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4E Running player commentary on PCat's 4E Campaign - Paragon Tier


Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
Sagiro has been analyzing the play and mechanics of our first 52 runs over in the Heroic Tier thread, which can be found here. This is where we'll be ripping apart the Paragon Tier play for my Grey Guards campaign. Sagiro's doing the heavy lifting here, with my own expansions and commentary.

This is a “how the game is working” diary, not a story hour, although we'll be talking about all sorts of plot elements and character arcs.

-- o --


As of session #53, where we start the Paragon Tier at 11th level, there are six PC’s in the party. The six PCs are:

- Gilran Amarth, Odassian elf (ie drow) chaos sorcerer (striker, played by Aravis). Paragon path: Arcane Wellspring

- Wolfram (aka Dr. Elijah Caldwell, who is in disguise), Human Two-Blade Ranger (striker, played by Blackjack). Paragon path: Traveler's Harlequin (designed to make him excel at skills)

- Logan, Human Pursuing Avenger (striker, played by Alomir). Paragon path: Zealous Assassin

- Cobalt Cartwright, Human Brawny Rogue (striker, played by Sagiro). Paragon path: Daggermaster.

- Strontium (aka Inquisitor Zacris), Warforged War Wizard (controller, played by KidCthulhu). Paragon path: Master of Flame.

- Bramble, Quith (ie wilden) Protective Shaman (Leader, played by Kodiak). Paragon path: Scarred Healer.​

-- o --

What I did well and poorly while running heroic tier:

- We have ongoing adventure hooks for everyone's backstory except for Gilran, and that's started in game #53. Some of these came out later than ideal, but I think the pacing has been pretty good overall.

- The next tier's foundation is solidly in place. The adventures are unfolding smoothly, with multiple parallel plots that let the PCs pick and choose what they want to do at any given time.

- I have been a woeful slacker about world-building. I need to make maps and more maps, and write history. I have several no-players-allowed world-building threads in the General forum that are helping with this tremendously.

- I need to tweak the combat/roleplaying/skill challenge/puzzle balance a little away from combat and more towards the other things. I think the campaign plot/mystery balance is pretty good. This is also true for emphasizing more skill challenges, since Blackjack's character is specializing in those.

- The party has about the right amount of treasure for their level, perhaps a little low. I'll be doing a full analysis on their loot level before next game. I'll post the results in this thread.

- My magic items haven't been quite as flavorful overall as I would like. (I'm doing better with this in my other campaign, the Merchant Prince game.)

- I have come to the conclusion that alchemy sucks as written, which is a shame when two players were really interested in it. I'll be dramatically increasing the efficacy of alchemical attacks as a result. House rules, ho!

- We're pretty good, but there's more distraction at the table than I'd ideally like. I'm considering re-establishing the Pig as a result.

- Games are never long enough at 2.5-3 hours. We're all busy adults, and my players are fantastic with their attendance. We play every two weeks like clockwork. It works out fine.

- I couldn't run the game without the Compendium, at least not for magic items and monsters. It's a tremendous help for fast prep.

- As a result, running two campaigns simultaneously isn't a hardship or burden in the least.

- I would benefit vastly by tracking all the NPCs in the campaign and listing them on the sadly underused wiki. (See: lament about world-building, above.)

- Having copies of every character sheet up on the wiki is really, really useful.

-- o --

Character Development and History

One of the PCs has found out that he used to be a famous inquisitor, even though he doesn't remember it. In order to show Stron what his old self 'Inquisitor Zacris' was like, I've been handing the player scraps of history about twice a game. My thanks to everyone who has been helping with these.

[sblock=Here's a sample]
"It is said that in those days the Inquisitor Zacris was traveling in the company of Prince Aedric and Princess Solona when the Entathan countryside revolted. The Inquisitor and the Imperial Royalty led a Legion to crush the revolt and quickly broke the peasant mob, leaving the leaders of the revolt dead upon the field and the rabble in chains. The Legion's commander asked what should be done with the prisoners. Prince Aedric, always forgiving, said 'Let their right hands be struck off, that no more may they raise weapons against the Empire.' Princess Solona, though not yet as brutal as she would later be remembered for, said 'The penalty for treason is death. Let them all be slain.'

Inquisitor Zacris obeyed the suggestions of both Imperials. And thus did it come to pass that Inquisitor Zacris ordered the Legion to strike off the right hand of each rebel. When each rebel was chained with his own severed hand before him, the Inquisitor cast a great ritual. For 3 days and 3 nights the Inquisitor chanted without cease or pause. And then every severed hand returned to a semblance of life. And over the next month, the hands tortured their former owners, until finally the field contained nothing but horribly twisted corpses. Then Zacris spoke: 'It is mete and proper that the rebels die by their own hands, for they brought their fate upon themselves through their disloyalty. As they raised their hands against the Empress, so did they perish.'

The twisted and magical hands that still creep about the roads, fields, and villages of Entath stand as mute testimony to the consequences of rebellion. Long Live the Emperor!"

-- o --

In the early days of our great Empire during the golden era of expansion, a khannate of gnollish raiders from a nearby savannah had taking to raiding Capria's newest frontier, an agricultural province which had willingly joined our great union to seek safety against their foes. Lacking effective natural defenses against the gnolls, it was hoped that the Empire's army could prevent the assaults, perhaps by adding fortifications. Their diplomat was unaccountably rude to his Most Gracious and Celestial Paragon during the signing of the treaties.

Inquisitor Zacris was sent to put an end to the gnollish blight on the newly acquired province. Arriving in the dry season, Zacris utilized the portals in his walking tower to summon the 31st Phoenix Brigade, the Emperor's Elite Fire Sorcerers.

In a night known as Zacris' Pyre, he used a ritual to set a raging wildfire across not only the savannah, but through the newly acquired province and its pathetically offensive populace.

The province was thereafter renamed Grainburn, and loyal settlers from all over Capria flocked to it under a cheap land grant program to take advantage of its rich black soil. To this day, Grainburn Province is the breadbasket of the Eastern Extents, and its people build only with expensive imported stone.

-- o --

First paragon tier game:

At the end of heroic tier, the Emperor of Capria apparently died, and his intrinsic divinity did not appear to pass on to any heir (although by all accounts he had dozens of them.) When he died, any building whose architecture was sustained through the divine might of the Emperor began to crumble. The PCs stood in the recently acquired tower of the ancient Inquisitor Zacris, a warforged inquisitor who turns out to also be a PC, and watched sections of the millenia-old Heart of Civilization burn around them.

Game summary, as emailed out to my players:

- You stood and watched the city burn around you. The military slowly took to the streets to control fires and panicking mobs. Within a day, they changed to combatants in the multi-sided civil war that begin to form. At least five factions are currently claiming control of Capria.

- A debate about whether you should go out and help ensued, with Wolfram and Ratty insisting on non-involvement, and Gilran and Logan championing going out to help (especially since there were probably thousands of loose demons and elemental spirits.) A compromise was reached when Stron sent his Final Messenger to the local Grey Guard headquarters asking what they should do.

- People busied themselves while they waited by reading in the library, studying in the lab or playing in the treasury. Gilran explored the tower by himself. He found a magic mouth left by the Inquisitor's final servants indicating that they had gathered loose valuables and left them guarded in the jail cells. Gilran found out the hard way that the guards were three large constructed wolves.

- Turns out that Stron can turn the stairs into a slide. Traveling to the basement was fast and hilarious. Ratty's better nature won out and he tried to steal a dagger from the treasury. He arrived in the basement with the entire top layer of skin removed from his body, no dagger, and blinding amounts of pain (vulnerable 5).

- After destroying the somewhat decrepit wolves, the treasure chest was found. The lock was pickable only with four ridiculously hard DC 30 arcana and thievery checks, one per day; failure would destroy everything inside the chest. [Dorian's +1d6 bonus was used for this. My normal rule is that absent characters can neither help nor harm, but this was a meta- mechanic that could be passed to anyone in the group; I would have allowed it even if it hadn't meant the difference between success and failure.]

- Rituals were learned. Research was done. Meanwhile, outside, fires burned and additional buildings that had been build with the emperor's divine power began to crumble.

- A sending arrived from the tower where they said to stay out or get out of the city. With the growing battles for control of Capria, the tower is afraid that Zacris will be kidnapped and used as a pawn.

- Ratty departed and Malachai arrived a druid (and his bear) whose job is replacing Grimble Thimbletick.

- Gilran had a tense conversation with the drunken bodyguard of the man he killed before entering the guard. The conversation was private, but Gilran was given a token that made him easier to scry. Perversely, Gilran is keeping it since it links him to his past.

- A long debate about the best way to get Malachai to Grimble ensued. Your humble DM might have gently raised his voice to suggest you not over-think it. :)

- The box was opened; instead of a teleportation, two bound and very reluctant efreeti manifested inside the tower. They summoned a chariot made of flames and drew you across the continent to the swamp where Grimble lives. The city of Capria looked worse than expected from the air, and you could see at least three battles occurring across the city.

- Grimble came with you when you teleported to the sub-basement of the Floodford tower, where there was an old and almost unreadable teleport circle underneath the junk that had been cleaned out.

- A young, ten year old boy confronted you as you came upstairs, and he's trying not to cry with relief. Apparently all the other Guard Members but one have gone off to war, summoned by a Grey Guard commander for a common cause. The one adult Guard Member left here went out to confront monsters and hasn't come back. It's all right during the day, you see, but not at night.

The monsters in Floodford? Dog gobblers.
The commander who invoked the old accords and summoned the Guard as an army to destroy a foe he couldn't defeat alone? Captain Reymus.​

Analysis of the game:

The one fight down in the tower's basement was an easy one, three level 9 brutes (Anaxim Hounds, beefed up a little) against the group. Cobalt's and Bramble's players weren't there due to a family vacation, and we had a guest player playing a sneak thief named Ratty. The group really missed the plentiful healing!

PC damage output has ramped up, though. There's a big jump in efficaciousness between 10th and 11th level. That's fun to see.

You know that "takes four days to unlock" locked chest? My thinking was that they'd take it with them, since I hadn't prepped all my treasure and it was a cheap way to delay the discovery of the loot until next game. Of course, they stayed in the tower for a whole week while they slowly picked the locks. That'll teach me.

In many ways this was a building game. The group is now out of Capria and they know the city is torn by civil war after something went horribly wrong. They know that Strontium used to be Inquisitor Zacris, a cross between Napoleon and Alexander the Great if those men had been intensely loyal to an emperor, and other people know this as well. Someone from Gilran's past knows he's alive. Bramble managed to not get assassinated. Wolfram is seeming moody (well, moodier than normal.) And while several plot threads have been closed, it looks like two old ones - dog-gobblers and Captain Reymus, an old enemy of Logan - have shown up again.
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First Post
There's a big jump in efficaciousness between 10th and 11th level.
No kidding. I knew this would be the case intellectually, but actually seeing my 11th level sheet and realizing how much stuff has jumped up in numbers really drove that home.
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Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
I just did an analysis of where the group is for treasure. At the start of 11th level, each member of the group should have about 32,000 GP in gear and coin. That's 192,000 GP for the whole group. Not counting the value for rituals, and not counting an unknown amount in the Party Treasure fund (a portion of each haul is put aside for common expenses), current loot breaks down like this:

Gilran: 24,588 GP
Wolfram: 47,635 GP
Logan: 26,725 GP
Cobalt: 31,869 GP
Strontium: 16,528 GP
Bramble: 32,306 GP

That's 179,651 GP, about one 10th lvl item short of ideal. This doesn't include Strontium's new tower, which the group can use as a headquarters. Add in the 34K GP that's worth in treasure and they're a bit over. It also doesn't include two "charged" items that can permanently turn a +1 item into a +3 item. Those are worth quite a bit.

There's some inequity between players which I'll want to address. I just think Strontium is hard to shop for.


Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
This may be of some interest. Up early this morning, I charted out the various major plot points in the heroic tier. I'm sure I've missed a few, and that some of the connecting lines need tweaking, but this is a good fast view of what the PCs have done and learned over the past 10 levels. It's useful for seeing how plot threads overlap, interconnect and slide in and out.

This is safe for my group to look at; there's no secret info on it.


  • Visio-Plot diagram of Grey Guard heroic tier.pdf
    30.1 KB · Views: 333


Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
[MENTION=2]Piratecat[/MENTION], have you felt the need to adjust your DM'ing style to have the Pursuing Avenger's Oath of Enmity target run away more often than normal?

[MENTION=6622]Alomir[/MENTION], are you happy with the pursuing aspect? My Avenger is Unity, so he causes extra damage when at least one ally is adjacent to his OoE target. I am curious how Pursuit works in play.


First Post
Definitely looking forward to it. Glad to see you made a new thread since I got to the game late on the heroic thread and need a lot of time to start wading through it. :)


First Post
I'm itching for the first report from Paragon Tier!

I continue to find PC's game to be very inspiring. Not so much the specifics of the plot and stuff as the possibilities of the all the cool things you can do in a simple game of D&D. It makes me want to have stuff like that in my own game!

I'm trying to get better about incorporating PC backstories into my campaign arc, so I find the recent developments to be Relevant To My Interests even though we are not anywhere near paragon.

Keep it up!


Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
[MENTION=2]Piratecat[/MENTION], have you felt the need to adjust your DM'ing style to have the Pursuing Avenger's Oath of Enmity target run away more often than normal?
It's been a problem I haven't addressed yet. Last level was combat-light and exploration/roleplaying heavy, and we haven't had a really good mobile combat yet.

So ask me after next game. I'm hoping to change up my tactics a bit, which hopefully will be fun for everyone.


First Post
Regarding Pursuit Avenger, I find that roleplaying by the player can help motivate the creature to run away more often than they normally would. Any time my Pursuit Avenger strikes his foe he quotes a passage from an imagined Book of the Dead. This freaks most intelligent creatures out and gives the DM cause to have them flee.

Does this work every time? No. I really only need this to happen once or twice though. When it does, I stack all my minor action attacks and action points together for a moderate nova round.

Beyond that, the reliable to-hit rate and extra critical range from a Jagged Fullblade keep me happy as a player.
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First Post
@Piratecat, have you felt the need to adjust your DM'ing style to have the Pursuing Avenger's Oath of Enmity target run away more often than normal?

Not Piratecat, but I've had trouble adjusting to the whole Pursuing Avenger myself. In my mind, I try to use it as an excuse for the monster to harry the ranged players without feeling too guilty for ganging up on them.


First Post
I was playing today in a game that's just seen us game at 15th level for the first time - dear holy shoot we pile out a lot of damage fast. This group, for four strikers, is just going to go crazy, and soon.

Really looking to continuing to read this thread - with an ongoing story like this you get a fantastic insight into learning as you go along!


Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
The plot diagram is neat! Thanks for sharing it. I'd be interested to hear more about how you link things together.
Sagiro really stated it best when we were talking about this. His theory is "throw out about five times more plot hooks than you think you need, and see what sticks."

(Hey, my players: no new spoilers in this, but there's some "behind the scenes" stuff that may make me look more like Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs and less like the Wizard of Oz. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.)

Here's an example. When the campaign started, I had no idea what Strontium's past was. There was no reason to define that yet, of course. Far better to wait, see how the character develops, and look for an opportunity. When the PCs were cleaning out their tower's sub-basement at 5th level and uncovered a possessed book that claimed to be a soul echo of "Nithigol, apprentice of Inquisitor Zacris, Eye of the Crown, Zacris the Undying," I'd just made up the name on the spot. It was too good a name not to use later, though, so I wrote it down. Then I read about how every warforged has a unique head-symbol. What if Strontium had been a possession of Zacris? No, wait, screw that; go big or go home. What if Stron and Zacris were one and the same? So I started to layer the pieces in place. Background on inquisitors and local history, various clues from sages and statues. And now the PC is a huge unknown, a power player whom lots of people fear but who absolutely doesn't have the power to back up his reputation. How that plays out is going to be fascinating; it's the big heavy rock thrown into the still pond, and it will ripple into multiple plot threads.

Same with the execrable Riverlimb family. At the start I knew that Cobalt had supposedly killed a Croghan noble in a bar fight, and that's why he joined the Guard. He thought he'd been framed. What if he hadn't? If not, why was that noble in town? I sure needed someone who was paying for all those lizardman weapons, and the Riverlimbs were a good choice. Okay, but why were they behind this? Were they also behind the attempts to destabilize the PCs' home province of Iskaine? If so, it'd be so that the empire would invade and the province's rich lands would be split up between Croghan and the other neighbors, but that didn't seem right for the Riverlimbs. They seemed pettier than that, as befits a heroic tier villain instead of a paragon tier one. So what was it... okay, I wanted to link it to the raksasha/deva story of Alene/Aleph. I really liked that a lot. Even better, the PCs were still carrying around that wooden sword that they knew was a relic. What if the Riverlimbs wanted a raw source of primal magic to use for some horrible purpose? Bingo! Later, when I knew they were making golems, the rest of the plot links fell into place nicely.

Throw out a ton of plot hooks. See what the players bite at. If you can, work the other ones in around the back side. Defy expectations, look for big cinematic conflicts, and make sure everything makes logical and emotional sense.
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Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
Yes, you saved the most difficult thing for last. :)
In the real world, people are motivated by either logic, strong emotions, or a mixture of the two. Logic's easy to use when figuring out bad guy motivations. "I get more power by summoning my Dark God to conquer the world? SWEET!" "That powerful sorcerer will kill me if I don't poison this random merchant? I suppose I can do that."

Emotion, though, is trickier. It makes bad guys do irrational things in order to match their emotional state. I think it's a stronger tool in D&D mysteries because what's driving the bad guys isn't immediately obvious. If your bad guy is summoning his Dark God because it's the only way to gain vengeance against the lich who slew and animated his wife, your PCs have the opportunity of "defeating" the big bad guy by going off and gaining vengeance against another big bad guy. Hey, that even might convert the first one from an enemy into an ally. That's way more interesting to me.

Even better, you can use back story and emotional logic to justify almost any dumb mistake you make as a DM. When your players point out logical inconsistencies that exist because you screwed up, you raise one eyebrow mysteriously, say "that IS weird, isn't it?", and then scramble like hell behind the scenes to figure out why it'd be like that. It goes from a mistake to a new mystery for the group to discover. Just figure out what might make your bad guy act like that. When I make that work, all the plots actually snap into place for me with an audible *click.*

Then - and this is the important part - think about the consequences from a bad guy's emotional decision. If it were you, and you felt that way, what would you do to make sure you won and achieved your goals? What would you completely forget to do because you were focused on other tasks? Build that into the game; bad guys leave logical holes in their eeevil plans because they're blinded by emotional goals, and that's possibly something that the PCs can exploit in order to even the odds.

The reverse is also true. If you have a really logical bad guy, your PC bard can possibly rally the countryside with clever verse and brutally witty insults (*cough* skill challenge *cough*) to thwart him with emotion instead of logic.
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