Monday, August 31, 2009

Forges of the Mountain King: A Review

Forges of the Mountain King: A Review

Today I'm going to review one of the first 4the Edition Adventures released by anybody. Forges of the Mountain King by Goodman Games. This module was released shortly after 4th Edition was released, although that may sound like a recipe for disaster it was not a module tossed together to make a quick a buck. Goodman Games was an early adopter of 4E and had a great deal of communication with WotC while this and their other early releases were being developed1. This turns out to be true.

The Adventure for 1st level PCs is an exploration into what remains of a Dwarven stronghold. With a two page sprawling map it is a dungeon complex in the vein of AD&D something Goodman Games has prided itself on and this adventure is an excellent example of that. Also like some of the AD&D games the combats in this adventure can be brutal, and the mod is rather unapologetic about the fact that there are places where a TPK can happen. Although it does include advice for how to handle a TPK and keep the adventure rolling this may need to be expanded upon if the players are inadequately equipped for such difficult and dynamic combats. This is true not just because there are several rooms with very cool terrain or traps2 but also because the tactics for several of the monsters includes running to get aid from nearby rooms, or keeping re-enforcements waiting in the wings until things get bad. This concept of combats coming in waves or monsters retreating into other encounter areas is something that seems inherent in building a challenging encounter3. Additionally I have found that there is a lot of history and plot potential in this mod that DMs can use to further expand a campaign

Unfortunately because of the, at the time, newness of 4th Ed. Forges of the Mountain King suffers from some early design mistakes. Mostly this comes from combatants that are too high a level for the PCs to reasonable fight and expect to not loose 1 or more party members. Sometimes this is mitigated by terrain but other times it seems to be a throwback to AD&D combats where the party needed to try hit and run tactics and hope the monster did kill the PCs before they could retreat heal and return to kill again, which while fun is not the "expected" play style for 4th Edition combats4. The plot and history of the site does not seem easily conveyed to players. I hope that is  is because Goodman Games wants to keep this as modular as possible and allow a DM to build upon or drop whatever he wants.

My final take on this adventure is the mod is definitely worth picking up if you are starting a low level group out. There are several plot hooks that can be used to build a campaign (both plotted or sand box) and it has enough of the details removed from "boxed" text that a DM can easily reskin the adventure with his own plot. This mod might be worthwhile for a DM that doesn't have a low level party if for nothing other than the maps and plot devices it can represent. The rooms and combats would be interesting and difficult (once the monsters were replaced) for anything up to low Paragon tier. This adventure is not great for a table of players and DM just starting out with little to experience with the system as its inherent deadliness will likely scare the players away from the game entirely. This versatility for experienced groups combined with the reasonable price makes the adventure a solid stock adventure for any haggard DMs toolkit.

1 At least that is what I heard from the modules author at GenCon 2009
2 From multi level stairway combats with orcs at the bottom and archers at the top, to a fight 30' in the air with crumbling walkways and broken bridges, to a room with a trap that while not necessarily lethal it can certainly separate the party causing hilarity to ensue.
3 see Bruce Cordel et all's and Mike Mearl's early notes about developing challenging and expansive combats in dungeons. Dungeon Magazine 
4 I can find no actual designer notes to support this argument but given the concept of monster levels and XP/difficulty budgets it does seem like the players can always expect the difficulty of an encounter to be reasonable.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The thing I am missing most from 4th Ed.

As I've said in previous posts I am not married to a system. However, I am currently playing 4th Edition as my primary fix for D&D. This edition is fine for my needs and I don't expect that statement to cause any of my fine mostly imaginary readers to flame that statement. 

However there is one thing I am missing most in 4th. Ed and that is random magic item distribution. The tone the core books and the designers have set is that what the PCs find should be tailored to them. A battle Cleric should find useful holy symbols that make him feel like a big strong damage dealing cleric, not a wimpy cleric that is preoccupied with keeping his allies fully healed. The fighter specializing in hammers should find hammers in the dragon's trove not swords.

While that is all well and good and I feel some customization is nice on the DMs part. If the PCs want to ensure they get magic items of type FOO then they should be researching where such items were last seen in circulation and questing to get them. The rest of the time if you just happen on a band of Orcs that have been hitting local caravans any magic items they have should be randomly determined. Proficiency in weapons is much more liberal than it was in several of the earlier editions and wondrous items while still useful provide far less bang for their level when compared to the big slot items. Plus having scads of items that aren't useful until just the right time (which the DM has forgotten he even awarded you) is one of the best moments the game can muster.

While I'm sure I will never see a random loot generator come out of WotC and the DDi initiative I may eventually make some charts or convert my older editions charts for use in this edition. If you feel differently from me or have any good resources let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On a mostly unrelated note I've been listening to the Beatles a lot. I don't know why. I like them (obviously) but why do snippets of B-sides keep getting stuck in my head? It started with Paperback Writer, moved on to Maxwell's Silver Hammer and now we're at Cry Baby Cry.

I suppose I could rant and rave in delirium and say it is a sign that I should write an adventure for a minor magic item call Maxwell's Silver Hammer that is really cursed and makes the dwarf PC cry. But that's really a stretch.

Trivia GMs and some players might care about.

Here is something I think every Game Master might care about and should be found in more RPG books. That way you can point to more than DM fiat as to why the golden statue of the goddess Anphribita can't be removed from the ransacked palace.

Average Weight of One Cubic Foot of Various Materials in lbs
Anthracite (Hard Coal); solid93
Anthracite; loose54
Brass; cast504
Brass; rolled524
Brick; pressed150
Brick; common125
Brick; soft100
Cherry; dry42
Clay; dry119
Coal (soft); solid84
Coal (soft); loose49
Coke; loose26
Copper; cast542
Copper; rolled548
Earth; common loam76
Earth; moderately rammed95
Earth; flowing mud108
Ebony; dry76
Elm; dry35
Glass; common window157
Gneiss (rock); common168
Gold; cast pure or 24 ct1204
Gold; rolled hammered1217
Grain at 60lb. per bushel48
Hemlock; dry25
Iron; cast450
Iron; wrought485
Iron; average480
Lime; quick ground or loose53
Limestone and Marble; solid168
Limestone and Marble; loose96
Masonry; granite, limestone165
Masonry; mortar rubble154
Masonry; dry rubble138
Masonry; sandstone144
Mortar, hardened103
Mud; dry80-110
Salt; coarse45
Sand; loose90-106
Sandstone; for building151
Snow; freshly fallen5-12
Snow; moistened15-50
Tin; cast459
Turf or Peat; dry20-30
Water; pure at 60F62.3
Water; sea at 60F64
Wax; bees60.5

This table came from Computing Tables and Formulas E.H. Barker 1913

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Old School vs New School: The debate rages

Recently at Dungeon Mastering, there was a post about if old school play or new school play proveded more control over ones character. However it seems the author doesn't fully grasp the difference between old and new school gaming. To compound matters he never goes on to fully explain what he feels the delineation should be. So now I will post my feelings on the matter and hope that somebody gains some amusement out of this. These are also very simplified and boiled down, please don't lynch me if you feel I missed your favorite/most important element to a game philosophy.

Old School
These games are often sandbox games, although they don't need to be. The concept of mapping your character out from level one to level 30 and expecting it to happen that way, is unreasonable because any number of events and affects could side track that goal. The PCs are free to make their own decisions if it means fleeing the dungeon and not returning or crossing the great sea in search of treasure so be it. From loot generation to random encounters through to what was just pick pocketed off the PC this should be random. Also even if a skill system if in place the result of a difficult or unusual action, should be modified by how reasonable or outlandish a PCs explanation of the activity.

New School
These games are plotted out, have the concept of cut scenes and boxed text. They can be fun and entertaining. Often everything you need to beat the baddies is there the PCs just need to put the puzzle pieces together. Most believe their PCs are destined for greatness and a player leaving the group or an unexpected non-revocable character death can cause the DM some serious consternation. These are like the best of the old adventure computer games they play well and have a lot of great reveals that make everyone feel great for accomplishing something.

Currently I am playing 4E and just wrapped up a 2nd Ed. D&D game and replaced it with a Traveler game. So I like to think I straddle both lines of gaming. I do prefer a campaign world where the DM does not want to force us into a railroad of a plot, and in fact one where the plot is in the background until we "step in it" while trying loot a dungeon or search for lost secrets that will allow us to do that over arching thing we the PCs want to do. What does that make me? I suppose more in favor of the old school. If my GM has a master plot to run the PCs through it better be entertaining because if there is something that sounds more interesting that stopping the demon prince Kerfflufle from conquering the world I might go off and do it and let some other band of take care of it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Adventure Site 16:

An ancient castle populated by the spirits of the most eccentric occupants. "Others" that enjoy such anarchy also dwell there

Adventure Site 15: Raiders or Defenders

What seems a normal assault on raiding Kuatoa turns into an underwater defense of the Kuatota, against Aboleth invaders.