Friday, February 27, 2009

Poll Follow-Up

Wow. I guess hardly anyone has any opinion about what I post on my blog since I have gotten exactly ONE comment and ONE vote. With that in mind, I guess I am going to focus on getting back to the campaign series and posting more content that DMs can plug into their campaigns.

However, if you DO care and just have not voted or commented yet - please do. I look forward to reading your comments!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Poll

I am always interested in what YOU the reader are interested in reading about. To that end, I am putting up a poll to try and figure what you would like to see me posting about on this blog. What a concept! Please vote and feel free to comment as well. Make your opinions known!

Monday, February 23, 2009

What’s He Got in His Pocket? Nine Interesting Items for Pickpockets to Lift

Player character rogues and thieves seem to want to pickpocket random NPCs at the most inopportune times.  This can be a headache for you, the beleaguered GM, if you need to come up with something interesting for the pickpocket to lift than just another bag of 10 gold pieces.  To ease the burden, I have compiled a list of nine items for the prospective pickpocket to steal.  The items look innocuous when first inspected, but, at your discretion they can serve as adventure hooks.  Have fun with them.

A Small Book

The pocket-sized journal is filled with handwritten notes, diagrams, maps and prayers – to a particularly vicious evil deity.  The book’s owner might be the leader of an underground cult that worships the deity and is recruiting members in the area.  The notes in the book provide clues to the owner’s identity, as well as to the location of the cult’s hidden temple.  Of course, if the pickpocket asks questions of the wrong people or starts snooping around, he might well find himself a leading candidate to become the cult’s next sacrificial victim.  The book might also have been carried by a religious inquisitor that is working undercover to hunt down the members of the cult.  Of course, the inquisitor will probably want the book back and might be willing to take it by force.

A Metal Box

The box appears to be made of steel and is about an inch long on each side.  It has no obvious openings, but rattles when shaken.  The box can be opened with magic or perhaps a great deal of physical force.  When finally opened, it’s found to contain a small red bead that has cracks all along its surface (perhaps from all that shaking).  The bead is actually a ‘demon ball’ and the cracks in it have started to release its contents - a very angry extra planar creature.  Fun for all involved will surely follow.  (Yes.  The Wormy reference is intentional.)

A Brass Key

The brass key is finely crafted and appears to be designed to fit a complex lock.  The lock is on a vault owned by a prominent merchant.  A crest on the key can be used to identify the merchant.  The merchant has important papers in the vault that he desperately wants.  They might be needed to close a sensitive business deal or perhaps for something more sinister like blackmail.  He wants the key back badly enough to pay handsomely for it.  On the other hand, if the pickpocket is too greedy or slow to deal, the merchant might be content to send an assassin to retrieve it.

A Piece of Bread (Wrapped in Paper)

The bread is just a piece of moldy bread.  The paper, however, appears to be an old and faded piece of parchment torn from a book.  The writing might require translation or even magic to be read.  Once it is, the parchment is found to contain directions to the location of an ancient crypt.  The crypt might contain any number of treasures – and terrors or it might have been emptied long ago.  As an added complication, if the pickpocket uses an NPC to translate the parchment, the NPC may tip off another group of adventurers that might be interested in exploring the crypt themselves.

A Wooden Whistle

The whistle is simply carved from animal bone.  When blown, it makes a high-pitched, almost imperceptible tone.  The whistle could summon a guardian animal of some kind that might – or might not be friendly to the whistle’s new owner.  It might even magically summon a horde of small animals or insects.  Alternately, the whistle might be the key that unlocks a secret door or even a portal to another plane.

A Sealed Letter

The letter is folded and closed with a wax seal.  If read, it is found to be a steamy love letter from a well respected (and married) female member of the local nobility to a much younger captain of the local guard or militia.  She is very keen to not have the letter become public of course and is willing to pay a reasonable amount of blackmail to prevent it.  Of course, she also might pull some strings and have the pickpocket arrested and thrown into the local dungeon until he turns it over.

A Dirty Handkerchief

The handkerchief is made from fine silk.  Unfortunately, it has also been heavily used.  Even more unfortunately, the owner was infected with some sort of contagious disease that the pickpocket has now contracted.  As a less dangerous alternative, handling the handkerchief might leave the pickpocket with a strange red rash on his hands.  The rash is harmless, but of course the pickpocket won’t know that.

A Mysterious Marble

The marble is approximately an inch in diameter and appears to be made of glass.  It is initially clear when found, but as it is examined later it will turn various colors and even appear to glow from within.  It is actually just a toy created by a mage to amuse a child, but the pickpocket might well mistake it for something else.  And of course it might very well be something more powerful (or sinister) at the GM’s discretion.

A Yellowed Fang

The fang or tooth is nearly six inches long.  A character with the proper skill can identify it as the incisor of a large animal or monster.  It is yellowed and dark and looks smooth as if from years of handling.  The fang might be the component for a spell, a spell focus, etc.  It might even turn into a powerful monster if the proper spell is cast on it or perhaps if it is planted in the ground, ala Jason and the Argonauts.  Of course it might also just be an old tooth and nothing more.

4E at Games Plus was Fun!

I had a blast running 4E at Games Plus on Sunday.  A big shout out to Rob, Todd and Chad (from the Lords of Tyr) and Matt for coming out and playing.  I don't think that I did a perfect job, but I hope everyone had a good time!  More thoughts about the game later...

Friday, February 20, 2009

My DM Status is Now Official

I apologize for the lack of updates, but I have been preparing for the 4E game that I am going to run this Sunday. I did take the time, however, to take the Herald level test on the RPGA website. My DM status is now official...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

D&D 4E at Games Plus this Weekend!

I am going to be running a one-shot 4th Edition D&D game at 2:00 PM this Sunday at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL.  The format is a 'delve style' adventure for a party of 3rd-level characters.  I can run multiple sessions if I get a big group.  If you are interested in a little dungeon crawl or just want to playtest one of the character classes from DDI, drop me a comment - and come by to play!

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Subscription to DDI Has Expired!

Well, my 3-month subscription to Dungeons & Dragons Insider has expired. I'm really torn about whether or not to renew it. I mainly joined for the electronic tools and while the Character Builder is great, there just isn't much else that excites me. I don't really use the Compendium and there still doesn't seem to be a timetable for the other tools to be rolled out. On top of that I'm not much of an 'early adopter' so the preview stuff doesn't really excite me. Dragon and Dungeon are pretty good, but I don't know if I can justify the cost just to have access to them. Decisions, decisions...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Finding the Lair - A 4E Skill Challenge

Building a bit on my previous post about skill challenges, I thought that I would post a sample skill challenge of my own design. I would really like some feedback on it. Is it interesting? Does it suck? How could it be better? Comment away!

Finding the Lair

You enter the edge of the forest, determined to find the hidden lair.

Setup: To successfully complete this skill challenge, the PCs must make their way through the forest and locate a hidden lair.
Level: Equal to the level of the party.
Complexity: 1 (requires 4 successes before 2 failures).
Primary Skills: History, Nature, Perception.
History (moderate DC): You remember details about locations in the forest that might serve as a lair.
Nature: (easy DC): You are able to locate a trail in the forest that leads you closer to the hidden lair.
Perception (moderate DC): You notice a trail sign or spoor that leads you toward to the lair’s location.
Success: The PCs locate the lair.
Failure: The PCs are unable to locate the lair. If they only accumulate 1 or 2 successes before 2 failures, they are also lost in the forest. If they accumulate no successes before 2 failures, they are ambushed and immediately enter a combat encounter.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

4E Skill Challenges - Broadening the Band

I was listening to Episode 35 of Paul Tevis' excellent Have Games, Will Travel podcast and he mentioned the 'narrow band of success and failure' in RPGs. It strikes me that Skill Challenges are an excellent way to 'broaden this band' in 4E D&D. Mike Mearls has discussed creating better Skill Challenges in his excellent Ruling Skill Challenges series of articles in Dungeon magazine, but I think that we as DMs can take this even further.

We should be constructing our skill challenges (at least the more important ones) so that not only does success or failure have tangible consequences, but there is a broad band of consequences for that success or failure. I will try to create an example of this soon and post it for your comments...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Coming Flood of 4E D&D Books

I was listening to the Wizards of the Coast DDXP 2009 Product Announcements on the latest Radio Free Hommlet podcast and the approach that 'everything is core' kind of stuck me. I don't know if I like this approach or not. If every book released and every article from Dragon and Dungeon magazines is considered 'core', I think that puts a lot of pressure on the DM to include EVERTHING in his campaign. This is further enforced by the approach of releasing a books that provides a broad overview of something (Player's Handbook for instance) and then follow-up books that provide more details (Martial Power, Arcane Power, etc.) Further enforcing this is the fact that WotC is including 'must have' components in new books like familiars in Arcane Power and item sets in Adventurer's Vault 2. I realize that there is a long tradition of 'splat' books in the RPG industry, but I still find the concept frustrating.

NOTE: Yes, I realize that I have a choice and I can say 'NO' to anything that I don't want to include, but the whole concept does tend to enforce the conspiratorial notion the WotC has a not-so-hidden agenda to subconciously force me to buy every D&D product that they release...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Printing to PDF With Character Builder

For those of you that might be interested in printing your character sheets from WotC's 4E Character Builder to PDF, I have had success with CutePDF Writer. It seems to work flawlessly (albeit a little slowly) with my Vista laptop and I am pleased with the output quality. Even better is the fact that it is FREE! Now you can save all those characters you have been generating to a USB stick and print them out at work! (Of course I would never condone such a thing...)