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Training Film: How Not to Be Eaten

hantamouse bowed out of gaming tonight, so sirfox, jamesbarrett, and laurie_robey rolled up characters for my 4E sword-and-sorcery campaign, titled, "Ten Thousand Swords in Zan-Xadar." Inspired by Robert E. Howard, Ray Harryhousen movies, and to a large extent the "Punjar Adventure Path" from Goodman Games, I tossed the players into a classic in medias res opening, by starting the campaign with a shipwreck. :)

The players consist of: Basheba, a human cleric of Bahamut who is cursed with a from of pseudo-vampirism (laurie_robey), Kalan, a djinnblood sorcerer/rogue with a penchant for sneakery and flashy acrobatics (jamesbarrett), and Doryyn (sirfox), a dual-wielding jackalwere seaman. They have been joined by an NPC, Vellardus, who was the first mate on the ship they were traveling on.

The scenario is a good ol' S&S classic — a mysterious island has been shoved up from the sea floor, causing all sorts of horrible weirdness, and the heroes have come ashore on it. In this particular case, the heroes swam ashore, because their ship was driven onto a barrier reef by its siren-maddened captain, helped along by sea devils, who eventually climbed aboard and began tearing apart the crew. To the players' credit, they almost managed to save the ship, even though I designed the adventure so that this was practically impossible to do.

Once the sirens (harpies) and sahuagin were both involved, it rapidly became a massacre. Other than Vellardus, even the few NPCs who had the presence of mind to flee the sinking ship tended to find themselves fleeing into the waiting arms of the hungry sea devils. The PCs and Vellardus, once it became clear that "escape" was the victory condition for this encounter, abandoned ship and headed for the island shore. Unfortunately, the rest of the crew were devoured. (In an ironic twist, however, one of the harpies who had been harassing the PCs was also devoured, when the sea devils realized it was bloodied and descended upon it like piranha.

The survivors, all four of them, rested panting on the beach for a while, then got their bearings. They decided to head for the hull of another wrecked ship, rather confusingly high on the shoreline, but before they got off the beach they were attacked by the giant enemy crab that everybody knew had to be coming, and four of its young. This fight was a bit of a slog, because the crabs resisted most of the damage thrown their way until they were bloodied, at which point the shell was cracked and they were as vulnerable as any other creature. When we ended the session, the PCs had used some of their daily powers and several of their healing surges, but were in overall decent shape still.

From a GMing perspective, it was ... interesting. Game prep was easy; easy-peasy pushbutton adventure creation. Even a huge mess of an encounter like the shipwreck didn't actually require that much fiddly mechanical work. Most of the sahuagin and ship's crew were more like scenery than anything else — the bulk of the encounter was skill checks or PCs vs. harpies. I had stat blocks for the sea devils and for the ship's crew if they were necessary, but I only referenced them once or twice and could have easily faked it.

On the other hand, combat was a big ol' slog. Everything (that isn't a minion, anyway) has SO MANY HIT POINTS. 0.o According to the presented math of encounter creation, these encounters were right on for the group, but the monsters' defenses seemed to be awfully high (or the PCs' attacks awfully low), so a lot of turns were spent missing the target, and even when the target was hit most of the attacks didn't do a whole lot of damage relative to the creature's overall state.

So, net result ... not sure how I like it so far. Maybe I should just halve all the monsters' hit points?

-The Gneech


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 13th, 2009 12:23 pm (UTC)
Ick. Definitely not half! If the PCs were missing that much, I wonder if they were forgetting something with their attack rolls. Did you guys use the Character Builder (Free demo on the WotC site, up to 4th level), or did you roll them by hand?

I'm wondering if they didn't factor in the Proficiency bonus from the weapons they were using. That can have a big impact.
Sep. 13th, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
Hostile dice.

They hear "i'll use this encounter power." and suddenly there's a massive shift of molecular motion towards the face with the 20 on it, causing a 1 to be facing upwards when the rolling stops.

that's my theory anyhow.
Sep. 13th, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that too. :)

Sep. 13th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
I have a dice which I use most often, since I'm sure it tends to higher numbers more often than not. (Not in a luck sense, in a manufacturing balance sense.)

The rest of my group seem to have terrible dice luck.

(And other group I was in had some AMAZING bad dice luck, which turned a routine illegal over-city skydive into an utter fiasco.)
Sep. 13th, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC)
We used the character builder software and then eyeball-audited the numbers; I'm pretty sure they're all right. But the characters are not min/maxed, so for instance the group's "striker," a rogue/sorcerer hybrid, only has +3 with the powers he tends to use most. And apparently, my luck with dice is spreading to the rest of the group, because any more it's only the GM who can roll above a 9 most of the time.

It wasn't as bad against the crab, whose defenses topped out at 15, but against the harpies, who had defenses of 17-20, it was really disheartening.

Of course, the harpies were level 6, which is a recurring problem with the "XP budget" method of encounter building. The smaller the number of foes, the more OMG-out-of-level they have to be to add up. I wanted them to basically be fighting two harpies with a lot of other monsters around as set-dressing ... each 6th-level harpy was worth 250 XP, making it a 500 XP encounter, just right by the math, but they still had hugemongous defenses.

I'm going to play around with retro-statting the encounter different ways and see how that plays out. Two 3rd-level elite harpies, for instance, should come out the same in terms of encounter budget, but might be a less grindy fight.

-The Gneech
Sep. 13th, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Only having a +3 to-hit is pretty low. I've not messed with hybrids, so I don't know how that works out.
Sep. 13th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)
"But the characters are not min/maxed..."

That in my 4e experience is why your players are having such a hard time with it. For all intents and purposes you HAVE TO min/max your characters in 4e unless your GM intentionally tones down the opponents some.

Also how did your players generate their stats? Did you actually roll for them or use the standard stat buy out of the book?
Sep. 13th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
The year 4E came out, I went to seminar with Rich Baker, and even he agreed the "Brute" types have a few too many HP.

The general advice seem to be to try to avoid throwing brutes of higher level against the PCs and consider cutting their HP by 20% or so.

The other suggestion would be to just eyeball it. Cut the Harpy HP down and throw in another challenge (Minions, lesser monsters, environmental effects, traps, etc.) to compensate.
Sep. 13th, 2009 12:37 pm (UTC)
Invent dynamite. ;)

Edited at 2009-09-13 12:37 pm (UTC)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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