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A few friends in New Jersey (including a couple of my former Goodman Games associates) decided a few months ago to try to -- shock! -- play role-playing games on a fairly regular basis. The days of the weekly game are long gone, as family issues and the drudgery of work have taken their toll. But, oh, a monthly game? Hey, let's give it a shot!

So we've gathered a few times at the home of friend, fellow New Jerseyan, and cheery fungi from Yuggoth Rick Maffei, who walked a bunch of us through the original Tomb of Horrors two years ago. (Wow, has it been more than two years since my idiot paladin was disintegrated? Time flies when you're righteous dust.) Last weekend, Rick kicked off what will hopefully be a long-running -- if intermittently played -- D&D 4e campaign. It's not the first time that I've created a 4e character (the first is the fey pact warlock that's still rhyming and cursing in Jeff LaSala's excellent online Eberron campaign), but this is probably the first one that I've created since having a really solid understanding of the 4e rules and the many options that are now out there.

When it comes to character creation, I tend not to be a min/maxer. I'm usually more eager to see what makes for an interesting character, not what combination of feats, powers, etc., will make my hero Teh Shit. When Player's Handbook 3 came out months ago, I expected to lovingly flip through the new psionic classes; surprisingly, I got engrossed in the new hybrid rules and the many cool possibilities. I wanted to give it a shot. As mentioned in previous 4e-related posts, the druid is a new favorite class, so one half of the hybrid was set. The other? Common sense would dictate another Wisdom-based class -- the warden and shaman are ideal choices -- but I went with the fighter, specifically the brawler build from Martial Power 2. The image of a werewolf-like shifter who could charge and pounce on a foe in wolf form, then morph back into a humanoid form and pummel that foe with spiked gauntlets struck me as extremely cool and very cinematic. I'd figure out later how to make the damn thing work in an actual game. Wisdom is a good secondary stat for fighters, so it's not a complete mismatch. It does mean that Dex and Con take a back seat, which means I'll end up with a relatively squishy semi-defender.

On paper, hybrid classes probably work best as fifth wheels; that is, if the other players cover the party's major needs, the hybrid is a great backup. So with my already-prepared shifter druid-fighter ready for DM approval, someone else is sure to create a full-fledged defender to be the party's meat shield, right? Right? Right? Bueller?

Here's the lineup of our pack of 3rd-level heroes:

  • Mike: Tarthon, minotaur barbarian (Mike had mocked the inclusion of minotaur as a player race and originally wanted to demonstrate just how lame the race was ... and then it was love!)
  • Steve: Grumhorn, a.k.a. "Grue," dwarf invoker
  • Felix: Daanith, tiefling infernal-pact warlock (the quintessential helllock!)
  • Willie: Kheiron, githzerai seeker (!)
  • Me: Graaver Stormcry, longtooth shifter hybrid druid-fighter (that's a mouthful!)

Quite the collection: two and a half controllers, a melee striker, a ranged striker, a half-defender ... and no leader! We batted this lineup around in e-mail for days, and we eventually decided to keep it as is. We knew that we had a fast, mobile, hard-striking force. If we made use of those qualities, we should be OK. If we let ourselves get boxed in, it would be messy. Bah, who needs healers? We've got Shock and Awe, baby!

The absence of a leader encouraged me to make only one change to Stormcry's powers, swapping out a brawler-style daily for Comeback Strike, which not only triggers a healing surge, but is Reliable, too! (If you're interested, here are the stats that I put up on the D&D forums.)

In trading e-mails before Sunday's game, we also realized that our PCs had a lot of movement effects. Well, yes, duh -- controllers! But even Mike's minotaur had a couple of cool movement-related abilities, too. If we could push or slide foes into adjacent positions and keep them there, they'd be easy targets for Grue the invoker and especially for Kheiron the seeker, many of whose powers punish enemies adjacent to the main target. Tarthon and Stormcry would be the front-line bruisers, Kheiron and Daanith would be our ranged guys, and Grue fit nicely in the middle. We were set! The only hitch was that Felix couldn't attend this past Sunday, so the rest of us pitched in to run Daanith in his stead. (Fortunately, with a low-level warlock, you know that you'll mostly be sticking with Eldritch Blast.)

We played last Sunday and had a great time. Rick ran a fun, fast, exciting game ... and we all survived after more than five hours of game time!

The next day, Felix asked for a recap. The word "recap" provokes a Pavlovian response in me, as readers and friends likely already know. So I wrote one, which I'm editing and sharing here. Gee, isn't this how my Melrose Place and 24 writeups got started?

On to the action! The campaign takes place on Aereth, the world established in Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics modules, but the plot is Rick's.

Tarthon, Graaver Stormcry, Kheiron, Grumhorn a.k.a. "Grue," and Daanith make their way west along the coast away from the Dragonspire Mountains, where they recently finished up some work as caravan guards and probably set fire to a couple of villages.

On the road, they come across a stupid bastard -- or, more appropriately, his corpse, since the stupid bastard had just been ambushed and slain by a pack of goblins who now attack us. Goblin snipers fire alchemical bombs that trigger explosions nearby. The vibrations soon draw two massive burrowing insectoid beasties -- ankhegs! -- who are just as happy to chomp on the goblins as on us. Combined attacks from Daanith, Grue, and Kheiron take out one sniper, while Tarthon dives into the pack of goblins with Goring Charge and Stormcry gets into a "Who Hugs the Best?" contest with one of the ankhegs. [Note: Focusing attacks was something that we discussed doing beforehand, and BOY, it paid off multiple times during the session. Teaming up on bad guys is a smart move in 4e.] Things get REALLY dicey when a bulette (!!) is also attracted by the vibrations! It's pants-wetting time! [Rick scaled down the Land Shark from its "standard" form, but it's still DAMN NASTY.] Daanith, who was knocked on his tail by the bulette's ground-breaking eruption, narrowly avoids a devastating bite, thanks to the shadows clinging to him from his Shadow Walk. Fortunately, the bulette is soon drawn to attack the heavier and thus more thumpy ankheg near Daanith and Grue. Kheiron summons a wide cloak of Swarming Bats to blanket the area around the battling Rodan and Mechagodzilla while the rest of the party focuses on the remaining goblins and the other ankheg. The last goblin successfully flees as we polish off the other ankheg. We then move on tippy toes across the battlefield so as not to draw the attention of Mr. Tremorsense Bulette, and we collect the body of Stupid Bastard and scoot out of the area quickly.

Stupid Bastard had a torn note, written by someone telling him of clues to mysterious and highly valuable items belonging to Captain Longshanks, a pirate who sailed these waters many years ago. The clues were at a spot named Wyvern Rock, along the beachfront two hours back the way we came. It's still early afternoon, so ... off to Wyvern Rock!

A thorough search of the beachfront reveals nothing, but Grue spots a glint in a cave, located in a cove. The only way to get there is to swim. Since four of the five guys are wearing light armor, this is not a problem for anyone except Grue. :-) Reaching the cove, we're attacked by two giant crabs. Stormcry, Daanith, Grue, and Kheiron see danger. Tarthon sees tonight's dinner. The crabs have other ideas, and Stormcry and Tarthon are grabbed and nearly eviscerated. This makes Stormcry and Tarthon bloodied, which makes Stormcry and Tarthon happy. Kheiron attacks with Possessing Spirits, a power that causes one crab to attack the other, leaving both dazed. This key move frees the party's two bruisers, and the combo of melee and ranged attacks soon bastes the crabs. (Mmmmm.... basted crabs... ahhhhgglllll....!) While Stormcry's last attack of Pounce in his wolf form wasn't the encounter's final blow, the resulting +2 bonus from Combat Advantage was just enough for Grue's Sun Strike to lethally steam the final crab.

Stormcry maintains wolf form and, as the only one with both great Perception and low-light vision, scouts ahead into the dark passageway. [Note to self: Must avoid this "useful" and death-attracting combination in future characters.] Green slime drops onto Stormcry and starts to eat him! As Stormcry's urging, Tarthon strikes the goo, even though he knows that his friend will take half the damage. Tarthon gets a critical hit. OUCHIE. (Stormcry is bloodied again. Yay. See above.) Grue discovers that the radiant damage from his Sun Strike is very effective against the slime, so he pours it on, and Daanith also tosses an Eldritch Blast. Dead, the green slime sloughs off the acid-chewed wolf, who smells really bad. More green slime is spotted on the ceiling, but these buggers are cleared out after multiple attacks from Grue and Daanith.

The passageway leads to a wide cave containing a lake, created naturally by water running through the passageway at high tide. It appears too deep to wade through, so Stormcry swims across the narrowest part with a rope, setting up himself as an anchor (with Tarthon on the other side) for the other guys to move across. First up: Daanith. The awkward warlock ("awkwarlock"?) gets entangled in kelp! Dammit! Stormcry goes back in the water to assist -- and then the aquatic undead emerge! Kheiron fires off an attack that damages the main target and, with its supplemental damage, destroys two of the adjacent undead. (Yay, minions!) Grue's attack pushes two of the undead away from his allies, and Stormcry destroys one with a druidic attack ... but Daanith is ripped into and embraced by one of the undead, who shoves the tiefling's face into its vile chest and starts to drown him! The retaliatory fiery strike of his tiefling heritage does little damage. He's going to die!

[Commence furious perusal of Felix's character sheet. Did he take a damn teleportation power?! No!! Wait, what's this? Ethereal Stride? Bing!]

Daanith teleports 15 feet away from the deadly embrace and onto the far side. Phew! Have some fire, sweetie! Uh oh, a second wave of undead emerges, advancing toward Tarthon, Grue, and Kheiron! The minotaur happily welcomes the close-quarters combat, and after several strikes -- especially from Grue's Forceful Denunciation (love that name) and a Rebuke Undead -- the disgusting creatures are wiped out.

We all make our way across to the far side and find treasure chests! Woo hoo! Oh, not so woo hoo -- as soon as one chest is opened, all four split open to reveal four more undead! Fortunately, they're dispatched quickly, with the big blow coming from Tarthon, who slams one undead so powerfully that his backswing destroys another creature adjacent to him. It's called Brutal Slam for a reason, punk!

One side passage leads to a small cave, containing a rusty sword, useless old grain, and barrels of wine long turned to vinegar. However, there is literally a message in a bottle! It said [and I'm paraphrasing], "Yorell [Longshanks' second mate] kept the location of the treasure in his head. I vow to do the same." Hmmm. There's a second passage still to be explored, and that's where we left off.

(Hat-tip to the Giant in the Playground forums, where I found the Druid inspirational image!)


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 6th, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
As mentioned earlier, awesome recap, Ken. :)

The strategic element of D&D is something I've not terribly cared much for before. But I have to say with 4E it's become interesting to me, particularly with a group such as ours where it's almost a focal point!

Aug. 11th, 2010 03:18 am (UTC)
Great recap Ken. You guys have proved very effective as a group!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )