Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Our First D&D Sessions: The Death of Iannan

My first few sessions were focused on the basics: What is a turn? What are my powers good for? I have to admit that I had some problems role playing Iannan. He was healing cleric who worshiped the Raven Queen. At first I thought it would be a hilarious irony to be healer who worshiped the goddess of death, but it was much harder to role playing than I thought it would be.

I guess healers worshiping the Raven Queen or Kelemvor would have an easier time explaining away their own ineptitude. "Yea, for the Lord of the Dead hath decreed that I not heal ye in time and thus join him this day."

Cassandra got to learn about the classic bane of level 1 D&D characters: kobolds. And we both got to learn a new feature of the 4th Edition of D&D: Kobolds can actually be quite vexing! One the biggest advances of 4th edition was making a lot of low level creatures complex, but still appropriate for beginners. In ye olden days a lot of low level monsters and opponents felt more or less the same mechanically. In some cases lower level monsters would simply level, have their defenses, saves, and attack bonuses increase and be new monsters. Goblins basically graduated to being orcs, which in turn would graduate into being hobgoblins, etc. 

Of course, many good DMs just worked through this monster progression. With a good story you could easily forget that the orcs you were fighting were basically enlarged versions of the goblins you fought last level. A good DM will still do this, of course, but what 4th edition brought to the table were some game mechanics that match the story flavor of each monster. Monsters in 4e have a unique character and that uniqueness is backed up mechanically.

Kobolds, for example, have always been the skittery ambush and trap laying weaklings of the D&D world. In 4e they all come with a movement mechanic called "Shifty" that fits their flavor wonderfully. Not only does the name of the ability hilariously match what we all thought about kobolds anyway, the mechanic allows all kobolds to shift as a minor action. This means that kobolds can zip around the battlefield more nimbly than the average player character. They can surround PCs and gain combat advantage quite easily thanks to their mobility.

In addition to their increased mobility certain 4e kobolds have a certain horrible ability called "Gluepot." Gluepot is a ability that apparently most of the kobolds we ran into had plenty of. It imposes a immobilization (save ends) effect on the players.

Our adventure had taken us deep into the sewer system of our beloved city. Apparently D&D cities are often infested with both bandits and kobolds. If only they had made those tunnels a little less roomy, right? This town apparently was particularly poorly planned as the sewer system connected to a series of caves. 

What lives in caves? Harmless bats, salamanders, and maybe creepy looking fish? Oh no. Not alone anyways. Not in the D&D universe. All caves everywhere are infested with some sort of level appropriate clan of monsters. Through the series of caves we met stiff resistance from the resident kobolds. They were no match for us though. After all we had a great minotaur absorbing damage for us, a druid controlling the field of battle, a half-orc barbarian rending our foes in twain, a half-elf cleric casting sacred flame to free us from hail of gluepots we met, and a lovable gnomish bard (AKA the competent healer.)

We had a good rhythm going and Loran probably planned it that way. Eventually we met the wrench thrown into our well oiled machine... the black dragon and his five or so kobold adherents. I assumed that the tactics we had used up to this point would be enough to handle this new threat just fine... how wrong I was.

See, if you people keep flushing your dragon whelp pets down the toilet when they start to get too big this is what you're going to get in your sewers.

The kobolds promptly glued us in place with their wretched pots. Then came the acid breath... oh yes. 

See, a dragon's breath weapon is kind of its signature, but one thing they all have in common is that they typically bathe an entire area in a lovely rain of death. A usual strategy is to keep spread out, but this is difficult when you are entering in from a small doorway and are immediately glued in place. 

Sacred Flame did actually manage free up most of my companions from the glue pots, but I also had ongoing damage to help people to save out of. Saves are much more forgiving in 4th edition. After all, all I had a 50/50 chance to save out of each effect, so I focused on liberating our melee combatants first. 

Luck was not with us that night. I knew it wasn't with us because I knew whom exactly it was with: the black dragon. That dragon recharged its breath weapon (a 1 in 3 chance) nearly every round. Meanwhile. I never, NEVER saved out of that first gluepot or the pool of acid that eventually took poor Iannan's life.

It was a tragic death for poor Iannan as he could have possible saved himself if he were not so obsessed with Sacred Flaming others out of harm. It would have been indeed sad if he had died with healing powers left to give out, or a great deal of gold on his person, or an engaging personality, but he had none of those. In the end, his sacrifice was quite worth it. His friends survived and his death led to the creation of a far greater character that would become the namesake of this blog. The subject of many a song and story and the first great herald of Tiamat, Xolok the Terrible.

Next post: The Introduction of Xolok the Terrible.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Our First D&D Session: Creating Our First Characters

Keep in mind that at this point we still had no clue how this game was played. My tiny shreds of knowledge came only from playing Neverwinter Nights which is a third edition based PC game.

One thing I did know though was that people love clerics, but people didn't necessarily enjoy playing a cleric. I figured I would endear myself to the group by taking on that role and have a nice simple time of casting "Cure Light/Moderate/Critical Wounds" over and over again while learning to play more complicated parts of the game.

My wife decided to go for the barbarian figuring that it would also be simple to be the person in charge of running up and hitting things. The classic barbarian has the lowest Intellect score, so it makes sense that it should be the easiest to play, right?

Loran, my first DM, was a great person to introduce us to the game. He and his wife continued to be part of our D&D adventures in Houston up until we left.

Here's specifically why Loran was a great DM, especially for newbies like us:

He's a friendly person for one. Unfriendly people do not make good DMs. When your job at the game table is to thwart and confound your friends, it helps to be completely unlike the villains you are portraying. Otherwise it becomes far too easy for people to assume you really hate them. For example, DMs should try their best to not cackle maniacally at their players' misfortune. At the end of the day, even after characters have been melted, ignited, perforated, sliced and diced... your DM should still be your friend.

For two, Loran seemed excited to share the hobby with new people, and he had a good sense of humor about it. For some players, character creation is a fine craft that must be approached with the utmost reverence and seriousness. These players should not be the first ones to volunteer to help you make your new character.

I know. I know you can help them make their first character super awesome and amazing and perfect... but, just remember that it's a game and some people - and most first timers I assume - have fun just finding their character in a process of thinking about the person they want to create.

I told Loran that I wanted to play the cleric - obviously assuming that every group still needed one in this edition. I then picked out half-elf for my character's race. The reason I picked half-elf was two-fold. In all previous editions of D&D half-elves were just awful. They pretty much had the weakest bonuses of both humans and elves, so I was excited to see that in 4th they became more of a unique player race.

The second reason I chose half-elf was because I thought charisma was still a handy stat to have as a cleric. In 3rd edition charisma determined everything about the cleric's Turn Undead ability, and I remembered that being a really awesome power in Neverwinter Nights. I remember I actually caused a server to crash because I had gathered up an innumerable amount of skeletons around me before unleashing Turn Undead to destroy them all.

In 4th edition, charisma is still a secondary stat for clerics, but the Turn Undead ability is much less a cornerstone power for them.

At any rate, in those days there were two potential builds for clerics: Devoted, and Battle... or as Loran put the question to me, "Would you rather be a standing in the back guy or more of a battle-pope?" While I found the idea of playing a D&D version of Pope Julius II intriguing and hilarious, I figured that the standing in the back guy was standing back there casting Cure Light Wounds, etc.

I decided to go for the more healing sounding one rather than the self-buffing warrior type. As it turns out, every cleric in 4th edition gets to do other things in addition to healing - that's were the real dichotomy between devoted and battle-popes come in. Iannan would get to heal whether he was in the front lines doing it or in the back. 

I should also mention that I was a cleric of the Raven Queen. I wanted to be a cleric of Ilmater, but this is what a newbie I was: I had no idea that the Forgotten Realms (which Ilmater is from) was a specific setting for D&D. I thought all D&D was set in the Forgotten Realms. This was just as the Forgotten Realms materials were being released so Loran had no sources for clerics of Ilmater.

Cassandra created a rageblood half-orc barbarian. Interestingly enough her newbie assumptions about her class and play style were closer to the truth than mine were. Her build really was a good way to learn the game as it mostly involved running up to things and bisecting them with an axe. It was very direct and she had the luxury of not having to worry about taking care of other people.

In my next post: How My First Character, Iannan the Characterless Cleric of the Raven Queen, Died.

Our First D&D Session: Who Actually Works Here?

This post has taken me a while to write, because of two things: Firstly, the holidays happened, secondly, I really wanted to figure out what exactly the people in our first D&D did so well that we got so hooked on this game.

As I have mentioned before, we set up this first session through Asgard Game's forums. Aside from the treatises that we should play X, Y, Z other game, the initial forum posts we read were very encouraging. First of all, one of the posters stated that she was the girlfriend of the original poster. 

I knew that women played this game. Heck, it was Cassandra's idea that we look into playing in the first place. It was extra reassuring though to know that the people we were meeting were actually able to have and maintain a personal relationship with another person though. It's not that everyone who has a significant other is instantly awesome or has social skills, nor is it that everyone who doesn't have a significant other doesn't have those qualities. It's just that these folks had already shattered the stereotypical basement-dwelling nerd that we have all grown up to know, love, and shun.

It was decided that we would all meet on a Tuesday night at the gaming shop. The shop was fairly deserted when we last visited, so we weren't expecting the festival of nerds we encountered on a weeknight. I feel like there must have been several tournaments of various games going on at once or we just hit one of those moments when everyone decided to show up to the shop and stay.

The reader might be thinking, "Why didn't you ask the clerk at the front for direction?" This would be a great idea. At least a good place to start, right? Maybe the people running D&D had told the clerk to expect some people looking for a D&D game. This would be a great idea except that it was (and probably still is) really difficult to tell who actually works at Asgard Games. Seriously, I felt that perhaps the owner of the store had left the store for a while and just had everyone on the honor code. Maybe there's a sacred rule that nerds are bound to not steal from other nerds upon penalty of having nobody to game with.

Eventually we found a person who at least was standing at a table where everyone else was sitting. People who are standing tend to be charge, right? We asked and eventually found our group.

Next Post: Creating our first characters.
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