Thursday, February 10, 2011

Session Roundup #3

The only gaming this week would have been the run of my game, in which we finished up an encounter that had been called in the previous session on account of snow.

It was a pretty darn elaborate set-up, and I tried a lot of fiddly moving parts for it. There was a big stage with a dias about 3 feet up, and large stone pillars. Two members of the party (The Rogue and the Avenger, my trouble twins) had been sucked into performing as the "Hero" Wizard who had built the dungeon and his sidekick, while the rest of the party were stuck in the audience. They could affect various things by making skill checks to interact with the Shadow Attendants who worked as stagehands.

In the meantime, the two actors made skill checks to carry out tasks narrated by a booming, invisible voice, in sort of a 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' way. Successes gave them bonuses to successive checks, or affected the outcome of the play. Also, I had given them stage swords, which (though they weren't entirely aware of it), ignored the Insubstantial quality. This would be important later.

Or, pretty immediately, as they were attacked by shadowy-wererat minions pretty quickly. Yes, that means dire rats with the Insubstantial quality (though they did not regenerate). Fun! They dispatched them all right, and then were sucked into a plot where the Hero-Wizard was dragged off and forced to become engaged to a Shadow-Actor "Rat Queen," much to the Dismay of her "Royal Vizier".

According to the narrator, the Wizard had crafted a magic wedding-ring, which turned the Queen into a beautiful Eladrin woman, causing her to scream and faint dead away, and the Vizier (an Elite) to be pissed as all hell.

Roll for initiative.

The rest of the party then Diplomacied a Shadow Stagehand to take them to the greenroom, so they could "join the play".

Okay, so the setup.

First of all, many thanks to Shieldhaven for writing up the statblocks for me, as I was creating this stuff at the very last minute. Also, everything I've described so far happened in the previous session, more than a month ago. Yippee!

Anyway. There were more stage weapons available at the sides of the stage, which would solve the Insubstantial problem for the weapon users. The implement users however had a real problem. My solution was to have three spotlights, which moved around the stage, which allowed magic to do full damage. Also, I decided (though this could just be the case) that insubstantial meant that the minions just didn't take damage from normal weapons. Bad times.

The problem was getting the players to figure this out. Some really amazing Arcana checks hinted at it strongly, and one of the wererats was a standard Leader, who also had to stand in the spotlight to use any of his abilities The Vizier alone didn't have this problem. It wound up not mattering for the Vizier, for a couple of reasons.

At each quarter of health, the Vizier summoned 8 or so wererat minions and 2 standards-- a skirmisher and a Leader. So that was fun. The Vizier managed to do his first summon just before the rest of the party made it to the stage, which created some problems with the rats having advantage of position, and the newcomers not having stage weapons yet.

For starters, the Rogue used a sneaky trick, concentrating on a magic necklace in her possession, and changed into the fainted Rat Queen, bluffing the Vizier into believing that she was really said Queen. His insight bonus being all right, but not awesome, he fell for it hook, line and sinker. They managed to interrupt combat, and convince him to send the Real Rat Queen off for questioning with two of the standards, and to dismiss the minions. It also gave the Cleric time to filch some stage weapons for all the magic users. Once that was done, they got back in a fight and beat him down pretty hard, which piffed his bloodied summon of minions, and brought down the curtain on the first act.

Now, Minions that can't be killed are a pain in the ass-- since no one in the party figured out the spotlights in time to use them. However, I made a punt when the party entered the stage that wound up sort of invalidating, quite by accident, my previous mechanic.

So when the party came on stage, they wanted to wear costumes, which were available, though I had no idea what should be. I rolled on a random list of dungeon dressing for inspiration. The Invoker got a fiery gown (from rolling 'matches'), the Artificer got a cloud (from rolling 'pillow'), and the Cleric got a sort of faunish, leafy thing (from rolling 'pipes'). Once they were on stage, their costumes made them seem like elementals, and I decided that damage sources that worked with their costumes would ignore insubstantial.

Yeah, so the invoker can deal full fire damage, and the Artificer with the Lightning Spheres cam do full thunder/lightning. So... yeah.

After a short rest, they went back out for the second act, which involved fighting the Rat Queen-- a level 4 (I think) Solo. She got off one attack and a summon of a bunch of minions before the Rogue changed back to herself and convinced her, through bluffing hard, that really, all she wanted to do really was marry her, and the Vizier was a traitor. The Rat Queen's insight being even worse than the Vizier's, I gave them a round of skill checks to extract themselves from the battle. Yeah, everyone rolled like, 25s on each skill they used. Fully. So the end of the play had the Wizard-Hero properly marry the queen, and granted them a magic item of rat summoning pipes. It also gave them enough xp to level them to 4th.

Went pretty well, for being 2 sessions with a month in between, and the party really liked being able to get out of combat with a skill check. I do not have the crazy skill-check fu that Stands-In-Fire has, so I'm sure there were ways to make it a bit smoother. But once again, I do so love using skills in 4e.

Apart from that I've mostly been playing Fallout: New Vegas or watching Shieldhaven play Overlord, which are good times both. Sadly, since I am a sniveling, console-monkey weakling, I have to be content with the slim playlist offered by New Vegas radio and the few other stations offered by the game, and the damn bug that replays, "Ain't That a Kick In the Head?" all the time, when I'd rather hear "Mad About the Boy" or the one about the Ranger with the Big Bar on His Hip.

Tonight is another DtD Update, which is cool, as people seem to dig getting LARP rules/website patch notes. Who knew! Software Development Practices are awesome!


  1. I've been thinking a bit about the spotlights.

    1) The first few times we performed actions in the spotlight, the spotlight had no apparent effect. While this makes perfect sense from a mechanics standpoint, it gave us the wrong data points for figuring out what the spotlights were good for.
    2) When the enemy was able to cast from within the spotlight, it seemed as though the lights were simply as biased as the narrator was. This was a misinterpretation on our part -- but I find it interesting that at least two of us (the Rogue and I) both thought this. That says something about the tone of the encounter, I think.
    3) Even at the point we had a pretty good idea that the spotlights were equal opportunity bonus material, the spotlights moved randomly, so getting to the light meant giving up position or making yourself vulnerable. This was a good move to keep neither side from abusing the spotlight, but I think it was the final straw that drove us to looking for non-combat approaches to ending the conflict. Fortunately, the bluff and diplomacy rolls in this session were insane, like Obama's-speechwriters-called-and-wanted-their-speeches back insane, so it all worked out okay in the end.

    I've been thinking about the combat in this session and the comat in earlier sessions, and, yeah, I have to agree with you: "no effect" minions suck. Strange swirly pools spawning monsters? Fun! Odd tapestries that dump you out on the edge of time and space? Fun! Meeting and killing a nemesis? Fun! But insubstantial minions are a ball of suck (or a bunch of small, snarling balls of suck, as the case may be).

    That said, the play within play was a great conceit (of course!). I'm consistently impressed by the immersive feel of your games, and I'm even starting to develop affection for DDI. So, y'know, progress has been made. :)

  2. Yeah, I def. needed to sell the spotlights better. I think that if I were doing it again, I would have done the following:

    1) given bonuses to any even vaguely arcane power performed in the spotlight by a PC.
    2) Had an extra spotlight that followed the vizier, and made things available to do-- interacting with the Shadow-Stagehands for example-- to allow players to turn it off or move it away from him, thus cutting off his ability to use magic.
    3) Given better information in response to arcana checks on the spotlights.

    Though in retrospect, I think that the costumes were more effective as things that permitted magic, though it would have _really_ sucked if those casting offensive spells had gotten something that went totally against their energy type. I'd have had to allowed for some way to change costume pieces, I think. I still wouldn't have done away with the spotlights, but I think I would have had them give bonuses if you spent a free action making a skill roll to showboat, or something to that effect.

    Also, I am glad that you're enjoying it, and hee DDI. :)