crawling in their pants and armour (ongoing damage). Loukamon was bleeding pretty bad from all the bites and hundreds of rats were about to swarm him. His action was to try and shake them off - spending his Second Wind; he made a roll to determine when in the round he'd take his action, but I forget what it was (total defence). Meanwhile the other guys were busy pounding on the rats.

    Loukamon was saved by the awesomeness of the other PCs, who beat up on the rats. Ian declared his action as stabbing at the rats; when Baern destroyed them, he had no one to attack and therefore lost his action.

    One point about this: the description of your action carries a lot of weight. Baern was able to get a bonus to his attack roll because he said something about the Raven Queen which tied into his Devotion skill (the rule is: when you have another skill that applies, you get to add +2; if you have a situational advantage based on the description of your action, you can add another +2). Ian lost his action - the rats he was trying to kill were dead - because he didn't describe an action that would allow him to act if those rats were killed before he went.

    It also makes combat pretty chaotic, which I like.

    At this point only two rats were around, triggering a morale check. The rats failed and they fled.

    The PCs applauded themselves for a job well done and set out to investigate the strange bones.
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
    -- Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms"
    Burning Empires: Boldaq
    Keep on the Shadowfell

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    2.3 Exploration

    Loukamon called upon the infernal knowledge of Kefir once again, asking for a sign as to what lay within the bones. Loukamon felt his blood rush and heart pound. "Gold," Kefir's ethereal voice whispered.

    The PCs investigated the rune-carved bones. The rats had been gnawing on them but there was no sign of any bite marks - they were smooth, save for the runes. Baern smashed his hammer against the bone but did not make a dent.

    The runes in draconic talked about the glory of Zehir, how he gave the world to the yuan-ti to rule, and how he won victory over imposters and false prophets. Strange cities were mentioned, cities that none of the PCs had ever heard of. There were also images - of humans being sacrificed to snakes and yuan-ti, and of yuan-ti being sacrificed to other yuan-ti at this very spot.

    Baern attempted to communicate with the very stone, being a creature of primordial blood and, as a true dwarf, carved from the earth itself (those are two of his skills). He failed the check - a marginal failure (above the Easy DC but below the Moderate one). The earth had nothing to say; the bones had been there longer than the stone had. Baern figured that the bones were covered and now were being revealed by erosion. Ancient indeed!

    Baern attempted to understand the nature of the skeleton - a construct? undead? Being able to see The Order in All Things - specifically, the Raven Queen's influence - he scoured the area, hoping to get a glimpse of insight into what this was. He rolled and failed again.

    One good thing about sandbox play is that I don't have to worry about failed skill checks derailing the plot. The PCs can wonder about this or not, come back and check it out, research it, talk to a sage, or just leave it alone. There are enough other things out there to keep them interested - like those silver-masked beings, just who were they and what were they doing in a tunnel carved with images of human sacrifice?

    Another note: Loukamon's player was interested in these bones when I first presented him with the "player's information package", so he chose that as a quest - to explore it. Since they explored it, he got Minor Quest XP of the level of the location (2). A nice chunk of change.

    It was nice to see that cycle kick in - player interest in a setting element - exploration of the setting - mechanical rewards. We still have to see the next couple of steps in the reward cycle of my game: back to town where you interact with NPCs and see the consequences of your actions ripple back.

    It was getting dark by this time so they decided to set up camp for the night. Hopefully things would go better for them tonight...
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
    -- Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms"
    Burning Empires: Boldaq
    Keep on the Shadowfell

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    2.4 Regular grid-based combat

    After asking the players who was on watch, I rolled for wandering monsters. They were resting for 8 hours, and that meant two rolls. The second roll was a 1 on 1d6 - indicating wandering monsters!

    As part of the large, monthly cycle of my game, each monster/humanoid lair or human settlement has to take certain actions. They need to feed themselves, engage in trade, raid and steal, go to war, etc. The gnoll lair that's nearby has a number of human slaves working as farmers; not enough to feed everyone, though, so there are gnolls roaming the countryside. In addition, there's enough surplus food to allow the gnolls to perform sacrifice and ritual and raid the road.

    Instead of rolling on the wandering monster table to determine what was coming, I used the fact that the gnolls are raiding this hex to determine what was encountered: 50% of a gnoll encounter, 50% of a random roll on the table. It was gnolls.

    Then I rolled the d20 to modify the level of the area to determine the level of the encounter. I did this in full view of the players; I got a 14, and that means level + 1. This geographic area is level 3, so a level 4 gnoll encounter was what was called for.

    I came up with 2 gnoll huntmasters and 3 hyenas. (Oh crap, did I screw up again?) I told the PCs that they heard the hyenas laughing in the distance; Krix, on guard, roused the party and they quickly made an ambush.

    Now I didn't go through the procedure for wandering monsters - rolling encounter distance, surprise, reaction roll, etc. I skipped encounter distance; I allowed the PCs to roll for surprise. They achieved surprise, though Krix decided to lie down completely out of sight and avoid making a check, meaning his surprise round would be a move action to stand.

    The gnolls and hyenas were drawn to the blood of the rats and the rabbit and started gorging themselves. Then the PCs attacked.

    Ian charged a gnoll, missing it; Baern charged a hyena, missing it as well. Loukamon cursed a gnoll while Krix stood.

    In the first regular round, one gnoll delayed in order to get his Pack Attack bonus. So the PCs all went first. Ian tried to cleave high through one gnoll and into a hyena, but I described the gnoll blocking the blow up high with his handaxe. (The description is important! That's why it's "fiction first".)

    Loukamon shot at the gnoll with an eldtrich blast and missed while Baern unleashed a burst of radiant energy which missed pretty much everything. Krix came rushing in, charging the gnoll, then spending an action point to smash it again with one of his Triggered Exploits.

    A note: I've changed Martial encounter powers to work off triggers. During power selection you choose a trigger for your power - a fictional condition that must be met before you can use the power. If the conditions are met, you can use the power as often as you'd like. Krix has a trigger that goes something like, "When your foe is not guarding his head" or something like that.

    Since I had described the gnoll's parry, the gnoll was not able to guard his head and the trigger was met.

    On the gnoll's turn things started to go bad for the PCs. All those hyenas, all those pack attacks, high attack bonuses, low AC - Ian took some serious damage; he may have been dropped, even though one of the gnolls couldn't use his bow.

    Nothing went the PC's way save one successful Daily Exploit by Krix which sent one gnoll running. Ian was downed and dragged off by a hyena to be eaten. Krix and Baern tried to keep each other up but there was too much damage going around. Loukamon couldn't roll over a 10 the whole fight!

    The end was near. Three PCs down; only Loukamon stood. Finally the gnoll huntmaster told Loukamon to surrender. "You sold your soul, you're a crap sacrifice. You will work the fields as a slave. The others will go to the Beast of Butchery!" Loukamon told him to burn in hell and soon Loukamon was bleeding out on the ground.

    Krix amazingly stabilized himself (20 on the death save!) and he tried to get Baern back on his feet (heal check, though Krix doesn't have any Heal-related skill). He failed and brought the attention of the gnoll, who tried to knock out the valuable dragonborn - their blood is worth its weight in gold as ritual components!

    Krix took the blow and considered standing to fight but decided to run for it - he did have some really good stat rolls, after all!

    As Krix fled he saw the gnoll binding Loukamon and Baern's wounds; poor Ian was being devoured by a hyena. The wounded gnoll who fled earlier returned and the pack, down only one hyena, did horrible, horrible things to the mule that Bairwin loaned to them.

    Good times!

    edit: After using "Hits Combat", the regular grid-based combat felt really, really slow - but much more precise. The rule is that the players can decide which set of rules they want to use when they get into a combat. The encounter with the rats took maybe 20 minutes, and we're all still learning the system, with me trying to take extra time to guide the players; the regular combat took over an hour.
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
    -- Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms"
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    2.5 Wrapup

    The past is prologue:

    Can the lone dragonborn warlord make it back to civilization, with miles and miles of hostile terrain between himself and safety, gnolls on his trail lusting after his rich dragonborn blood... but are there potential allies in those strangers in the silver masks?

    We'll see!

    Since XP is doled out after extended rests, and since Krix was the only PC to survive (there were no more encounters after that one, I had already rolled), guess who got all the XP? Krix, for surviving that horrid experience, got 100% of the XP for the session! Not bad.

    He needs to take a full day of rest to level up, though - can he make it? Exciting!

    Next time the other players will be making new PCs. I've told them that there's no separation of character-player knowledge, so they know what's going on. (That's one thing we'll have to keep an eye on, to see how in influences decisions.) However, Loukamon and Baern are still alive - in gnoll captivity. How long does Baern have to survive before he's sacrificed to Yeenoghu? How long before Loukamon dies of overwork and exhaustion in the slave fields of the gnolls, or ends up being eaten alive?

    I think I'll roll for it.

    The new PCs may decide to take up the rescue of the old PCs as a Quest. If they are able to successfully complete their Quest, not only will they get XP, but their old PCs will act as Henchmen. This will put a lot of time pressure on the new PCs; I think the players now realize that they aren't tough enough to take on the gnolls (learning through play, awesome!), so they'll want to get as much XP as fast as they can. However, my system only grants you 1 healing surge per extended rest (and all item powers and resets action points), and getting Daily powers can take a day in itself.

    There's a ticking clock... can they do it?

    It'll be a good test of the system to see if the difficulty is too much or to little.

    I also like the fact that all of this was set up by the players; I did nothing but sit back, maintain consistency of the game world, describe it to them, and run the NPCs. So far so good; we'll have to see what happens when other, long-term aspects of play start to arise.
    "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
    -- Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms"
    Burning Empires: Boldaq
    Keep on the Shadowfell

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    Quote Originally Posted by LostSoul View Post
    The description of the action determines the modifiers applied. Everyone except Loukamon is using the "Item" modifier since they are making direct attacks; Loukamon, since he's burning the brush, "directly affecting" the rats, gets to apply a skill.

    <snip>

    Loukamon and Krix ended up with a few rats crawling in their pants and armour (ongoing damage). Loukamon was bleeding pretty bad from all the bites and hundreds of rats were about to swarm him. His action was to try and shake them off - spending his Second Wind; he made a roll to determine when in the round he'd take his action, but I forget what it was (total defence). Meanwhile the other guys were busy pounding on the rats.
    Can you say a bit more about the mechanics of this. In particular, (i) what is the "item" modifier, (ii) what skill did Loukamon apply, (iii) is the damage being dealt just the normal amount, and (iv) how do you handle conditions other than ongoing damage?

    Quote Originally Posted by LostSoul View Post
    the description of your action carries a lot of weight.

    <snip>

    Ian lost his action - the rats he was trying to kill were dead - because he didn't describe an action that would allow him to act if those rats were killed before he went.

    It also makes combat pretty chaotic, which I like.
    Is there a Burning Wheel influence here, or from some other system, or just your own ideas?

    Quote Originally Posted by LostSoul View Post
    It'll be a good test of the system to see if the difficulty is too much or to little.

    I also like the fact that all of this was set up by the players; I did nothing but sit back, maintain consistency of the game world, describe it to them, and run the NPCs. So far so good; we'll have to see what happens when other, long-term aspects of play start to arise.
    How did your players respond to a near-TPK in the second session?

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