Hall or Nothing Productions Ltd: February 2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

D&D Adventure System Campaigns - Event Deck for Castle Ravenloft

Wrath of Ash campaign play – our first run of Against the Clans!

Last night, I finally got a couple of mates over to run multiplayer WoA (as opposed to Solo WoA, detailed HERE), huzzah. Since they’re already familiar with Castle Ravenloft we decided to skip straight to Adventure 6 - with the short campaign rules - and I’m really glad we did.

I set up beforehand, drawing random heroes and starting treasures, but picking the powers using mostly the suggested ones from the book. So we got stuck straight in: I was Keyleth the Elf Paladin (with +2 Sword – YES!!), Mmzomba was Tarak the Half Orc Rogue (with dragon’s toothpick), and Bob was Quinn the hirsute/bald Human Cleric (with ring of shooty stars). Tarak got the first turn, decided by d20, in every game, we blabbed through the sparse flavour text “dem some monstees in dem hills, kill dem, etc.” and off we went.

NB – after playing through the first couple of solo WoA quests it quickly became apparent that the Human Cultists were entirely out of place thematically, and there was negligible reference to Cultists in the adventures/chambers/etc, just as the Kobold Skirmishers were similarly completely out of place in Castle Ravenloft. Since they’re all 1XP monsters, and the Kobold Skirmishers fit perfectly into the kobold theme of WoA, I swapped them over straight away. Cultists still don’t quite fit CR, but are definitely more suited as Strahd’s minions than kobolds. Clearly WOTC had a lot of left over moulds so this is my method for dealing with the surfeit. No doubt we’ll get a perfectly themed set of drider and umberhulk minis in Legend of Drizzt but with their numbers fleshed out using a bunch of chainsaw/laser pirate ninja robots. Actually that would be weirdly cool. But thematically dubious. I digress...

WoA definitely plays differently to CR. You somehow feel more in control. The heroes’ powers mostly seem more useful and reliant upon other heroes (e.g. the cleric’s healing utility heals himself and another hero for 2hp each, as opposed to the CR dwarf healer’s “4hp to one hero” soothing word) but they’re not necessarily over-powered, because the scenarios are more challenging. The sentry monsters quickly expand the map and fill the board with more monsters, and the tiles themselves – being mostly corridors or bends, and occasionally dead-ends – develop more definite directions than in Castle Ravenloft, which is mostly made up of open spaces. You’ll find yourself doubling back or agonising over which direction to explore more often, which I think is better than just heading for the nearest available unexplored edge.

Anywho. Continuing our usual tactic in CR of exploring as fast as possible and dealing with the consequences later, we quickly unfolded the map and soon found ourselves swarmed with bad dudes, angry at us for robbing their homestead. The much maligned attrition encounters of CR (i.e. “you’re getting old, lose some hps”) are still present but much fewer (and usually give you a roll to avoid the damage), and there are occasional encounters that spawn treasures or something good, but which also tell you to draw again and inevitably have something bad happen to you too. Some of the encounters refine the monster deck and ensure that the next couple of monsters are themed to the encounter (e.g. Duergar Outpost produces, surprise, surprise more Duergar), which is nice. After an encounter our cleric quickly found himself stuck in a cage, with reduced AC and no movement, as the monsters around him closed in. So our rogue popped over and spent his turn freeing the cleric, which is another great example of how little encounter details add to the cooperative nature of play.

I should mention that this quest (quest 6: Clan Bash), being a campaign, uses the treasure token rules, which are awesome. The treasures in WoA are significantly more powerful than in CR, but the tokens mean that you only get a treasure very occasionally, most of the time you’ll be finding good old bags o gold instead - yay! If you survive the quest you can spend this on gear at the end of the adventure. We mucked up a bit at first and were just drawing treasure cards instead of tokens and after a couple of turns had to do a bit of “retro fiddly cardy discardy” to re-balance what had just happened, but no harm done. The treasure tokens add a nice pacing to your hero’s development, because drawing treasure cards every time you kill a monster can feel a bit like drawing Gold Treasures in Descent. Especially if you pick up the Crossbow of Speed, or Captain America’s Shield TM. With the slow drip-feed of treasure tokens you really feel like you’re earning your spots instead.

Since the game still plays out very quickly, like in Castle Ravenloft, our rogue soon stumbled upon our goal – the dire chamber tiles. The Dire Chamber causes a bunch of tiles to be placed all in one go, with a bunch of monsters to go with it, along with the boss of that Chamber - we randomly drew Meerkat, the Kobold Chef. I mean Chief. I mean Chef. I was off on my own little jaunt across the board when this happened so I started legging it to catch up to my beleaguered friends as they held off the Chef’s swarm of henchmen. A bloody battle ensued and we burned through our healing surges in short order as the various monsters around the board (along with my paladin) started converging on the showdown Chamber area and kicking in our party’s heads. The rogue and cleric concentrated their Daily attacks on Meerkat (okay, it’s actually Meerak) and he put up a valiant fight with his cooking utensils and minions bringing us to our knees, a mere smattering of hps left between us.

With 3 hp left, Meerkat was faltering, but he still dealt the finishing blow to Quinn the hairy-baldy Cleric (during Tarak’s turn), and it was my turn to go next. The only Daily power we had left between us was my Righteous Smite (3 damage on a hit, 1 on a miss) and I had one turn to get to Meerkat and put the hurt on him – otherwise it would be Quinn’s turn again, who had 0hp and we had no healing surges, i.e. we would undoubtedly lose. My rolling throughout the game had been typically awful (anyone actually know the odds of three ‘1’s on consecutive turns??), I had just two measly kills to my name, whilst the rogue and cleric had been showing up my so-called paladin by racking up piles of the dead. As I counted the 6 squares from my paladin to Meerkat and checked my Speed – 6 – we realised that everything rested on this final Righteous attack.

Bob and Mmzomba covered their eyes and groaned as I picked up the d20. . .

. . . And rolled a naked, waggle-it-in-your-face, unadjusted, naturalist 20! SMITE!!! And there was much rejoicing. I blew our last few xps on levelling up and took the other SMITE power card as my new Daily. We turned over the top 3 treasures and bought everything we could from the mystified local villagers (couple of potions of recovery and some thieves’ tools for the rogue) with plenty of change left over to blow on booze and wenching. Spurred on by our ultra close victory we set off into the next Clan home...

It would turn out to be the lair of some rather nasty orcs, and to cut a long story short we came down to almost exactly the same finish. I was off meandering, we were down to 0 surges, the Cleric and Rogue were pulling all the weight and doing all the fighting, with optimal use of the Cleric’s (totally awesome) Blade Barrier and Astral Refuge powers and also the Rogue’s Furious Assault (wicked rolls using the Dragon’s Toothpick were dealing out some serious damage) and then I nipped in at the last minute to SMITE the Orc douchebag in charge and snag us the win, once again.

The third adventure would be against the hapless Duergar, and by this point we’d found our groove, tooled up between adventures again and plowed through the dungeon using our Kobold and Orc boons (which allow you to discard a single Kobold and Orc monster respectively – which is actually way more help than you think it sounds) to clear a path before kicking some serious arses on the way. The major hiccup came when I suffered from Dragon Fear - after Ashardalon whispered some horrible stories in my ear about what he did to puppies - and was stuck out of the action on a faraway tile. Again. I’d take 1 damage for each new tile I entered and so was hanging around in this one corner chipping away at minions when the Rogue/Cleric dynamic duo stumbled upon the Duergar King/Boss/Whatever. But this time they were well prepared and minced him up with Blade Barriers, Caltrops and a little bit of careful kiting. Eventually I took the plunge and decided to catch up to my team – I charged through tons of tiles suffering grim amounts of damage and shouting “Let me SMITE him!!!”

But the weary Orc Rogue had other plans and, quite rightly, wanted some glory for himself. He kicked the poor Duergar boss in the balls leaving him on 1hp, then jumped off his tile and started goading the poor evil Dwarf with denigrating remarks about his mother. The Duergar chief’s time to act came and he leapt for the mouthy rogue... and landed on the final whirring sword from the Cleric’s Blade Barrier. As his innards sprayed the ceiling in circular patterns, his armies fled and the Cleric and Rogue danced a jig of victory. I sullenly wandered on over and kicked his skull across the floor, mumbling under my breath about missed SMITING opportunities.

In summary – the campaign game is much more fun. The stakes are much higher as you go along because you’ve been running with the same hero for longer, so you inevitably grow more attached to them. Building your character and gaining gold and gear over Adventures is exactly what was missing for me from Castle Ravenloft, and WoA provides an elegant solution. The possibility exists of heroes becoming too powerful, but a lot of the items are one shot per dungeon, the gold comes in a random trickle so you don’t accumulate items too quickly, and you can only benefit from one bonus to AC or To Hit at a time – so it’s the sort of situation that could occur during a regular non-campaign game too. But the random nature of the events and monsters, and indeed treasure draws, means you still remain on your toes at all times, and victory is rarely guaranteed. I’d love to see more of these campaign games, and they’re so much simpler than the homebrew campaign rules we were using.

Looking at the final campaign, Adventure 13 – Assault on Firestorm Peak, there appears to be some very challenging scaling offered by the adventures as the harder Chamber cards kick in and you have to draw more Encounter cards. If you fail just one quest you also got knocked down to only 1 healing surge for the rest of the campaign. Needless to say we’re very much looking forward to get stuck into that!

FYI - the two Vast Gate Adventures also tie together in a peculiar mini campaign: if you LOSE the first adventure, you carry on with the second adventure in a linked narrative. But if you WIN, presumably you start from scratch when you play the second half?! This seems to indicate that perhaps an earlier iteration of the game employed the campaign rules all the way through the book. The door rules for example, could easily be integrated into every single game of WoA, yet they only appear in a couple of quests, just like the Treasure Tokens. Clearly they are drip-fed to you for ease of digesting the new rules elements, and to give the quests their own unique flavour. Personally, I think you’d have to include them in the Mysterious Chamber adventure which can indeed by played 14 times as it advertises, but which might become slightly dry if the only element you changed each time was the final Chamber.

NEGATIVES: my tiles are still fraying ultra-tiny fibres of paper which have smothered the table cloth we play on – much more so than the CR tiles did, the cards do seem flimsier than CR but I sleeved them all straight away anywho, the minis may come misshapen, only a few of mine did – but are easy to fix with the old hot water/cold water switcheroo, and the cultists should just be swapped out straight away imho. For those who didn’t like Castle Ravenloft the core gameplay is not altered significantly enough for you to enjoy this instead. Luckily for us though, you guys are completely crazy because...

POSITIVES: more interesting heroes with more cooperative-dependant powers, better and more creative treasures altogether, new and interesting encounters that go a long way towards rectifying the attrition of CR encounters, entirely new enemies with interesting new tactics including the awesome Sentry monsters, Treasure Tokens and super fun campaign play for the win, Doors, Chambers with alternative endings, NPCs, Boons, Tiles that go somewhere and finally a mahoosive fucking big red Dragon to fight. In short: this game is the dog’s bollocks.

Hope that was worth the read for some of you, and sorry about the big break in the middle!

EDIT - just found the scrap of paper with our final bits and pieces on it!

AGAINST THE CLANS 3 PLAYER: Kobolds, Orcs + Duergar Boons + 900gp

ND (Keyleth, Paladin) level 2:  Caltrops, Healing Potion, Sword +2, Gauntlets of Ogre Power
            Bravery, Arcing Smite, Righteous Smite, Lay On Hands, Holy Strike, Divine Challenge
Bob (Quinn Cleric):  Sword +1, Pearl of Power, Ring of Shooting Stars
            Blade Barrier, Astral Refuge, Healing Hymn, Sacred Flame, Cleric’s Shield
Sam (Tarak, Rogue):  Recovery Potion, Thieves’ Tools, Wand of Fear, Dragontooth Pick
             Tumble Escape, Furious Assault, Tornado Strike, Lucky Strike, Positioning Shot

Wrath of Ashardalon arrived – solo questing underway

Cross posted from BGG:

Bagged my copy, punched it out and sleeved it on Tuesday but didn't get to play it until last night. So, just a few quick catch up notes that have mostly been discussed elsewhere on the boards already...

Wrath of Ashardalon seems a bit more intense than Castle Ravenloft somehow. There are a bunch of “sentries”, which are monsters that summon other monsters so the board fills up much more quickly. Hallways that add extra tiles when you place them (and therefore extra monsters). ALL the treasures are actual items, and some of them are awesome (e.g. Captain America Shield which gives +2 AC AND a free attack!), so none of that whimsical “take a breath - heal 1hp” malarkey from CR. There are super-basic campaign rules in a couple of the quests, which could be adapted to fit all of the quests, including Castle Ravenloft if you were so inclined. In fact, pretty much everything is cross-compatible with CR: monsters/encounters/treasures/tiles/heroes. We’ll probably play through them all individually per game first though, maybe mix up the heroes a bit.

WoA also adds Doors, Hazards, ‘beneficial’ Encounters (which immediately make you draw another encounter, so not actually that beneficial!), and Chambers, which are massive showdown rooms – when you draw the first chamber tile you immediately supplement it with more added tiles and monsters and a random Quest you must beat to defeat the Chamber/mission. These are only used in certain quests though.

In WoA there are far less tiles used per game (I think about 22 tiles total) than in CR as most of the chamber tiles and special tiles are removed from the stack straight away. And they draw a much different map to CR as there are more twists and straight hallways as opposed to just rooms with exits on every side.

The first solo adventure in CR has you draw 10 tiles before you get to the end piece and run away from Strahd as he chases you. The first adventure in WoA is the only one listed as “solo” but there is a note saying that all the quests can be played solo with 2-5 heroes, “or just with one hero for the ultimate challenge”. This first WoA quest has you draw only 6 tiles to find the exit and then you have to kick a kobold’s ass. So I was thinking, this’ll be a doddle. I was wrong.

A lot of the new hero powers are very cooperative and allow you to interact a little more with your team, which is very cool. Unless you’re playing with one hero, in which case some of them are useless. First up I sent in the Paladin as I was curious to see how this new class played out (nicely, as it happens). Very quickly bad things started to happen. A couple of “sentries” in the first few tiles led to cumulative tile draws and a trio of legion devils, which are inexplicably nasty – they get +11 to hit you.

Before long the table was filling with tiles, including a back to back draw of the two long hallways which cause you to draw another tile, and, due to terrible attack rolls by me, I soon had one of every monster on the board. I had barely done any exploring myself and had no idea how many tiles out of the 6 I had left to get through. There was no choice but to run for it. I lured the gigantic monster conga away from the super long hallway and got a healing surge beaten out of me for my efforts. I’d also already used up my starting item – a measly 2hp healing potion. Upon recovering I staggered up and legged it down the super long hallway tiles and around a corner at the end to run face first into the kobold boss. He only has 6 hit points but he has a nasty pokey stick which he likes to stick you with. He was also sporting a suspiciously large backpack. I started chipping away at him whilst he did the same to me, and the monster conga realised the dance was over and came running after me. By the time they arrived my Paladin and her kobold nemesis were down to 1 hit point each, duelling away up the secret staircase, and I had no surges left. It came down to my final attack roll which, if I’d missed, would have spelt certain doom.

Natural 20.

My yell of delight became an embarrassed giggle when I realised I had only a lame 2XP worth of monsters and couldn’t even have levelled up if I’d wanted to. Luckily I didn’t want to. From the dying kobold’s bulging backpack a magical flying carpet unfurled before me. I leapt on and swooped up the stairs and out of the dungeon to victory, the braying of frustrated monsters echoing behind me.

Since this mission takes about 20-30 minutes and was rather addictive I played through it twice more with the fighter and cleric to see how they fared. Each time it came down to the final roll. The bloody kobolds and duergar kept running off and getting their mates so all I could do was run through to the end on both attempts, you just don’t have enough attacks to clear a path with only one hero. The rather ugly dwarf fighter made it to the tunnel exit and was loaded with gear and kills and the infamous Captain America shield but she got taken down by the sheer force of monster numbers. The cleric guy made it to the tunnel exit too and with careful execution of Astral Refuge I nipped off the swarmed board at the most dangerous moment, only to reappear next turn right up the kobold boss’ backside with an ice pick. Nicked his Bracers as a memento and made it out the back door with 1 hit point and no surges.

In all 3 games I managed to get Poisoned (annoying!) and Dazed (also annoying!), met with some nasty new traps (lava, lava, lava), overcame hazards (like traps but... brown), suffered through beneficial encounters (Woohoo – free treasure) and into detrimental encounters (Boo – monsters and damage and more tiles and more tiles and more tiles), and enjoyed the pesky new monsters’ tactics. Some people have complained that sentries don’t move adjacent to you and it’s possible for them to just stand there if they’ve explored all their tile’s exits already. Believe me, if that happens you will be thankful for it! All in all, some great new mechanics and I’m looking forward to trying out the new doors and chambers and treasure tokens and so on.

So: 2 very close wins and 1 very close defeat. This mission will definitely get a few more plays before my mates come over this weekend and have to choose between wailing on Strahd or Ash. Or both...