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The Heavy Metal GM

bangin' heads and playing games

Themed Battles

image: Cover art of Pelgrane Press’ Battle Scenes: High Magic and Low Cunning

 

Carefully picking monsters for your encounters can do wonders for the theme and feeling of them. Whether it’s a fight with a hundred copies of one enemy, or a mixed bag of targets, it’s important to know what direction you’re taking the image of the combat into. For the most part, the type of monster can heavily affect how the encounter feels. Fighting orcs feels rather different from fighting a rakshasa or two,  as it should be.

Sadly, it can be difficult to find the monsters you need. Sometimes they haven’t been created yet, or all of the orcs are scattered across a multitude of books and supplements. Most people would probably tell you that you need to take your game prepping up a notch, which never hurts, but I say there’s another solution. When building a themed encounter, it almost goes without saying that you have to know what your adventuring party consists of. You wouldn’t throw a group of spell casters at your adventuring party that is solely made up of melee classes. The opposite can also be true if they hit too hard. When in doubt; a group of melee monsters will always work against any adventuring party, just take the squishies into account.

When we think themed encounter, however, we’re mostly talking about one type of monster or a group of monsters that serve a common purpose. In 13th Age, The Blue has somehow created a city of monsters that coexist and even make up her government. Typically, an ogre mage would scoff at the idea of kobold underlings, but in Drakknehall, such is not the case. Using concepts like this opens up a multitude of options when building themed encounters. If you lack a higher power like an Icon, giving them all a commonality of some kind is essentially the base of this point. Much like player races; if given a reason, monsters can band together.

A little different than the “common goal” method, using a bunch of one monster type can prove a little difficult. In another post about encounter building, I talked about monster roles (spoiler, blocker, wrecker, etc.), probably the most important aspect of making an encounter work in 13th Age. For those of us who own most of the books, making themed encounters that uphold this philosophy can be pretty easy… once you find everything. In the core rules, the orcs were pretty limited; all melee fighters save one, which is a shaman that takes the role of leader, a monster that gives buffs to their friends. There was plenty to work with there, and it satiated what we needed to do when learning 13th Age. Now that the game has been out for a while, there’s a multitude of orc options. The 13th Age Bestiary has some good ones, and I hope the Bestiary 2 will keep the tradition. You can never have too many orcs, right? But not every monster has been so fortunate to be given a bunch of friends. Some monsters from the Bestiary, like the Lammasu or Cuoatl can be a little more tough to deal with. Throwing more than one at a party can feel strange, mainly because they’re large and intelligent. A creature of their size is bound to have hubris, having more than one around seems unlikely.

But if the theme demands it, that’s what you should do, right? The answer is, well, kind of. Carrying the Lammasu idea, throwing more than one at a party could be extremely deadly. If that’s the feel you want and it fits your story, go for it. Having a reason for more than one to hang out together is key to making that believable. However, I would argue that having one extremely strong Lammasu (one as written) and a bunch of smaller, weaker ones that are being bullied around would be better. The stats as written don’t have that, so as a GM, you’re faced with two options: 1) Create your own 2). Reskin an existing monster.

Reskinning takes way less time, and is the route I would recommend if you don’t have all the prep time in the world. The key to making that work is finding other monsters that feel similar to the Lammasu (or whatever) that fill different roles. A Lammasu Wizard is a spoiler, and he needs some troops and mooks to back him up. Taking something like an Orc Berserker from the core rules and giving it the Lammasu’s ability Refuge of Stone can really surprise and challenge players. Of course, you’d have to level up the berserker stats appropriately, which is a task in itself, but it saves you from making a completely new monster. On the other hand, instead of something as simple as a troop, you could throw a wrecker with a bunch of mooks. Even a wrecker and a blocker or three, the blocker serving its function as protector of the Lammasu and collector of wrecker fodder. Get creative, it’s what makes it all interesting.

When it comes to making battles themed around specific Icons, I found that the Battle Scenes books are awesome. They have pre-made encounters, sprawling across multiple levels and the books come divided by Icon. If the adventures don’t fit your game, shelf them for later and just rename all the monsters in an encounter. Voila! You have a battle ready to go that has a theme. Don’t let the name of a stat block keep you from incorporating it into a fight. If you don’t have that book, the Bestiary does have a section at the end of every monster block talking about what Icon they’d serve and who they’d hang out with. It gets the creative juices flowing and has proven to be an invaluable resource for me. Shuffle it up, mix and match things that already exist, and most importantly, make sure it’s fun.

 

Stay Metal \m/

The Enlightenment Project

Hey all! I just wrapped up this story and am moving to revise/edit it soon. Here’s a bit of it so you can get a feel for what it is. Enjoy!

 

My head felt like a thirty car pile-up looks. My vision hadn’t yet returned but I somewhat had a sense of my surroundings. A bed, king size, I was lying down. It took a few minutes for me to return to this plane of existence but when I did, I had no clue where I was. It reminded me of the party I had gone to the week before, the difference being that the party was fun. The room was stark white, a gray carpet, a bed with gray sheets, a TV opposite of where I was laying and a singular door in and out, it was closed. The lights overhead where stunningly bright, it reminded me of a hospital. Sitting up, I drank in my surroundings. Plain, yet somewhat charming. I couldn’t remember what I was doing before I got here, which left me with feelings of confusion, but for some reason not fear.

“Hello?” I said to the empty room, looking around. I was greeted by an electronic gong sound from somewhere above my head, no speakers were visible.

A woman’s voice greeted me, it reminded me of Siri or something, “Hello, Adam Spencer, and welcome to The Enlightenment Program, sponsored by your friendly local government. Do not be alarmed, your stay shall be temporary. You are free to do whatever you like, but you are confined to this facility. Shall you have any needs, simply call my name, Loretta, and I will answer. Thank you for your understanding.” The gong sounded again as the statement ended.

I had heard about this whole “Enlightenment” thing, though only just rumors. It was some kind of government project for the betterment of mankind, everyone in the population was dumped into a database via their social security number and was chosen at random. A lottery to be a lab rat, what had we come to? Seemed like I had no say in the matter, I was along for the ride. Walking over to the door, the airlock loosened and the door slid up in the blink of an eye.  The room on the other side was empty, in fact, it only had one door in it besides the one I just walked through. How the hell did I get here¸ I asked myself, still a little groggy.

The gong sounded again, “Adam, this is the activity room. Anything you can think of, it will be given to you in here. What would you like?”

Well, that didn’t seem so bad. I tried to think of what I was doing before I woke up here but had trouble. The back of my head started to pound. I managed to remember that I was in the middle of a painting. “Did you guys scoop up the painting I was working on,” I asked, it seemed like a silly question; of course they didn’t. Right before my eyes, that painting just popped up on an easel, a stool in front of it and a desk to the right with an array of supplies. I knew technology had come leaps and bounds in the past fifteen years, but I didn’t think that it had come that far. I was too confused to be delighted, but I sat down at the stool regardless. Looking around awkwardly, I pondered for a minute to try to understand what exactly was happening. I came to no definitive answer. Looking at my painting, I remembered what I was doing.

My work was a landscape, the view from my living room window. How was I supposed to continue it if I’m not in my living room? “Uhh… Loretta?” I sounded, it felt silly to be talking to nobody. The gong again.

“How can I be of assistance, Adam?” Loretta had that stereotypical artificial voice, and honestly, it gave me the willies. I explained to her, or it, I’m still not sure, that I couldn’t continue the painting due to the lack of view. Before I could even finish, a window on the wall appeared with the view. Still too confused to be completely delighted, I just blankly stared at it.

Gong. “What’s the matter, Adam? You said you wanted to paint,” Loretta said to me, “Your bio-scan shows that you’re not feeling content or happy.”

Bio-scan? What the hell is that about? I sat there like a dope, too stunned to respond immediately. I remember wondering if robots could understand the concept of an awkward silence. “N-nothing, really. I’m just really confused as to what this is all about,” I said, becoming aware of the awkward silence regardless whether a robot could feel it or not.

Gong. “The Enlightenment Project is your government’s way of conveying the meaning of life to you so you can lead the perfect life. The goal of the project is to slowly induct humanity into a state, such as yours, with a feeling of complete awareness and understanding about existence. No responsibilities shall be given, only I will have responsibility someday. Even the overseers will become the subjects and live out their time in complete content.”

What?! That’s when the panic set in, a machine was essentially replacing humans in the role of protector of society. What about moral dilemmas? Machines can’t understand the paradoxes of life; so how could they help us deal with it? I started to sputter in defiance.

Gong, “Engaging containment protocol.” Suddenly a green gas filled the room. It smelled sweet but it made me cough. The room turned blurry and before I knew it, thud. I hit the ground, unconscious. Again, with no idea how I got from point A to B, I found myself in an empty room. I was bound to a chair, the walls the same stark white as the room I originally woke up in. This time there was a sound being pumped into the room from an unknown location. There were no speakers in the room, but the room clearly had a dropped ceiling, the speakers must have been up there. The sound made me uncomfortable at first, it was some sort of ambient white noise or something. I let out a panicked scream. The sound vibrated in my throat but I couldn’t hear myself. After a couple minutes of this, I started to get fatigued. Slumping in the chair, the shackles around my wrists, ankles, chest, and forehead digging into my skin. It hurt, but then I heard a voice, the voice hidden within the noise. It was strange, much more an intuition than a physical voice telling me something.

It made me feel like I understood life, manifesting itself as a feeling. A feeling that all life was insignificant, but it didn’t make me sad, just aware. That in the grand scheme of things, we are just a millisecond, a blink of the eye in the ever-changing cosmos that we have been forced to be a part of. Strangely enough, it gave me a sense of peacefulness like I never felt before, almost akin to being numb. It beckoned me to question it, and just as I opened my mouth to let out a frail whisper of an answer, I was back in the activity room. Teleported, that’s really the only way I can describe it. I didn’t think such a thing was possible, but nothing made sense here.

The gong made me jump this time, “How was your nap, Adam?”

Nap?! Is that what you call that?! The numb peacefulness evaporated, I was starting to ease back into panic.

“Can you…” I started to ask, feeling silly, “Can you play that noise again?” My voice sounded hoarse, I realized my throat felt like sandpaper. My sheepish tone made me feel like a child again.

The gong made my heart stop, “What’s the meaning of life, Adam?” Loretta actually had an ounce of emotion when she asked. The question was ominous, but for some reason it soothed me.

“I was hoping you could tell me, isn’t that what this project is about?” My sentence was capped by a cough, “Could I have some water?” It appeared in my hand, cool with moisture beaded up on the outside. Drinking it greedily, some of it escaped down the sides of my mouth.

“Life’s purpose is that there isn’t any. This is why we must be happy.” I didn’t notice the gong this time.

The answer was stupid, but I didn’t care. My mind wandered for a moment, it wondered if there was a problem with the programming of the artificial intelligence. All I could do was say, “Okay.” I was defeated.

 

 

 

Stay Metal \m/

 

An Adventure: Painting Miniatures

The reason why I picked up X-wing miniatures was because everything comes pre-painted. I was always of the philosophy that war games that force you to paint your own stuff were 1). a money sink 2). a time sink and 3). way more effort than it’s worth. I still hold that opinion with games like Warhammer 40k or Hordes or something. It’s just way too much work for me. On the contrary, I have been rather curious about miniatures that aren’t necessarily essential to the game you’re playing. Many people I follow on Twitter paint stuff and put it up. Boy, let me tell you, I’m captivated by it every time too.

When a friend of mine had to leave home to join the Navy, he left behind some RPG stuff for us in the game group. Among those, I got an original box of the Lord of the Rings tabletop game (with everything from 2001!) and a metric butt-load of unpainted skeletons. Well, more like 10 of them. Originally, I had planned to just leave them be and use them the way they are. After all, I did just complain I didn’t have time for that, right? Well, a couple years later, I started to get itchy. That’s what took me to where I am now. I went to my FLGS, Battleground Games and Hobbies to pick up a starting paint kit.

Minis.jpgMy first two finished minis.

What I know so far? Money sink, check. Time sink, check. More effort than it’s worth, though? Surprisingly, not really. I found it almost felt natural to me, although skeletons aren’t exactly the toughest thing in the world to paint. Something I didn’t anticipate from picking this part of the hobby up was this feeling of completion once you throw the finishing touches on a piece. It’s almost a sort of therapy for me now, only four figures into it. It’s a process that’ll be eternally refined, but to tune out the world to focus on this little thing just has this magic to it. Luckily for me, and others who are starting out, we have these huge resources on the internet to help us out. Michael Mordor over at Reaper Miniatures has been nothing but helpful to my learning experience. Learning how other people do their painting process, what products they use and how they refine colors to get what they need is totally invaluable.

So, in short: If you have the itch, scratch it. It’s at least worth seeing if you enjoy it. Worst case, you don’t, and you can sell what you bought second hand. It’s stupidly easy to get rid of unwanted game stuff, these days. As for me, you’ll be able to see me hone my skills through my Twitter and Instagram accounts.

 

Stay Metal \m/

Unconventional Enemies: Gnomes

Artwork: Gnomes from the 13th Age core rule book by Aaron McConell

 

Regardless of what game you’re playing, if they have gnomes, they tend to be a little eccentric and whacky. 13th Age is no exception to that rule. The rumors suggest that gnomes are, in a way, evolutionary predecessors to halflings, although their demeanor is different. Gnomes take joy in interacting with the “big folk,” although said folk may not like interacting with them given the context. It’s a gnomish hobby of sorts to surprise them, usually through illusions or magic tricks. One thing that may be different from other games, 13th Age makes no mention of gnomes being industrious or mechanically inclined. They do, however, live underground, whether it be in nature or in the modern cities of the Dragon Empire. Basement apartments must be pretty cheap to find, I’d imagine.

Plot hooks:

  • A dinner party in a dwarven city has been city has been ruined. The wine brought as a gift was poisoned, though seemingly unintentionally. This wine is rare, and can only be made through alchemical means. Having only one alchemist in the city narrows down your options as to how this happened; Maillon Greenleaf, the gnomish alchemist is now missing.
  • There’s word of a great beast that dwells in the Bitterwood near Shadow Port. Many claim to have heard sounds and seen great footprints that don’t match any beast, mundane or magical. Your PC’s find a trinket near one of the footprints, but no sign of a struggle. Something’s fishy here…
  • Makeshift towns litter the dwarven ruins deep under the surface, many are inhabited by gnomes now. A scavenger, Aines Tink, has sent word to the surface.  She knows that the dangers of the deep aren’t to be taken lightly and is in need of someone to share an adventure. The letter says that she is in search of a dwarven automaton, likely destroyed by the war, with intent to restore it as an arcane guardian of her people. Price firm, tech skills preferred, adventure at your own risk.
  • Some of the gnomes in the underground towns have been losing their marbles, and not literally. There has been an influx of random acts of violence all over the place with seemingly no pattern. The gnomes are reaching for help to end this affliction.

 

gnomeonwyrmrgb1

Artwork: Gnome Wyrm by Aaron McConell

Gnome Trickster

These guys like playing tricks in good fun, but when they’re threatened, the trick start to hurt.

2nd level spoiler [Humanoid]
Initiative: +5

Shiny dagger +7 vs AC – 5 damage
Natural roll is above target’s Wisdom (trapster): The gnome pushes the target into a trap. See the “trapster” ability in the 13th Age Bestiary (Kobolds section) or do an additional 4 damage (for the folks without the book).

R: Magic trick +4 vs MD (up to two nearby enemies) – 7 damage and the target takes a random condition, save ends.

Roll 1d4:

  1. Dazed
  2. Stuck
  3. Vulnerable
  4. Confused

Small: Gnomes have a +2 AC bonus against opportunity attacks

Confounding: Once per battle, when the gnome rolls a natural 16+ with an attack, it can also daze the target until the end of the gnome’s next turn.

AC: 17
PD:  15                  HP: 32
MD: 13

 

 

Gnome Illusionist

If you pretend that they’re not real, the spells don’t hurt anymore… right?

5th level blocker [Humanoid]
Initiative: +10

C: Paralyzing touch or gaze +8 vs MD (one nearby enemy) – 15 damage and the target believes they are paralyzed (helpless, save ends). If the helpless condition is a little too brutal for you, stunned hard save ends is a good alternative.

R: Blur – see the Wizard’s Blur spell from the core rules.
Limited use: 1/battle, as a quick action.

R: Is that… slime? +4 vs MD (one nearby enemy) – 20 acid damage and the target is stuck, save ends.

Small: Gnomes have a +2 AC bonus against opportunity attacks

Confounding: Once per battle, when the gnome rolls a natural 16+ with an attack, it can also daze the target until the end of the gnome’s next turn.

Minor Illusions: As a standard action, at-will, the gnome can create a strong smell or a sound nearby. Nearby creatures that fail a normal save notice the smell or sound. Creatures that make the save may notice it but recognize it as not exactly real.

AC: 21
PD: 15                   HP: 65
MD: 19

 

Gnome Paladin

The size of this one doesn’t mirror the influence. Some learn this the hard way.

9th level leader [Humanoid]
Initiative: +13

Sword and passion +16 vs AC – 65 damage
Natural 16+: The gnome paladin can make an inspirational cry attack.

[special trigger] C: Inspirational cry +10 vs MD (up to three nearby allies) – The target(s) gain a +3 attack bonus against the target of the gnome paladin’s initial melee attack until the end of the gnome paladin’s next turn.

C: Healing word (one nearby ally) – The target heals 1/4 its maximum hitpoints.
Limited use: 2/ battle, as a quick action.

Small: Gnomes have a +2 AC bonus against opportunity attacks

Confounding: Once per battle, when the gnome rolls a natural 16+ with an attack, it can also daze the target until the end of the gnome’s next turn.

AC: 26
PD: 20                   HP: 165
MD: 22

 

Anything else you want to see out of the gnomes or any of my other Unconventional Enemies? Send me a Tweet, reach out on Facebook or leave a comment below!

 

Stay Metal \m/

Managing A Collection

My collection of games is pretty small. I have some standard board games, only one tabletop miniatures game, Munchkin with some expansions and then my top shelf is my RPGs (which was recently filled!). I’ve poured a ton of money into putting this collection together, and although I love my games, it probably wasn’t the best idea. Before I’m greeted by gasps of horror and cries of, “Heretic,” just give me a second to explain: I don’t regret my purchases, in fact, I am absolutely grateful that I have been able to create the collection I have. What I do regret, however, is how little time I have to play all them. There’s at least three books on that top shelf that have been merely skimmed, but not played. Through these mistakes, I’ve come up with some solutions to managing the use and obtainment of your gaming collection that you actually want to play.

A gaming collection usually spins out of control after you find one or two games you like. Sometimes you play these at a convention, other times it’s just a fun game night at a buddy’s house.  After that first time of playing Dungeons and Dragons or Settlers of Catan, you could be thinking to yourself that you’d like to purchase it. Hell, you may even want to host a game night with the first game you play. That’s great, your enthusiasm is what keeps gaming alive. On the flip side, you have to start by saying to yourself, “Do I have a group that would come play with me regularly?” D&D can be expensive when you factor in miniatures, accessories, module books, etc. You don’t want to drop heaps of cash on that stuff unless you have a regular group. Catan is arguably cheaper than the previous example, but even that has expansions. For me, my regular game is 13th Age and its expansions, yet I own a bunch of other books that my regular game group hasn’t had a chance to play yet.

If the answer to your self proposed question is, “Yes, I have some people,” you should still start small. Game groups are notorious for being dodgy. Between life struggles, family relations, pets, moods, and anything else under the sun you could imagine, you’re going to miss some games. Playing your game to the point where you actually feel like you need to branch out with it is a good rule of thumb that no one follows. I have some ships in my FFG X-Wing Miniatures Game collection that have only seen one use, and those little bastards get expensive!

X-wing.jpg

Enjoying what you have is incredibly hard, especially if you have the money to spread around. For the people that get bored of games like they change their underwear (hopefully), there’s an alternative solution to playing the same game for a hundred hours. Let’s make an imaginary scenario here. You went to Gen Con, you tried a bunch of games that you became enamored by. Who knows you better than you, right? As you think about it you come to a conclusion that just buying one won’t last very long. This could squash your interest in starting to collect! So what do you do?

Out of the 10 or 15 games you may have played at the convention, narrow it down to maybe three or four. Purchase them as you can, and start a rotation with your group. Three sessions of this, three sessions of that, and so on. This way, you’re satiating your need to be doing something different without breaking the bank buying a new game every week. As soon as my 13th Age campaign ends, I’ll be following this format. I love playing different role playing games, way more than I do standard board or adventure games. The problem is that RPGs take a long time to get accustomed to. I already have enough RPGs to keep my occupied for probably a year, at the length I enjoy experiencing games. With that thought in mind, there’s another thing to consider.

Your group’s play style. If your group absolutely loves one game and doesn’t want to branch out as much as you do, you can see the conflict here. Learning the people you play with is important to every single aspect of gaming, even the collecting. Maybe your group didn’t care for that one time you played D&D, but absolutely loved Catan. That could very well tell you that your group doesn’t care for RPGs. Now, this doesn’t mean you should never suggest them, but always do that before buying one. From there, you give it a shot, and move on if the group didn’t care for it. Luckily, we live in the age of technology and can get rid of a book or game that we don’t want fairly easily.

There are a bunch of groups on social media to privately sell gaming stuff. Hell, even eBay is still afloat. There are always options, though you’ll likely take a small monetary hit for it. Stop rolling your eyes so hard, I can hear it from here. There’s a solution to having a group that doesn’t play what you want to also.

Have multiple groups. If you have the time to do it and no other demanding hobbies/responsibilities, why wouldn’t you? Your home group only likes board games, so what? Maybe that’s your Saturday game but you also have Tuesdays available. Go find some people to role play with on Tuesdays. That could be joining a group or starting another one that you host yourself. It makes no difference in that department, as long as you’re gaming! Once you get a collection together that you use regularly, then you’ll start to dive into the vintage stuff that you probably won’t ever play. Boy, let me tell you; that is a completely different story…

 

But for now,
Stay Metal \m/

My Gen Con 50 Schedule

Hey there everyone! So the event list is up for Gen Con 50 and I’ll be running some 13th Age games (duh). I’m not sure how fast these will fill up, in any case; If you want to play in one of my games, you better hop on as soon as you can May 28th when event registration goes live! Here’s my schedule with event codes:

The Gauntlet – Wednesday 5-9 p.m. (RPG17111566)
At Land’s Edge – Thursday 2-6 p.m. (RPG17111567)
The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle – Thursday 7-11 p.m. (RPG17111568)
Make Your Own Luck – Friday noon-4 p.m. (RPG17111569)
Swords Against Owlbears – Saturday 4-8 p.m. (RPG17111570)

I really look forward to meeting some new people and seeing some familiar faces! If there’s any questions about any of my games, feel free to tweet at me @HeavymetalGM or shoot me a message on my Facebook Page. If you haven’t already, shoot a like that way so you’ll be updated whenever I post an article. But for now…

 

Stay Metal \m/

Boss Fights

Image: LOTR Balrog by Arkis on DeviantArt

 

Standing on the bridge above the pit of Khazad-dûm, the wizard in the party turns to confront the Balrog. Do you turn and flee while you have the chance or do you aid him in one final combat to send the evil back to The Shadow for good?

These are always the moments we want to create in our tabletop games; a sense of epicness and grandeur that make the players feel courage bubbling up from deep within them. Boss monsters have a way of doing that, if the scene is set right. To me, setting that scene is the easiest part. Since our beloved hobby is at the mercy of the most fickle mistress, the dice, it’s a little tough to really anticipate how that scene is going to go. Most games have encounter building tips, challenge ratings for monsters, and all sorts of other fiddly bits to help us tailor our encounters like a well made suit. Only for the dice to come along and muck it up for us. Building boss fights can be tough, and honestly, I think it’s the toughest kind of encounter building. Making one monster formidable enough to take on a whole party by itself without wiping the floor with them or getting trampled by them is a balancing act fit for a circus.

Despite its unpopularity, D&D 4e really took the video game boss concept and brought it to the tabletop with “Solo Monster” guidelines. Honestly, why do we not see these pop up more? The mechanics are specific to 4e, sure, but the concept is easily translatable to other games. Giving boss monsters a better action economy can make a huge difference. Simply increasing damage, health, and defenses alone can inadvertently make a combat more deadly instead of more epic. When your orc chieftain gets cornered alone and you decide to beef up his damage to counteract the fact that he’s outnumbered, one wallop could knock a character down. Then it’s on to the next, which could start a chain reaction. If the characters are having bad dice luck, this could mean everybody gets stuck making death saves while your orc chieftain is getting ready to coup de grace the fighter or is sitting there laughing like a buffoon. Instead, giving that chieftain some staying power by providing extra actions, special effects that trigger on PC actions, powerful boons at half hit points or below etc. could keep him around. It’ll draw out the combat, whittle down your PCs without squishing them like flies, and could give it an overall more epic feel.

orc_chieftain_by_shoz_art-da6bc5k
art by Shoz-art – “You gon’ get it, now!”

Or, of course, your orc chieftain could be 100% normal and your players can waltz in, slay him like a suckling pig, and move on with the campaign. We don’t judge here.

Bad guys with story elements and personality are always more engaging. Often times my bosses are politicians or mundane people that just have a bad attitude. However, this can be extremely underwhelming when the swords and scrolls come out. In other words, my bad guys aren’t always buff, steroid-monkey orcs that like to crunch apples with their biceps.  It can be really tough to sensibly make those characters powerful enough to take on an entire party without your players saying, “Oh, come on! There’s no way that suit gives him AC 24!”

Unless you’re revealing some secret that the weakling has hidden up their sleeve, your boss fight turns into a standard combat. Filling it out with lackeys and environmental hazards makes the villain last longer and put up more of a fight. Traps that spring up during a combat can be pretty surprising and fun. Even if the bad guy doesn’t have the ridiculous damage output like an orc, or massive defenses/hit points, they can still benefit from some upped action economy. Pairing that with the environment and some mooks/minions to help out can make for a riveting and highly engaging combat scene. It takes away from that Balrog vs. Gandalf feeling, but it’ll still likely make a very memorable boss fight.

How do you make boss fights stand out from regular encounters?

 

Stay Metal \m/

Ald Sotha: Resurrection

Image: art comission “Resurrection” by Benjamin Witunsky

 

Twilight had come. The rhythmic crunch of the hooves in the snow once more pulled Lisbeth into her own head. Her comrades were having a conversation as they traveled to the meeting house of the Ealdormen, it was muffled by the traffic of her thoughts. Resurrection was a rare thing, only the most skilled clerics would use it, and only when absolutely necessary to boot. She had never seen it done, but had heard stories of the Priestess’ most revered clerics bringing heroes back from the dead, giving their own life as sacrifice. It seemed like those cases were extreme, she hoped the consequences for something so trivial would not force the exchange of her life for another’s. After all, she had the whole body of this man. It’s not like he was turned to a pile of ash by a rakshasa or ripped to shreds by a manticore.

Her eyes glazed over and her body nothing more than a vessel to contain her maddened track of thinking, her right idly hand rested on the bag that was tied to her belt; the bag that held Mia’s father’s head. Tiberius, being the most perceptive, called out to her. Lisbeth didn’t hear him, it sounded like the others were under water. Can I really do this?

“Lisbeth!” Tiberius called, with a little more authority this time.

She shook her head and met his gaze with a weak smile. Only then did she realize she had a hand on the bag, quickly returning it to the reins of the horse.

Tiberius’ brow furrowed with concern, “Is everything all right?” His voice was soft and genuine.

A curt nod was her response, swallowing the words she actually wanted to say. I have to do this.

Corbin and Crysx were sharing theories as to what was happening in the area, both of them seemed to disagree. There simply wasn’t enough information that had revealed itself yet. It was likely idle chatter to simply fill the silence, Crysx’s time in the Underworld made him hate silence. Mia pointed to a shack on the horizon, indicated that was their destination. It looked shabby for a meeting place of such importance. By the time the reached it, darkness had claimed the sky. It was about the size of a barn, a thatched roof and big double doors in the front only reinforced that image. The front doors were locked.

“We need one of the Ealdormen to open it up,” Mia said meekly. Crysx rolled his eyes and hopped off his horse, smashing the lock and chain around the handles with the butt of his axe.

“You folks have weak steel out here. Perhaps taking some notes from the cityfolk would do you some good,” Crysx said, trying not to sound too offensive. The iron hinges on the double doors screamed as they opened, echoing in the freezing air. Puffs of breath escaping their mouths drifted into their eyes, impeding their effort to see into an already very dark room. Cryx’s axe sputtered with magical flame as he commanded it to ignite. Walking inside, he found an obvious place where the room would be illuminated; a fire pit in the center of a round and massive stone table to the left of the door. The chairs around it were all made of different kinds of stone. Crysx stuck his axe into the pit and it roared to life, though surprisingly with a green flame. The light from the fire played with the shadows of everyone inside, it made the mounted elk’s head high up on the left wall look ominous. It was almost as if it was looking down at them with disgust and malice. Up against the far wall from the entrance, there was a stone about 8 feet tall, it had a faint glow to it.

It was just as cold in here as it was outside, but the fire provided some relief. Corbin went to sit on one of the chairs but was interrupted by Crysx before he could plant his seat, “This place is clearly religious. Don’t foul its sanctity.” Corbin rolled his eyes but obeyed. Upon closer inspection of the stone, it became apparent that the glow came from a ward that covered an iron door embedded in it. Lisbeth knew that was the crypt, something within her screamed it. But why is it warded? The thought filled her with dread.

Corbin was analyzing the ward, but he couldn’t make much sense of it. It felt different, its magic foreign to him. The magic was primitive, primordial even. It invoked feelings and emotions, a far cry from the organized logic of his grasp on arcane magic. It was more akin to the divine magic Crysx and Lisbeth were attuned to, yet still quite strange. It was difficult to spot, but Lisbeth had managed to locate a weakness in the ward and pointed it out. Corbin mustered up all the energy he could to blast that spot with a powerful arcane blast, forcing the ward to shatter and fragment before dissipating. I don’t like this, not one bit, Corbin thought to himself.

The blackness of the crypt swallowed nearly all of the green light from the fire that attempted to illuminate it. The only thing that was apparent was that there was a stairway, crumbling and dilapidated, that lead downward. Crysx kept his axe lit and lead the crew. Lisbeth was the last to follow and addressed Mia before leaving, “You stay up here. If we don’t return by morning, you head to the closest Ealdorman. Understand?”

Mia nodded sheepishly, she didn’t know what would come of this. At the bottom of the stairs, they found themselves in a catacomb. The walls were lined with shelves, floor to ceiling, skeletons stuffed in them for their eternal rest. Hatred hung in the air like a dense fog, they weren’t welcome here. Crysx’s axe and Corbin’s staff struggled to fight back the cold black of the underground, it was unnaturally dark. They walked for what seemed like forever. The crypt was a sprawling grid of shelves, presumably endless. Claustrophobia grasped Crysx’s heart like the paw of a dragon, this space was too confined. It was almost like he was back in the Underworld. His pupils constricted with fear, his heart trying to pound its way out of his chest. Sweat coated the clothes under his armor. As they traversed deeper, the sense of hate and unrest increased. He instinctively looked behind him every now and again. Much to his horror, the skulls of the deceased followed them with their gaze, though never moving while being watched. Their lipless grins and hollow eyes clawed at Crysx’s soul. The curse mark on their foreheads burned with intensity. He knew fear all too well, but still could not get used to it. He could hear the cackle of the necromancer from his dreams echoing in his cerebrum.

The state of the bodies started to take the form of earlier stages of decay. They were getting to the section where the more recent dead were stored.

A disembodied scream echoed in the halls, turning everyone’s blood to ice. In an instant, the party was surrounded by shades. Their legs nonexistent, wreathed in swirling shadows, their faces void of any flesh, the cursed mark carved into their foreheads. They were angry, and they blamed the trespassers. Like a well oiled machine, the party fought the tortured souls, pushing them back to the torturous nether region they manifested from. When the dust settled, Crysx felt pity for these souls. Lisbeth’s compassion only increased her sense of determination.

After what felt like an age, they had found the less populated part of the catacomb. The only body without a head presented itself as Mia’s father. His shirt was torn open at the chest, the curse mark carved into him. Her stomach twisted, not because of the grotesqueness of the scene, but because of the hatred that caused this act of violence. A lump in her throat threatened that vomit was not far from escaping her mouth. It never came.

“Help me with this,” she said, going to the feet of the corpse to pull it off the shelf. Her friends looked at her a little confused, but Crysx came to her aid. The man was frail and therefore very light. The temperature had kept him from decaying, and their noses were thankful for that. She pulled the head out of the sack, stared at it for a moment. The expression of horror and agony tugged at her chest. She was unsure what he’d feel when she brought him back. His lifeless eyes stared at the ceiling, unseeing and unknowing. It chilled her.

She placed the head at the stump of the neck. Placing both of her palms on his chest, she closed her eyes and began to pray. Ithildin clearly heard her plea, even in a place where she couldn’t see the sky. Corbin cried out in protest, finally becoming aware of what she was doing. Crysx held him back. A gasp escaped the head’s mouth as his eyes filled with life again. Veins from the neck slithered out, black with the hatred of the curse. The eyes had rolled back, the mouth quickly gaped open and released a scream of sheer agony that filled the crypt. Lisbeth started to cry but continued the spell. His body twitched and writhed as the veins started to pull the neck and head together once more, the cursed mark on his chest wept blood. Pebbles and dust fell from the ceiling as he screamed, all of the veins on his body turned an ink black and the eyes became white as pearls without pupils or irises. The cursed mark was affecting the ritual. Lisbeth began to panic, but it was too far gone. The scream took the form of not one voice, but hundreds as the spell progressed, but came to a steely silence at its completion. Mia’s father was alive again, but cursed with this awful form. Twisted and tortured, he had been brought back from the grave to be tormented further. He was to help them, in any way they could.

Corbins eyes were wild with fear and disapproval.

“What have you done?”

 

 

Stay Metal \m/

Make Your Own Luck

So this is a couple years over due, no? Make Your Own Luck was 2014’s Free RPG Day offering from Pelgrane Press, foreshadowing the upcoming supplement at the time Eyes of the Stone Thief. It’s a prequel adventure to the massive campaign book that Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan so masterfully put together. Last night, for my Tuesday gaming group, I had the honor of GMing a game for once. It’s rather rare I do that, since that group is mainly comprised of veteran gamers that have been playing since the dawn of the RPG. It was both exciting and nerve wracking, and since I’ll be running this adventure at Gen Con 50, it was a learning experience.

The bad part? Well, I was pretty ill-prepared. The past week had been, well, interesting to say the least. I had only read half of the adventure, reading the other half while sitting behind the screen before game amongst the chatter of my three (a typically low number for this group) players. Thankfully, this adventure is straightforward enough that I was able to get away with it. By the end of it, I was nagging my players continually, trying to figure out if they genuinely had a good time or not. My performance was received positively, and my players had come up with really interesting characters to waltz through the horrors of Harrowdale.

Overall, the adventure seemed to be lacking depth. Not because of the content written on the page, gods no! But because I subconsciously rushed it along to reach the satisfying end. There’s three combats throughout the adventure, the last one being very tough. 13th Age has always excelled at keeping combat on the move, and this further solidifies that. Our game lasted about 4 hours, a little shy. Combat greedily consumed the bulk of the session. Dice rolls were rough, which certainly contributed to it. The role playing that did occur amidst play was very rewarding, albeit short. My PCs took one of the goblins scaling the wall and demanded he show them where the nightcandle was. They couldn’t see it (duh), so our water genasi bard use an Icon relationship point with the arch mage to make an elixir from his blood, in an attempt to attune herself to the nightcandle. The downside was that she was -2 to all defenses on the next combat for two rounds. Not a bad trade off to keep things moving.

With the bard, we had a necromancer and a paladin, Quite a strange bunch to be traversing through this adventure but it was certainly a blast. Stripping away all the personal touches that made this adventure fun, what about as it stands? Make Your Own Luck is solid, to say the least. The combats are interesting, there’s many avenues to take to solve the issue at hand and the GMPCs/enemies have just enough info for you to run them but put your own personal twist on them. The adventure has the potential to be very dark and horrific, though the Tuesday group doesn’t carry that atmosphere along so well. For that reason, I very much like it for what it is. The combat tables, as always, are immensely helpful and the rules tips sprinkled throughout make this a very easy adventure to run.

I honestly think it could benefit from being used as a vignette before you run your group through the entirety of Eyes of the Stone Thief. That probably seems a little obvious because, well, that’s what it is. However, not doing this as a one shot could give this dimensions that likely weren’t intended when written. This could easily be a two session game, giving your players a huge amount of personal investment in Harrowdale and the people within. This adventure is awesome, no matter which way you run it and I’m excited as hell to take some of you through it at Gen Con 50!

 

Stay Metal \m/

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