Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Memorable Mechanics Part 2: Disease

So, my series on using unusual mechanics in 4e games continues today with the subject of disease. On paper, I kind of like the look of how 4e handles disease. Gone are the absurd "realistic" diseases of the 1e days (Kidney infection? Fun!). Still, the 4e system has the disease affect the PC in stages. This is where the problems come in. I have yet to see a PC hit the late stages of a disease. Between saving throw bonuses and wonky Endurance DCs, it is rare that a PC contract a disease at all. This defeats the purpose. Furthermore, keeping track of stages is kind of annoying to begin with. So, here are my ideas on how to include diseases in your 4e game.

You get no save. You have the disease, period.
Pretty simple, the diseased bat bites you, you have the disease. Might sound harsh but, hey, thats disease.

The disease has no 'stages'. It is what it is.
It is my advice to go ahead and get straight to the juicy stuff. Ravage the PCs body with disease while you have the chance. Severe is good. Severe is memorable. Nobody remembers the time they got stage one of some wussy disease that gave them a -1 Fort for 6 hours. They DO remember that time their body parts started falling off and they had to carry them in their backpack. For published diseases, go straight to the final stage.

After an extended rest, make a hard Endurance check.
If the PC passes the check, they are cured. If they fail, they aren't. You can have the PC die after failing an Endurance check if you like, or it can just be chronic until they beat the DC. Nice and simple. No stages to track. Allies can treat a disease as normal.

That's pretty much it. I promise you you will see more ritual use in your games after a disease or two like this! Making diseases memorable starts with simply making diseases a threat, and the way the rules currently play, disease is no threat at all to a group of PCs. Let's change that.

Do you have any memorable disease stories? Please leave a post!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Memorable Mechanics Part 1: Forced Movement

Hello, this is the first in a series on this blog about using unusual mechanics in your games. I decided to break it into parts so it wouldn't be too much of a wall of text.

The past few days I have been thinking about player assumptions in 4e. Basically, 4e has codified conditions; they do the same thing table to table. This is good, bc you can just tell a player they are slowed and everyone knows what that means. On the flip side, with limited conditions in the game, a player can basically prepare for everything. I have a high level fighter that can avoid daze, stun, immobilize, restrain, slow, etc etc. and that's absolutely fine, but this series is about defying the usual mechanics and bringing things your players have never seen to the table. In this first part we are looking at forced movement.

Forced movement in 4e games is usually something you see more from a players side, like that mage that has the At-Will slide 7, or a polearm build that slides, marks, and prones. Monsters usually only do a push 1 here or a slide 2 there. I urge you to shock your players with forced movement. Take their expectations and rip them apart.

Crazy pulls

Here is one from my home game. I had a frog-like beast that had a ranged 10 tongue attack that targeted 2 creatures. On a hit it obviously did damage, but also pulled them up to 10 squares into an auto-damaging Fly-Vomit Aura. Another idea I am working into the 1st 4e Forever adventure involves a powerful magnet. Any PC with metal weapons or armor gets pulled to it, regardless of distance, taking damage as they slam against it. Pull the PCs completely across the battlemat; the whole table will love it.

Absurd control

So here is another way to use forced movement to startling effect. The next time you have the PCs facing a controller type, shock them with cartoonish control. Try a power (possibly named "Can You Fly, Billy?") in which the PC takes damage from an attack and is hoisted 6-12 squares in the air. At the start of the PCs turn, he falls. You can also use wind or other environmental features to add some wild movement to an encounter. Perhaps the PCs have to roll an Acrobatics check at the start of their turns or be tossed into the air and over a cliff.

Push PCs into things 

To get more flavor out of a push (or slide), push the PCs into things, and push them far. For example, consider the push actually pushing them across the mat and several squares into a wall. It damages them greatly obviously, and costs them extra movement to climb out of the wall. The squares around the new hole now have rubble and stone (difficult terrain) from where the PC smashed into it.

Teleport the hell out of them

Teleport the PCs into bad spots. Think about this when you design your terrain. For example, instead of giving them a save by teleporting them into a lava river, teleport them onto the small rock in the center of the lava river. Teleport them next to other monsters. Teleport them into a cage.

Use helpless PCs as weapons

The psion has a power that allows it to use an enemy as a living missile to attack other creatures. I love it; it is great flavor. The next time you have a strong creature, say an ogre or dragon or what have you, have them grab, damage, and daze a PC on a hit. Then allow them to throw the PC at his allies. The further you throw them, the better. Maybe an area burst 1 within 10. Use the PC as a weapon.

I hope you have enjoyed reading these ideas. I am sure many of you have used some things like this in your home games, so please leave a post and tell me about them! Look for part 2 of this series coming soon!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fixing Passive Perception in 4e

Passive Perception isn't a bad idea in and of itself. It has a lot going for it, actually. It is nostalgic, originating from old school versions of the game, where certain races had a chance to notice hidden doors and the like, simply by passing by them. Using passive skills also rewards players who deliberately spend resources to improve and excel at a skill. Lastly, it can, in some instances, save the DM some time, as he doesn't have to call for a check. But somewhere along the way it all went wrong. In this post, I am looking at what the problem is with Passive Perception (and other passive skills to some extent), and how to fix it.

So what is the problem in the first place? Well, to put it as simply as possible, it is hard to threaten 4e PCs with traps using it. Even casual, unoptimized groups can produce a PC whose Passive Perception is consistently above the moderate difficulty check, and often even a hard check. It is too easy. I want players to explore their environment and not have everything handed to them automatically. So here are my ideas on how to make it better:

Always use the hard DC
I want most hidden traps to be hard to detect. Note I said most. Otherwise, there's not much point in hiding them. I mean, sure I want to reward players for spending feats and such to help boost their skills, but the bottom line is some groups skills are so high they will always beat DCs; so here is what I recommend for DCs. Well-constructed traps can only be detected passively by a PC with a score better than, or equal to, the hard DC of the trap's level. Note that you will still have players that beat these DCs passively, and that's ok. If a trap is of poor quality or obvious, use the moderate DC of the trap's level. There are a few times that I would encourage the use of a lesser quality trap. Maybe for flavor reasons, or when using traps in an already difficult encounter, or to lull the players into a false sense of security regarding their skills.

Limit a PCs ability to rely on passive skills
This one has an old-school vibe. If a PC rolls an active check, use that check until they leave the area; they no longer qualify for their passive scores while in that area. So say they announce they are looking for traps and roll a 2. Do not let their score suddenly improve while they are still in the rough area. You can even call it ten minutes, or a 'turn'. Let players know this when they roll an active check to search.

Use skills other than Perception
Flavor your traps with different detection requirements. Maybe Perception doesn't work on some of them; they require Dungeoneering training. Or there might be an old holy symbol that is plainly visible to all, but it takes skill in Religion to automatically recognize it is trapped.

Reward exploration
The obvious flip-side of all of this talk of torturing PCs is to reward exploration when deserved. This is the kind of think that doesn't necessarily fit the codified rules approach of 4e, but occasionally, if you have a group of adventurers that are showing caution, playing attention to clues, and roleplaying, and they make a group check and fail, consider giving them a bonus to their check, or an automatic success. Don't do this every time, as some players might feel patronized or insulted; rely on 'feel' to tell you when this is appropriate. This is basically "taking 20" with conditions added.

Experiment with an alternate approach
If you still hate passive skills, you could just try something completely different. Another way to do it is to require a moderate or hard DC to even qualify to detect a trap. The DM then rolls a hidden roll to determine if the qualifying PC notices the trap. In other words, their Passive Perception allows them a chance to detect it, but doesn't guarantee success. This is kind of like an old school game, like an Elf determining a hidden door without trying on the DMs roll of 1 or 2 in 6. If a PCs passive score is high enough to beat the moderate DC to detect the trap, make a hidden percentage dice roll. The PC has a 75% chance to notice a trap of average construction, and a 50% chance to notice a well-constructed trap. This method adds an extra chance of failure on the back end. This method increases the threat of the trap while giving you an added old-school vibe.

In summary, I really don't want to come off too harsh. I just want to reward actual exploration and make passive trap detection more difficult. These ideas put power back into the DMs hands and make traps more dangerous than those in the typical game of 4e.

As always, I am interested in your feedback and opinions. Do you have your own method for using Passive Perception? Leave a post!

4thcore hub! Good stuff!

so sersa v over at the legendary 4thcore site has created a page for a 'hub' of sites that relate to 4thcore style gaming. many of the sites i was reading already, such as the excellent crypt thing. anyway, they are accepting submissions to be a part of the hub and i am thrilled to say that i got accepted! you should bookmark their page. i think a lot of good will come from like minded sites being grouped together somewhere.

4thcore hub!!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Henchmen and Hirelings in 4e


I've been thinking today about henchmen and hirelings in 4e. Although a sort of token effort was taken late in 4e's life to present henchmen and hirelings, I wanted to take it a little further. But how? And why? In 4e, with the toughness of the PCs, you don't necessarily need cannon fodder like the old days. In other editions you automatically attracted followers at higher levels; in 4e there's no mechanism for that. Plus they suffer from 'ritual syndrome', which is where they cost too much money to encourage their use. Furthermore from a DM standpoint the last thing you really need on a 4e table is more HP, what with the proliferation of summons, animal companions, familiars, and everything else. Despite all of these apparent challenges, I think its possible to make it work and be fun in 4e. Here are my ideas. There are some close similarities with retro-games but some tweaks have been made to fit in with how 4e plays.

1. Screw balance. I mean, seriously
Don't get me wrong, I love balance in 4e but sometimes, especially in combat situations, I think you can let it go a bit. Basically the PCs never run in 4e. They have no fear. Rarely will they deliberately avoid combat. Not only that but there are assumptions in the game about monster abilities and powers. So surprise your players. Make them need some help. Amaze them with the large numbers of minis you put down. Leave traps all over the place. Or maybe despite the PCs high Arcana scores, for once they dont know something about an artifact automatically; they have to seek out a Sage that doesn't give out info for free. Let them know there are hirelings to be had and that they might be needed, and if your players are high enough level, have henchmen approach them. More on this below.

2. Make hirelings cheap but limited
Some cool stuff in 4e doesnt get used. Part of the reason is the cost of some things, such as rituals. Also some flavorful items and rituals can be really situational. Hirelings should cost their level X 20 gold apiece for initial hire. That is cheap enough to be easily affordable. I suggest limiting the number each party member can have. Say no more than 2-3 hirelings apiece on adventures at any given time, unless you specifically want to design around that much activity. If they just need a service somewhere, such as speaking to a Sage, do it as it comes up. PCs cannot hire a hireling above their level to accompany them on an adventure. However, if the pcs need information or some kind of service that does not involve the hireling putting his life to risk, they can utilize one of higher level at the DMs discretion.

3. Make them weak and strong at the same time
Give hirelings 1 HP, just like a minion, but they can be brought back from 0 HP once; if they hit 0 again, even days later, they cannot be raised. Sound too weak? Well hear me out. 

The hireling gets the same to-hit numbers as monsters, as well as defenses. So a level 10 hireling has a +15 to hit AC, +13 to hit NADS. AC 24 FORT 22 REF 22 WILL 22. Each hireling is assigned a theme from 4e by the DM, as well as one trained skill (5+1/2 level check). Give them 1/2 level only on all other skills. I think generic themes (such as "explorer") work really well. Now the hireling has some other talents and flavor, and the mechanics (themes/skills) already exist so its easy to use. 

In addition to the skill and theme, a hireling also has a basic attack that does 1/2 level +4 damage. Hirelings do not level up, and a hireling cannot be found that is higher than 10th level. Once you hit Paragon you likely rely on henchmen only for combat situations. Don't pick too many themes, it is too much to track. Pick 1-4 themes based on the situation. For example, a bunch of outlaws and mercenaries might accompany the PCs on an adventure that has moral abiguity.

4. Assign hireling morale 
Check hireling morale after they have been targeted with an attack the first time in an encounter, or if they are in a position of extreme danger. If they are not attacked, even if the encounter was dangerous, they will stay with the adventurers. As all adventuring is inherently dangerous, a DM should only use an extreme out-of-combat situation to trigger a morale check, such as barely being missed by a falling rock. Hirelings will always attempt to avoid an automatic damage effect.  

Their morale score is 6. roll 2d6 to check morale. If the DM rolls a 7 or above they will quit the party at the first chance

It is also suggested that the players pay them some stipend, but it should be low to encourage play. Paying the group of hirelings level times 10 for a completed adventure is fair; most of them will die anyway, and if one or two manage to survive they should be rewarded. The DM can also add or subtract from the morale die rolls based on roleplay if he or she wishes

5. Henchmen are attracted automatically and are not as limited
Henchmen in 4e are attracted to PCs by their deeds and achievements. They are the same mechanically as hirelings except their morale score is 8 and they can be brought back from 0 HP twice. Like hirelings, henchmen check morale after they have been targeted with an attack the first time in an encounter or are in grave danger, BUT henchmen also check morale after dying and being raised. A henchmen will always attempt to avoid an automatic damage effect. 

They also have greater economic requirements. PCs attract a number of henchmen equal to one-fourth of their level (round down) starting upon 8th level and each time they level up after that. The PC cannot have a number of henchmen that exceeds one-fourth of his level at any time unless DM allows it. So for example a PC just hitting 13th level is allowed 3 henchmen. Say the PC later hits level 14, and has 2 henchmen that havent died or deserted him yet. A DM can then allow one more to be drawn to him as he levels up. You might be thinking 'that could end up being a lot', and its true it could seem that way, but just think of the AOEs you can drop on them! But seriously, for one they cost a little more. Surviving henchmen are paid as a group after completing a quest. Level times 20 gold is a good formula for a group of henchmen to be paid in the Heroic Tier. Move to level times 40 starting at 11th level, and level times 100 at Epic Tier. Henchmen in 4e are not limited in level but stay the same level forever.

6. Pitch these ideas to your group, and let them see them in play
Players will initially get into this based primarily on your enthusiasm. If you encourage it, it can become part of your game. You could allow players to control their henchmen and hirelings, put on a one man show, or do a combination of the two. Let them know there are people for hire in the towns. Step up the threat in your games.

That's it. But the big question is why? Why add these things at all? Well it adds old school flavor and role play opportunities, and even for optimizers there is the extra striker damage vibe. In other words, its fun for everybody. You can also be less uptight with game balance.

Here are a couple of quick samples, you can just make these on the fly.

Braddock, Level 14 Henchman
Guardian theme
MBA +19 vs AC, 11 damage
Skill-Endurance ( +12)
This dude has a big ol scar down one cheek. Mostly quiet. Cleans his boots like every day.

Pipkins, Level 2 Hireling
Harper Agent theme (Forgotten Realms)
RBA, Ranged 10, +5  vs REF, 5 damage
Skill-Stealth (+6)
Pipkins is a little too confident and you wouldn't trust her with the money

I hope ya'll like these ideas. If you have any thoughts about it plz leave a post. If you use these rules let me know how it goes!! You'll see more stuff like this in my upcoming zine 4e Forever

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hex Crawls and 4e

in my upcoming zine i have been working with reintroducing some old school flavor into 4e. one of the elements you will be seeing are wilderness hex maps and hex crawls. maybe youre wondering what the hell im talking about. well, basically in 4e the tendency is to just hand wave travel. its not a bad thing, i do it all the time, and sometimes you just want to beam the pcs where they are going. but a little old school hex crawling is a great way to add flavor to the pcs travel and give them a greater appreciation for their surroundings. you can even have the pcs map the wilderness as they explore it, which gives you that old judges guild vibe

how does it work?

heck, you might not even be aware pcs have land speeds in 4e. thats how rarely it seems to come up. assuming one person in the party has speed 5, the base speed is about 2 1/2 miles an hour for the party. this is then further modified by terrain. i like to work with whole numbers if possible, so in my example map, which i made with an excellent free generator , i am going to say the hexes are 2 miles across. the pcs can cross one of the woods hexes in an hour. the hills will take them two hours, or twice as long. its not a huge area.

now that ive got a little map and the scale i want, i want to generate some tables. generating these should feel like crack to a dm. its fun, but it also allows you to further define your world. is this section of the world heavily populated? what creatures live there? its a ruined wasteland or will they see dozens of farms? what info might you want to convey to them as they travel? how likely should combat be? you can go on and on, or keep it really simple. i decide the hills are infested with gnolls that are encroaching on the somewhat populous surrounding wood. the inhabitants of the woods are already having problems with bandits hiding out in the woods.

example tables

Hills-roll 1d6 once per hour (twice per hill hex)
1. the pcs run into a spry and wily hermit that lives in a cave; roll again if you get this twice
2. a rockslide happens about a hundred yards ahead of the party
3. vultures circle overhead
4. 1d4 skeletons picked clean
5. 1d4 mountain goats are seen
6. 2d6+6 well armed gnolls

Woods-roll 1d4 once per hour
1. cabin-inhabitant will complain to pcs of bandits in the woods
2. sounds of birds calling
3. small shrine to a god **roll on the shrine table
4. 2d8+4 bandits

Shrine-roll 1d4
1. Melora
2. Sehanine
3. hard to say, very crude and pagan. teeth in small bundle
4. hidden ritualistic stone slab stained with blood. gnolls?

you see where im going with this. heck they might not even encounter half of the stuff's there. i like setting it up where a roll is automatic but there are obviously a lot of ways to set up your tables. for example you could just roll a 1d6 and say an encounter happens on a 1 and just leave it at that (if you want to have lots of random combat encounters without adding too much time to your session, you might like to use my ideas for morale in 4e). you can make huge tables and go crazy with the environmental descriptions. or you can pepper the whole area with adventure sites and let the players just naturally go where they want to go. a sandbox in 4e? impossible?

do you have any ideas about it? leave a post! anyways, you can expect to see more hex love from me in the future

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Morale in 4e


Hello again. So I thought I'd throw some ideas out that are related to combat length in 4e. Lots of people complain about it, but outside of my game I have hardly EVER seen DMs have monsters flee. I mean the thrill is over, the monsters are not going to win, its in the grind stage, and yet the monsters are still there fighting. Other times, you want to get through a good bit of a dungeon or what not and you know that if you have two full combats you won't get there that night. Or you would really like to have wandering monsters but the thought of another combat on top of the ones you have planned makes your eyes glaze over.

Well, some of the old versions of D&D (and many retro-clones) have a morale system. Basically, this is a way besides intimidation and/or DM whim to give creatures a chance to flee. As a DM you basically accept the fact that some encounters might end pretty quickly, but you still retain the control to make some encounters be played through til the end.

Morale can change the way 4e is approached. You can still have your grand, planned-out encounters, but also throw in some random monsters without guaranteeing never ending combat. But how would this work?

The rules are basically identical to those of B/X. Assign a morale score. When the situation calls for a morale check, roll 2d6. If the roll is higher than their morale score, the monsters attempt to flee, surrender, or otherwise end the encounter; if it is equal to or less than the score, they stay and fight. There is no need to roll for 2s and 12s. For Solos and Elites, or if you want a monster to fight to the death, Assign the creature(s) a 12 morale (will never flee) or make them immune to fear. On the flip side, if it is some random monsters that are not very tough, are lower level than the PCs, etc etc,  give them a lower score. Here are the morale scores and how to use them:

12-Will not flee or surrender and/or immune fear, Solos, Elites
9-11-Unlikely to flee
3-5-Weak willed; flees easily
2-Always surrenders or flees after the first death of an ally

This might appear to be slanted towards having a monster stay in the fight, but notice that you will check morale more than once.

-Roll once when the first monster is killed

-Roll once when half of the monsters have been killed, or less than half remain if you started with an odd amount

If the monsters have not failed a morale roll after this point, they will fight to the death unless intimidated (if possible) or otherwise made to surrender, flee, or what have you by the DM. Minions do not affect morale. When it is time to check morale, only roll once for the entire group of monsters; use the highest morale score of whichever monsters are left.

You may find it helpful to assign a creature variable morale; for example, a pack of bandits start with a morale score of 9, so as long as most of their allies are still alive, they are likely to stay in the fight. Later in the encounter, when half of the bandits are killed, their morale score is lowered to 4 for the second check, and they will likely flee. You could also look at just giving creatures a minor bonus or penalty to their morale score based on the circumstances of the encounter.

Example: Say I have a Solo that is going to fight the PCs. I assign it a 12 morale; there is no situation in which it would ever need to check morale. So, Solos typically don't flee unless the DM wants them to.

Example 2: Say I have 5 orcs and 2 bugbears, none of which are Minions, along with an Elite ogre. I give them all a 7 morale score except the Elite, who has a 12. The PCs fight the monsters and kill a bugbear. Since 1 monster has been killed, I would normally check morale, but as I use the highest remaining monster's morale score (the ogre's 12), there is no point in rolling. The fight continues. Over the next two rounds the PCs finish off the ogre and 2 orcs.1 bugbear and 3 orcs are still standing, half the number that started. I check morale again and get a 9, higher than the remaining monsters' score of 7. The monsters flee.

That's basically it. The DM has the control of which monsters will or will not flee, and Elites and Solos are already pretty much protected from fleeing. Yet it also allows for some encounters to end without turning to a slog. This of course then frees a DM to use larger populations for dungeons, to use wandering monsters, etc etc.

Morale allows the DM to be a bit looser with the number of creatures encountered, balancing the use of large numbers of creatures by assigning them a lower morale score. You can let the monsters hit harder at the beginning of an encounter, and 'get out' before it gets into a slog

You will see more of this in my upcoming zine. This is a way to get some old-school flavor in your game, while still allowing for set-piece planned encounters that 4e does so well. It also will help the game keep flowing and moving forward. This will, in my estimation, dramatically improve many published 4e adventures as well as home games. Please do not feel tied to this if you use it; if you want an encounter to keep going, just keep going.

I'm interested in what you think! Leave a post!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012