War of the Burning Sky WoBS - Epic level play report/discuss


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  1. #1
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    WoBS - Epic level play report/discuss

    I am midway through running module 10 in 4e. The PCs are Epic level , 25th level for the first half, and I am running into some serious problems with the pacing and encounter design. My purpose for posting here is to get some help with how I can go forward with the game.

    First off, I don't blame the writers for this as they were converting the modules over before there was any real play experience at epic level in 4e. I also don't expect a rewrite {altho that would be nice}.

    M10: Sleep, Ye Cursed Child, level 26
    M11: Under the eye of the Tempest, level 28
    M12: Beating of the Aquiline Heart, level 30

    The modules were ported from 3E mechanically, but were not altered for the new paradigm of encounter design and pacing. 3E favored long adventuring days with attrition mechanics, and was able to pull it off as each combat was relatively not time consuming. With 4E, each combat averages one hour to play. With 18 combat encounters and an average of 2 combats per session, at one session a month this module would take 9 months to complete one of these modules as written.

    So how can the depth of the modules, the hazards and dangers that keep mere mortals from attempting the heroes mission... be emulated without resorting to a grind-fest?


    I am going to attempt to trim these modules down based on the following general guidelines for Epic adventuring day in 4E:

    Each adventuring day generally consists of a three phase encounter
    o Plan and research the target {skill challenge or brainstorm session. Fail/success impacts the next}
    o Get to the target {usually skill challenge that burns resources, fail/success impacts next}
    o Fight the target

    Make it matter. Use skill challenges or gloss over things meant to wear down the parties resources. 'Lethal Obsidian' is useful here in burning healing surges and daily resources with player involvement.

    Make it Big. This is Epic level play and the PCs should be able to nova in the main encounter. Of course this means that the NPCs should get to nova as well.

    Never Nerf without obvious, and massive in-game reason/plausibility.


    For M10, which we are mostly done with, I am slicing up the Dream Palace encounters and replacing the entire mess with one encounter with Freedom. I have yet to decide whether to use a skill challenge to handle the 8 external rooms, or to use Zone combat and have the encounter range about the palace in a non-grid format.

    I am planning on handling the Trilla/Annihilation encounter using Zone combat in order to give tactical depth to the scene.

    I haven't dug into M11, and am considering skipping it completely. The story line is so awesome I feel that cutting it down would be a disservice.

    I have dug into M12.. and it is a grind fest. There are three main plot points spread over 4 to 7 adventuring days. This can be set up with the first and last plot points being a full day event with a major combat encounter at the end. The middle plot point.. the war, can be spread into a morning and afternoon set for each day. The PCs can pick and choose if they take on any missions, and the PCs victory point score can push them forward of the planned timeline or drop them back. Something like:

    Battle Progress:
    Morning of day one, arrive.
    6 Successes to pass afternoon of day one. Missions include Badlands Battle Wave 1, Wave 2, Cav General, Monstrous Assualt, Golems, Army of Darkness and the Necromancer. Each can be a minor success or minor failure.
    8 successes to pass morning of day 2. Missions include Flayed Druid, Night Ambush, and Abduction. Each mission takes 4 hours and can be a major success or failure.
    10 Successes to pass afternoon of day 2: The Slog. Each mission takes an hour of time and includes things like assassination of key targets, spying, hold the line, counter-intell, recon, or other idea the players come up with. Each successful mission garners a minor success.
    12 Successes to pass morning of Day 3. Into the Dragons Teeth. Missions include Daunting Dragons, Murder Tunnel, and Edge of History(Part 1)



    My apologies for the wall of words!
    Aut Tyalie is Elvish for "Go Play Games"


    Best of EnWorld: Stalker0's Obsideon Skill Challenge, Stalker0's Guide to the Anti-Grind

 

  • #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Primitive Screwhead View Post
    For M10, which we are mostly done with, I am slicing up the Dream Palace encounters and replacing the entire mess with one encounter with Freedom. I have yet to decide whether to use a skill challenge to handle the 8 external rooms, or to use Zone combat and have the encounter range about the palace in a non-grid format.
    It's been a while since I read the modules, but I recall that's what I thought when reading through the Dream Palace: "In 4e this should be a single combat encounter coupled with a skill challenge."

    Are you using xp, by the way?

    I think it'll be a lot easier to create a good overhaul if you simply announce "everyone's leveled up now!" than tracking xp.

    It would also be easier if your party hadn't already started with module 10 or if the party level was already a bit higher, since I suspect redoing the modules will lead to them being rather short.

    Not having played the modules and not having played an epic level campaign yet, there's probably not a lot I can help with beyond generalities.

    You may want to consider asking for help about redesigning encounters in the 4e forum to get more exposure. I think there are several posters with 'epic experience' who might help who don't visit this sub-forum.
    In a sense, the D&D game has no rules, only rule suggestions. - Tom Moldvay

  • #3
    I would not skip #11 , it was the best of the back end modules (which IMO are not as good as the earlier modules). #12 is an insane grind fest, and by the time we got here my group (and myself) were more interested in Zeitgeist than the long grind it seems the author intended #12 to be.

    My party likes combat encounters so I left the fights in for getting successes for the battle. I just altered the math of the number of successes needed; as written there really isn't enough stuff to do to get the required number of successes. The part I really cut down was the trench warfare portion at the tail end of the battle. While perhaps more realistic, spending multiple sessions trying to deal with this does not meet any definition of fun that I am aware of. Assuming the party took advantage of the dwarf deserter (my party did) I just handwaved it and went right to the fight with the general. I also handwaved a lot of the "trials" of getting to the heart, which again are much more suitable to 3e than 4e. For this part I mostly described things that happened and PC's reactions drove things.

    But I'm not sure my solutions will work for your party, the biggest problem my party had with the back 3 modules was boredom. We had 3 pretty tuned strikers and it was rare for a combat to make it to round 2, and maybe 2-3 combats across all of these modules made it to round 3. I used to joke with them that if a monster was still alive at the start of round 2 I'd arbitrarily TPK the party.

    I think the toughest potential combat in what you have left is the palace at the start of #12 . Pay attention to where the statues are in the hallway that are scripted to grab players; there are encounters in the 3 rooms right next to that. If you run it vanilla like I did that will pile 4+ encounters into the party at one go which 1) is a borderline TPK and 2) takes hours and hours to run. This was an area that I should have totally reworked to make fewer encounters and to make them more interesting (although the idea of having the guards be swarms was a good one).
    Last edited by rangda; Thursday, 23rd August, 2012 at 10:13 PM.

  • #4
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    I actually haven't ever looked at the 4e conversion of WotBS past the 1st adventure. I hope the pacing was a bit more feasible in 3e, and I'll be conscious of the risk of tedium when we get there with Z.
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  • #5
    One thing to be aware of is that in epic play the gaps between roles become much, much larger. In my game my epic strikers could do ~100 HP damage per round (at least until the reds ran out), the sorcerer could do ~70 per round per target to multiple targets. The leader/defender hybrid on the other hand did ~25 per round. Those gaps are huge, a 3 striker party can chew through mobs much faster than a 1 striker party. Tuned warlords and clerics will be just as absurd with high end healing, making parties with 2+ of them nearly unkillable.

    Once you get to epic combat really has to be fine tuned for the target party, which is hell on a module author. Building some flexibility into the combats would help a lot as the GM could tailor the fights for his party. By flexibility I mean making sure encounters have a palette of monsters and the GM can easily change the ratios of particular monster types in the fight to make sure the encounter can stand up to the PC's. Solo's are a disaster in epic, they don't get nearly enough actions to pose a real threat against the PC's.

    I'd also recommend you resist the temptation to go state (stun, dominate) heavy which I've seen some modules do. I know this is really an inherent flaw in 4e, but the game has the states backwards. When the players stun/dominate monsters it makes my job easier as I have less to run. When a monster stuns/dominates a player it makes them not have fun as they have nothing to do but sit there. Too much of this leads to very frustrated players as they are watching rather than participating.

  • #6
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    Its not just damage differences.. the ranger has an AC of 43, and can boost that sometimes to 49. The bard and sorcerer have ACs of 31....

    Sent from my Kindle Fire using Tapatalk 2
    Aut Tyalie is Elvish for "Go Play Games"


    Best of EnWorld: Stalker0's Obsideon Skill Challenge, Stalker0's Guide to the Anti-Grind

  • #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Primitive Screwhead View Post
    Its not just damage differences.. the ranger has an AC of 43, and can boost that sometimes to 49. The bard and sorcerer have ACs of 31....

    Sent from my Kindle Fire using Tapatalk 2
    Ummm, how does any L30 have a 31 AC? 10 + 15 for 1/2 level + 6 enhancement +8 or so for stat is 39, I'd expect that to be the absolute minimum.

    FWIW the lows and highs for AC in my L30 party were:

    Barbarian AC 45
    10
    15 - 1/2 level
    6 - enhancement
    3 - barbarian agility
    1 - armor spec. (hide)
    2 - elven chain shirt (wonderous item)
    5 - elderhide
    3 - DEX

    Paladin/Ardent Hybrid AC 47*
    * AC 49 against adjacent enemies, forget what gave the +2

    10
    15 - 1/2 level
    6 - enhancement
    14 - godplate
    2 - heavy shield

    The sorcerer was actually AC 46

    Sorcerer AC 46
    10
    15 - 1/2 level
    6 - enhancement
    2 - starweave
    2 - unarmored agility
    2 - elven chain shirt (wonderous item)
    9 - DEX (wild mage)

    As you can see, AC's end up becoming pretty compressed at the high end. There is actually much more of a difference in the level range of 15-23. The worst case would be a cloth/leather wearer who doesn't have DEX/INT as a secondary stat or doesn't have a special rule that lets a different stat add to AC (or some other way to boost AC), but I cannot think of such a class off the top of my head (although I'm sure there is one).

  • #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Primitive Screwhead View Post
    The bard and sorcerer have ACs of 31....
    Funny. In our group the (dragon) sorcerer has the second-highest AC (after the defender).
    In a sense, the D&D game has no rules, only rule suggestions. - Tom Moldvay

  • #9
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    Last night I got to try out some of my idea.. but first a correction. The Bard *used* to have a low AC. The player got access to the DDI last week and updated his character, apparently fixing some math and build issues. Now his defenses are on par with the Ranger.

    Module 10, Palace of Dreams. I converted the entire palace into one encounter space with the main room about 60 squares across and the 8 surrounding rooms built in as 'zones' that could be traversed. The intent was that Freedom would lead them on a chase through the zones and the Architects would activate each Zones weakened defenders.

    I changed Freedom alot and gave her a triggered power that brought 6 Nightmare Trillith in at the start of the encounter and at loss of 1/4 of her hit points. I also gave her a nasty power variant of 'sleep' that resulted in death instead of just sleep.
    Add in the Architects as traps that needed to be disabled in a skill challenge or destroyed with the Torch.

    The combat lasted the entire session, about 3 1/2 hours, and ended with half the PCs bloodied. Lots of very 'epic' action occurred. Freedom died when the Ranger, blinded from a gout of molten gold from the Treasure Dragon, charged into the Treant's Forest dodging through the thickly forested terrain, past the grappling Awakened Forest.. to execute a perfect Cascade of Blades, the fifth strike was a critical hit. He dealt in excess of 350 hit points in that one action.
    On the NPC side, the HeroSlayer Hydra was down to his last 10 hit points and was able to make 7 attacks, four of them against the Fighter who had dealt a mighty blow that took shy of 150 hit points. {3D10 + 20} * 4

    The PCs were victorious and are prepared to enter Trilla's nightmare and try to rescue her from Annihilation.

    The PCs were 28th level and completely fresh at the start of the fight. I avoided stunning/dazing for the most part and had a few minor zone effects.

    NPC summaries:
    Freedom, level 24 Elite controller, 444 hit points
    Nightmare Trillith, level 22 Demi-minions {takes 26 hit points to kill, 18 to bloody} Randomly generated roles, but mostly Brutes.
    Architects, Hazard/Trap/Terrain. At-will dreamscape rend attack for 2D10+10

    Zones:
    - Entry way, HeroSlayer Hydra Level 26 brute with 299 hit points
    - Dining room, two fire titans, level 26 brutes
    - Kitchen -- cleared out safe haven from previous session
    - Forest, two Treants and lots of trees for them to awaken
    - Treasure Room.. with a Treasure Dragon, level 26 brute. Breath weapon has cascaded fails to petrified.
    - Void, Hazard/Terrain. Hard Vacuum suffocates characters, 'drowning' them. Open 3D environment for Freedom to play hide and seek
    - Freedoms work out room.. hadn't figured this one out and intended on not having Freedom go there {it didn't fit on my battlemap}
    - Library, room full of peoples dreams. Freedom was to lead a merry chase through other peoples dreams


    Overall the reduced defenses of the NPCs and the improved capability of the PCs, plus the knowledge that there is only one more encounter in the day, resulted in a very dynamic and enjoyable session.

    I have set on skipping Module 11, despite the quality plot material inside. And as this session worked well I think I will stick pretty much to my plan for Module 12. This will put the campaign ending at 30th level and in either January or February, nearly 3 1/2 years in both game and real life after the Bard and the Fighter entered the Rotten Apple Inn back in module 1.
    {they are the only surviving original members}



    An aside, I also got to play some 1st level 5e/Next this last week. In comparison the speed of combat is insane. We finished 6 encounters and exploration/roleplaying in a three hour session. However, I enjoyed having the NPCs last long enough to to interesting things besides die twitching on the floor.
    Aut Tyalie is Elvish for "Go Play Games"


    Best of EnWorld: Stalker0's Obsideon Skill Challenge, Stalker0's Guide to the Anti-Grind

  • #10
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    Looking back through these modules, I can totally see what you mean. I'm glad you've worked it out so that it's still fun for your group. I know Wickett and the gang have changed things around with Zeitgeist, and I hope to keep up that easier playstyle with Santiago. Definitely looking at plenty of options to avoid or live in combat during the new path, depending on a group's playstyle.
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