Saturday, December 11, 2004

A break from the usual...

Just so you people don't think i'm an unceasing stream of political commentary (really, i'm not) i'm going to talk about Dungeons and Dragons.

I could do some Planescape proselytizing, but nawwe.

Speaking of Planescape, i advise everyone to go pick up Eberron. It isn't Planescape, but it's the best setting i've seen in D&D barring Planescape. It's really quite good. Slightly on the steampunk edge of things, but that's okay. It's certainly not a deal-breaker, as far as i'm concerned. Furthermore, i haven't once said "yeah right!" out loud to the Eberron manual. Sure, the Eberron planar layout made me eye-twitch a little... but that's not because it was bad. Well, not objectively bad. Not really, at least.

Anyway, that might seem like a small thing, but really: you should have seen me reading the Forgotten Realms book when it was released. I was actually asked by the owner of the store i was reading it in to please not complain so loudly for fear it would depress sales. I resisted the urge to say "I notice you're not taking objection to the substance of my criticism..." as there's only really one game store near me and getting blacklisted would be kinda not so good.

Anyway, that was an aside.

Table of Contents

Yes, you read that right. I'm gonna be nice to you people and give you some context here.

  1. The Monster Party of Doom

  2. Shamanist, Spontaneous Divine Caster


The Monster Party of Doom.

All PCs need a good foil. (Note: this is a lie. Not all PCs need a good foil.) Some DMs use world-spanning demigods, ultra-powerful mages, or decadent despots as foils. All of those have their places. But that's not what i'm going to be talking about here.

You see, i'm going to be talking about how to make the party afraid of half-orcs.

"But Winter," the less observant among you might say, "half-orcs aren't that scary..."

(The more observant of you will notice my strategic use of emphasis tags, of course.)

Ah, but these are no ordinary half-orcs! And really, when i said "half-orcs" i meant "one half orc, a kobold, an ogre mage, a gnoll, their cohorts, and a hundred or so minions." Really, you can do it with just half orcs, but with all the monsters out there you can get some really brutal parties going.

For those of you (well, the one of you) who have been in extended campaigns of mine before (especially in second edition) you'll remember i often like to throw pumped up orcs at parties. In third edition mostly all that's changed is that the orc shouts "SNEAK ATTACK!" when he kicks the door to the party's room in and drops the party mage to negative HP in one hit. Not that he actually gets to roll sneak attack dice, mind you.

First off: the genesis.

A good motivation to get this thing rolling can provide for a lot of payoff later. As the DM you don't need to hope the dice will go your way. Just be prepared to insert a motivation into this battle or that. As long as you don't plan too much that can be ruined by a dice roll (and i don't mean that as "DM-God-Mode/railroad the bastards!") you can do a lot of things. Be patient. For example, let's do a motivation:

The party encountered some orcs and promptly slaughtered them. Perhaps they were justified, or perhaps they just went into "Green skin, lots of strength modifiers, look uncivilized... KILL THEM ALL!" mode. Either way works, although the motivations of our nemesis-to-be will be different depending on the circumstances.

Anyway now, these things don't happen in a void. Let's say this was a hypothetical party of warriors, perhaps leaders, of a local orc tribe. Let's say that the chief was among them (you might want to include an orc chief monster in the pile) and that since the chief is now dead the leadership of the tribe falls to the chief's half-orc son. Who promptly swears revenge, of course.

Throkk U'Grokk, Half-Orc Warchief

Of course, titles like that don't come for free. Our friend Throkk, who is of course the same half-orc referred to above, has stats like... just for instance, str 14 dex 12 con 14 int 12 wis 10 cha 15 (in other words, a 32 point buy with +1 cha from levels- modify as desired). He's a half-orc bard. Notice his fairly decent mental stats (quite above average for a half-orc, top-end for full-blooded orc) and you can see where i'm going here. For added fun, you can give him a barbarian level. Or make him a full barbarian. Or something else. It doesn't really matter

In any case, Throkk here swears vengeance. Let's say he's fairly decent level... say, level 6. He has the leadership feat, so he takes his cohorts out and says "Okay peeps, we're gonna get revenge for the honor of our tribe!" He doesn't actually need to be evil, but being good-aligned would probably not fit so much. Anyway, outfit him as per usual. Pay close attention to spells that buff a large number of people. (3.5 haste is great for this, way better than 3.0 haste even!) Bardic music helps here, too.

Oh yeah, Throkk's musical instrument would be drums. War drums. Feel the rhythm. Fear the rhythm. Throkk should have a clerical cohort. Resist the urge to go evil-for-evil's-sake. Throkk's minions are barbarians. Give the slightly larger ones bows. Yes, bows. Give the biggest ones barbarian levels.

Tip, Kobold Sorcerer

So Throkk goes out with his minions and does some of the introspection thing. "Throkk," he says to himself, "You're a smart half-orc. You're a strong half-orc. But you're not strong enough. Not by yourself. See, your father was killed not just by some random guards or something but by adventurers. You need some magical assistance."

So Throkk goes and recruits Tip. Tip has stats something like 6, 16, 12, 11, 10, 18 (32 point buy, +1 cha from levels). Tip also has the Leadership feat. And kobold friends. Throkk all-out and buys them nets and spears. Throkk's orcish minions complain about this expenditure, but Throkk assures them it's only because kobolds are puny and weak and they need nets to be effective in battle. Then he buys them some armor. Technically, Tip buys the nets and spears. But that's a minor detail. Tip takes two types of spells: spells that can quickly disable enemies (for example, charm person) and spells that can buff a bunch of friends. Haste comes to mind here, also. For higher levels, Tip should become a counterspell master. For really high levels, Tip should scare the fuck out of the PCs by taking archmage levels and Mastery of Counterspelling. Yes, fear the kobold.

But the multicultural parade hasn't ended yet!

Yeebugh, Gnoll Ranger

You know the drill. Throkk manages to convince a Gnoll to come along for the ride (i suggest giving Throkk lots of ranks in Diplomacy) and do some dual wielding. Perhaps the PCs have a similar run-in with some Gnolls with similar results. Just remember not to tip your hand and let the PCs know what is coming in advance. I suggest axes, but just about anything works. Morningstar/light axe is fun, too.

Stats should be something along the lines of 20, 14, 18, 10, 10, 6. Yeebugh might want to invest in some Iron Will. Enemy mages love to go for the big, mean, dual wield machine with things that just so happen to target Will saves. Being buffed up by the rest of the party helps, too. In fact, along with the next monster in the list, Yeebugh should be the primary slice-and-dice character. A level of barbarian (for the extra movement) probably wouldn't hurt. Haste is always helpful. For higher levels, try taking something that lets you get a full attack with a charge action.

For best effect, Yeebugh should be a girl gnoll. No, don't ask why. Trust me.

Arhkan, Ogre Mage Monk

Oh yeah, this is the other beast. A monster of a monster. A tank of a tank. Not to mention that Arhkan has a number of powerful spell-like abilities. Learn them, love them. Think like a player. If a player was suddenly surrounded by a number of enemies wielding sharp, pointy sticks would the player give in and just make those to-hit rolls? No! Arhkan is a large creature, giving him extra Monk damage. Trick him out like a PC. Oh yeah, give him Leadership too. Give his minions bows. His cohort should be a rogue of some flavor; a non-monster-race rogue.

Arhkan's stats, on a separate line because they're impressive: 22, 20, 14, 16, 20, 16

That's my suggestion. Make Arhkan a bit defensive. Give him some Con boosting items. He has regeneration, so one of the casters will probably want to cast protection from elements on him (later he can have items to help him out). He has regeneration 5. Don't hesitate to let him mix it up a little. Arhkan's job is to jump in there and tie up the biggest, baddest ass in the party. He does this by mugging the wizards and other casters (stay away from uber-buffed clerics as they can maybe beat him in hand to hand... no joke). Did you know that large creatures gain +4 to grapple checks? Be careful later, though, as grappling the mages to distract the fighters becomes a less good tactic. Anyway, if things get ugly go gaseous form and get out of there. In fact, that should be everyone's cue to retreat. Have a retreat path planned before the encounter even begins. Write it down.

Putting It Together

The basic strategy is to have everyone attack from a position of strategic superiority. Arhkan may be a monk, but he also has an intelligence score that rivals smaller wizards.

Arhkan and Yeebugh get buffed up a lot. Use that bardic inspiration. Use those buffing spells. Give them magic items that can save their hides. PCs have a remarkable way of fucking up your plans. Don't leave them hanging out there on a die roll. I'll say it again: have an escape planned.

My tactic of choice would be to invade a small town for the first encounter. This has the added benefit, from the DM's perspective, of letting the PCs have some friendly town guards. You will probably underestimate the amount of damage this party can do. They're best in the 6-10 level range. They can beat a level 15 party if you're careful about it. Nets are marvellous things. Nets and arrow fire are even better.

Mix the tactics up. Arhkan is no slouch mentally, and Throkk is smart enough to pay attention. Write tactics down. Look over the abilities of everyone. Consider new and interesting uses for them. You know Arhkan's followers? Station them on higher ground and use them to cover retreats. Even if the PCs are going to chase these people down you should have the big ones hasted (the "monster-PCs", so to speak, and their cohorts). That should be the first action of the battle. Have the rogue investigate the PCs. Have this war band run into an innocent town somewhere and burn it to the ground. Have Tip (and Arhkan) use charm effects to build a small, expendable army. Be creative. Think like players.

Most importantly: don't just Total Party Kill the PCs the first run through. You've put far more effort into these guys than to just TPK them right off the bat. That would be no fun. Let them have a taste of the evil. Also, once the PCs are high enough, beware the Scry-->Teleport sneak attacks. And the usual PC nonsense.

Imagine ways to combine the various pieces of the party. Throw Bull's Strength, Bear's Endurance, Cat's Grace, and Owl's Wisdom on Ahrkan. Along with protection from the elements to keep the fire/acid damage away. Pump up Yeebugh's to-hit. Throw out smaller buffs on all the minions. Invent tactics, study strategies. Write them down. Review them. Make them better. Don't forget: monsters can (occassionally) use Ressurection too.

Finally, keep it simple. I know, i just went through what like a thousand words (well, if you want to get technical: over 2,000 words) of party design but that's not the kind of simple i'm talking about. Don't have plans that rely on dice landing in certain positions. You are the DM, but don't abuse that. Your players will (maybe correctly) claim you're more interested in the monsters than in them. You should also, of course, actually be interested in your PCs more than in the monsters. Remember, you're putting a lot of work into them up-front so you'll have a challenging encounter you can throw at them without a lot of work later. It's an investment.

The Shamanist Class, A Spontaneous Divine Caster

This one is less well-thoguht out than the Monster Party of Dooooom.

Basically: it works like this.

Divine caster, probably Wis or Cha powered. Has a spell list like clerics, but casts spells like sorcerers. Clearly the spell list is going to be much more limited than the cleric's. My advice is to expand on the various Clerical domains and let the Shaman have some nature/elemental/spirit/etc themed ones. Sorcerers have something like 55 known spells. That's approximately 4 per spell level. Or 2 per domain. Slightly more than 2 per domain. Maybe some "universal" spells fit in somewhere. Give them domain powers, too.

Presto, new class1


Blogger Kemayo said...

"Tucker's kobolds", my boy.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Winter said...

Hmm, i do believe i missed that reference...

11:48 AM  

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