May 24, 2008

Monster Roles

Wizards recently posted an interesting Gamer-Zero video that does a good job of defining monster roles:

I may not be thrilled with all the implementation decisions made in the past few months, but 4e does look interesting. I very much like the idea of multiple variations of zombies and such. There can't be too many toys in the writer's toy box, in my humble opinion. Variety is the spice of life, they say. Time will tell.

May 09, 2008

Running the Tomb, Part 4

As mentioned previously, in April I had the pleasure to DM an old-style Tomb of Horrors session with friends (including two active members of the Goodman Games clan).

What follows is Spoiler City. Don’t read if you intend to enter the ToH as a player!

Our current player–character breakdown:

Mike F.
Ceralt, 14th-level Fighter
Phelan, 9th-level Magic-user

Ken H.
Dendyr, 14th-level Cleric
Valdamane, 10th-level Paladin

Steve C.
Rath, 7th/8th-level Dwarf Fighter/Thief
Forethal, 9th-level Cleric

Will W.
Quint, 12th-level Ranger
Brandice, 4th/6th-level Drow M-U/Thief

Having triggered a bolt of lightning from the blue altar, Brandice and Quint were fortunate enough to make their respective saving throws and each took only(!) 20 hp damage. The altar now began to pulse with a strobing blue-red inner light. Dendyr marched over and cast dispel magic on the altar, dimming the light instantly.

Rath discovered a circular marking on one wall, beneath which was a carved slot. The group recalled a verse of the mocking riddle left by Acererak in the first grand corridor:

If shades of red stand for blood the wise need not sacrifice aught but a loop of magical metal – you’re well along your march.

The heroes inserted the ring they claimed from the chest room into the slot, and immediately a rumbling sound was heard. Meanwhile, behind them, the altar once again began glowing with a red, throbbing light, pulsing ever faster. A triangular slab of stone sank to the floor, revealing a passage beyond. Wasting little time, the party pushed one by one into the opening, the last character barely getting inside the corridor before a violent explosion sounded from the chapel behind them and sent a spray of burnt wood fragments into the tunnel!

The party walked down a flight on stairs into an average-looking corridor. Doors that appeared before them were opened cautiously, and Brandice triggered off several pits. At this point the players were carefully following the clues, and they were focused on the next line:

Two pits along the way will be found to lead to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall.

When a third pit was discovered Dendyr busied himself searching for secret doors around and inside the pit, but found nothing. The party turned a corner and came to a door secured with massive padlocks. Phelan cast a knock spell on the door – to no effect! With no other options, the stronger characters hacked away at the door and buckled it in half. From beyond came the sound of frightened people running away and was seen a distant red glow … torchlight?

The party emerged into a corridor with smooth alabaster walls and a floor of polished grey marble. As they walked toward the light, the floor suddenly shifted forward! As this point, I began a slow countdown… Every player immediately stated that their character was reversing at top speed, and the group managed the turn about and avoid a grim slide into molten lava! (On hindsight, I as DM should have had the players made some dexterity checks for slipping, running in place, and such, to put a bit of fear into the proceedings, but such is life…)

The PCs trudged back to the pits, confident that the answer had to lie there. A different hero discovered a secret door inside the third pit, and soon they were on their way. A short tunnel lead to another corridor with a flight of stairs, and the party also luckily discovered a secret door right at the top of the stairs. Walking down the stairs, they encountered masses of magical webbing barring their way, but a few swings from Brandice’s flaming sword soon took care of that obstacle. Near a door, Dendyr discovered a huge mace that glowed with a faint golden light.

Beyond the door lay a door containing a crypt room filled with ruined furnishings and a lich-like figure reclining on a couch of solid gold! A voice demanded to know who dared disturb the rest of Acererak!?

The lich soon saat up and began gesturing with his hands. Dendyr still clutched the mace, which now glowed brightly and the lich seemed afraid of the weapon. Pehlan triggered a round of magic missiles at the undead horror, but they were harmlessly absorbed by a glow that surrounded the lich-being. The fighters Ceralt and Quint joined dendyr in the front ranks and surrounded the figure, raining blows upon it.
The creature flailed out with its claws, tearing at Ceralt. Soon a mighty strike with the glowing mace sent the lich to the floor. The foul creature clutched at Dendyr’s leg and swiped at him, and he responded by swinging down the glowing mace in a vicious arc – rolling a natural 20! The mace struck the lich’s skull in twain, and the creature fell lifeless to the floor. Moments later the mace itself shattered harmlessly.

At this point we decided to break for the night. The players, aware of a secret door that leads deeper into the tomb, realize that their quest is not yet at an end….

May 06, 2008

Running the Tomb, Part 3

As mentioned previously, a few weeks back I got to run a brave bunch of folks through the infamous Tomb of Horrors.

What follows is Spoiler City. Don’t read if you intend to enter the ToH as a player! I mean it!

Let’s jump right back into the action:

The party found themselves teleported from the arch and into a small, rectangular room occupied by a broken gargoyle statue. Dendyr’s divine magic revealed no traps. Brandice (M-U/Th 4/6), against the advice of his companions, dared pick up the statue’s sundered arm in an attempt to rejoin it to the statue.

They were about to leave, when Ceralt (F 14) lingered and discovered carved hollows in the gargoyle’s upturned palms. Ceralt placed three gems into the palms—the 100 gp ones fit perfectly!—and watched as the hands animated and the fine gems were ground to powder. That was enough! He told the party that any more gems wouldn’t come from his pouch, and the group soon exited, having come extremely close to finding a magical item that would help in the trials ahead…

Soon they crawled their way into a massive hallway, bedecked with ancient frescoes of creatures holding colored spheres, wooden doors, and another ominous mist-filled doorway. Hesitant to sample the archway, they turned their attention elsewhere, and soon the thieves sniffed out devious spear traps (nearly spearing a party member in the process). Dendyr marched the length of the hallway using his magic to seek out pits and such. Brandice did a bit of prodding and soon discovered that two painted spheres were illusionary and covered open spaces. After some debate, the party selected a sphere and crawled into the round opening, eventually emerging from a narrow tunnel into the Tomb’s “chest room.”

The two thieves approached the chests, Phelan (M-U 9) and Dendyr (C 14) close behind. Rath (F/Th 7/8) flung open one chest (staying carefully behind it as he did so), unleashing a spray of darts in all directions! Beyond the trap however sat an ornate ring that detected positive for protective magic.

Brandice, displaying his typical (read: near-mindless) daring moved on to the next chest, and unleashed 12 angry asps into the room. The venomous snakes milled about, striking at any PC that happened near. Rath stomped and struck at the vile serpents whilst Phelan beat a hasty retreat (something that often allows 1st-Edition magic-users to cast spells another day). Soon Brandice went down under multiple fang strikes, and shortly thereafter Dendyr too went down in agony, dying.A side note here: Old Softy that I am, I typically give poisoned PCs 1d6 rounds of non-combat life to reach magical aid before dying. Even the most poisonous serpents—I’m thinking the tiger snakes and sea snakes here, but I’m no snake expert—don’t kill you instantly, and in this case the snakes were “asps”—a rather general term that has typically been used in history to refer to African vipers and cobras—so a few rounds of life weren’t out of the question.

Second, odder side note: A long time ago, in a galaxy ... well, you get the idea .. when I was in high school, I had the snake chest image above made into a silk screen design and I colored it black, red, and green. That was a favorite t-shirt for a while! Now back to our program.

The characters retreated and soon Dendyr and Forethal (C 9) were able to magically eliminate the poison taint from our heroes, and the cleric and drow thief were saved from certain death. Deciding (wisely) that the remaining chest wasn’t worth the effort, the PCs returned to the remaining unexplored sphere and swiftly emerged into a grim chapel.

The horrid chapel held all manner of weird items. The heroes split up and explored the room, the thieves and Quint (Ran 12) heading up toward the weirdly glowing altar while Dendyr approached a skeleton in rusted chainmail. Nearby, orange mists surged from yet another clouded archway. Rath, while vaulting a railing next to the altar (something every PC was trying studiously to avoid touching) caught his trailing foot on the worm-eaten wood rail and very nearly fell face-down onto the altar. Brandice experimented with the newly found ring and the altar, whilst Ceralt and Rath moved to investigate the walls and pews.

Eventually (and predictably!) Brandice finally touched the altar … sending a 40-foot streak of lightning (base damage 40 points) shooting down the central isle! The blue bolt blasted through Brandice and Quint and ended just before reaching the startled (and extremely fortunate) Phelan.

Whew! See my next installment for the last part of my session report!
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