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





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  1. #1

    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. #2
    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. #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 09:13 PM.

  4. #4
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    ° Ignore RangerWickett
    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. #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. #6
    [QUOTE=rangda;5998752]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.

    On a related note, I'm sitting at the end of #9 and I'm wondering if anyone has advice on the best order to do the finish. I don't think they really consider P to be a real threat, as in a big bad. I was considering doing a Buffy type ending where the big bad is not the guy you thought it was but it would be tricky to slip P into that role and the Trilliths would not be much of a surprise at this point.

    Any tips on making P a revealed villain, as in, you defeat the Trilliths, you defeat Leska, surprise! P is the puppetmaster after all? Or the Trilliths, even?

    As an afterthought, a surprise, but foreshadowed, puppetmaster of it all would be Haddin.
    Last edited by corwyn77; Saturday, 13th October, 2012 at 07:50 PM.

  7. #7
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    ° Ignore RangerWickett
    In my defense, #12 wasn't meant to be a grind fest. I think I might have just had overly fond memories of Red Hand of Doom, and wanted to up the scope so you're killing whole armies at once.

    I'm not sure how it converted to 4e.

    You could do something like, P got a lot of mages on his side to oppose the scourge, and instead of attacking Seaquen, he has a coup. Katrina -- who wields elemental magic, so she'd get along fine in a gang that includes an air mage (P) and a water mage (Lee Sidoneth) -- fakes the murder of the leaders of Seaquen, and takes over, intending to help P rule the whole region. He can show up in his airship and help kill a few folks to reduce the grind in 12, and maybe he's the one trying to do big magic mojo with the Aquiline Heart.
    Ryan "RangerWickett" Nock
    Director of the ZEITGEIST campaign saga.


    The most cinematic adventure path for 4th Edition and Pathfinder.

    Now available - Admiral o' the High Seas, and ZEITGEIST adventure eight, Diaspora! For Pathfinder and D&D 4e.

  8. #8
    Looking back on it now, 4E Heart did turn into a bit of a grind fest since a lot of the work was strict conversion vs. Fanciful update. If I were to go back today and do it again, I could see a lot of places where play could be streamlined a little better. At the time we did the update to the new edition, I was still big on doing it "exactly the way they had it before" so everybody got a similar experience. Unfortunately, as I know now, it's not as easy to pull off as one would like.

    I really like where Primitive has gone with these. With all the great feedback I (and I'm sure everybody) have seen since WotBS, it makes the future brighter (literally with Myths coming up to bat).
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  9. #9
    Game night is coming up this friday and I am preparing to run the first part of Module 12. Thought I would drop in to bump this thread and give y'all the intro I sent to my group

    Spoiler:

    The consensus {assuming silence is consent} is to follow Devon's lead and charge into the very heart of Ragesia.. to the center of military power, and attempt to infiltrate the palace of the most feared and hated personage {who is doubtless a bit paranoid like water is a bit wet}.

    Your goal is to invade a powerful ritual being performed by a number of high level spell-casters and, if the rumors be true, an Arch-Fiend from the very pits of hell itself.


    Oh yea.. and survive long enough to get back out!

    The leaders of the resistance have complete faith in your ability to accomplish this nigh-impossible task, and are betting the lives of many a fearful warrior. The fate of the nations rest upon your shoulders, and your departure from the city is heralded as if you have already returned victorious....

    Um, about that. The Gates Pass folk are really good at keeping secrets, and even the Ragesian troops left in the area kept their peace. The Shahalestians, on the other hand, felt it apropos to organize the gala affair. There is a pretty solid bet that someone knows you are coming. But the advantage is still on your side as they do not know that you can use to
    Torch to be there in the blink of an eye.
    Well, at least be at the capitol city in the blink of an eye. Anti-scrying spells make it impossible to get any closer.

    Once at the city edges you can either find your way through the city streets {either high, low, or in between}, find a prominent point from which to teleport closer {risking anti-teleportation measures}.

    Then a choice of how to approach the island that the castle is located on; whether traipsing down the guarded {and warded} skyway, swimming or boating, or some other method of your devising.

    Thence into the Palace proper, past any guards to the Ritual Chamber {yes, we have a map for you} and you can do your deed.

    Scrying has identified that the lake that surrounds the lake has seen increased naval presence, with a number of warships patrolling the waters.
    They might even have a couple of Merrow {aquatic Ogres} patrolling under the grey-green surface. So once you stop the ritual {and ensure they won't be able to start it back up right away}, we highly recommend you teleport back to safety. To that end, they provide a one-use crystal ball that will let you scry on the plains just north of Gates Pass, and thereby teleport to safety.


    :evil DM grin:


    My goal is to shape the three major encounters in different ways. I have taken ideas from Upper Krust's Epic material as well as his dissertation on Dante's hell, turning Roav into something rather nasty.

    With my group it is pretty normal for Devon {Fighter} to pin the fight into place and soak tons of damage from the brutes while the strikers and leader/controllers kite about taking care of business. While entertaining {Devon took over 1,000 points of damage last battle}, I don't want the last battles to have that 'next fight, same as last' feel to it.

    For Roav, my plan is to remove the Brutes and spread out the damage dealers. This will put the kiting strikers at more risk but increase the effectiveness of controllers. Of course, this means Roav is a controller.

    My last bit of prep this week is designing the battle-field, with the ritual key-stones, traps, choke-points, etc.. Should be fun!

    /EDIT/ Regretfully life got in the way and we had to cancel the session.
    On the good side, got to watch '7 Psychopaths'.. a highly entertaining flick
    Last edited by Primitive Screwhead; Monday, 29th October, 2012 at 02:59 AM. Reason: Update
    Aut Tyalie is Elvish for "Go Play Games"


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

  10. #10
    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

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