Wednesday, November 25, 2009

D&D 4E: Where Did The Cursed Items Go?

As I think I've mentioned before: I like Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition. And yes, I am aware of its flaws. Well aware.

D&D has never had good XP guidelines for actual role-playing, so the fact that it isn't really present here, either, is not a surprise to me. D&D has always been about kicking down the door, killing the monster, and taking its treasure. If you take 4E as the latest iteration of the same formula, then some of its flaws are less important.

But 4E has one gap that is really starting to bother me: There are no cursed items. In fact, PC's can pretty much auto-recognize magical items with no need for special spells or the assist of a Bard (or Artificer). It's a bit annoying to me. I admit: part of that is because I used to play Bards. My party relied on me to tell them items were safe for use. Or, more accurately, my party relied on me to be able to point out actively hostile items as opposed to the dangerous-but-sometimes-useful items (like the Deck of Many Things - remember those?).

I know that flat-out cursed items don't fit into 4E. I've accepted that. But what about items which aren't ... necessarily good? For example: The Sword of Empires.

If you're a player, now would be a good time to stop reading. If you're a DM, please feel free to continue.

Using the Sword of Empires requires two things:
1) There is some sort of cyclic Empire in your campaign setting. Either it's risen and fallen multiple times through the centuries, or there are a variety of near-identical empires which keep showing up in the same region.
2) The culture is one where dead people are buried with their valuables. Since most Western cultures do this to a limited extent, this should not be a big problem.

Start with your PC's investigating some ruins of the Empire That Was. Maybe the town is having issues with undead (real or imagined), and blame it on the nearby ruins. Maybe the party is a roving band of treasure-seekers. Either way, they will eventually wind up in the Crypt.

As they approach the crypt, an image of a long-dead Wizard will appear to them and speak to them in the Old Tongue. Wizards will understand, Clerics will probably comprehend it. The message is basically, "This is the Burial Place of the Emperor, woe will befall you if you disturb his slumber." Being PC's, they'll assume that the Emperor is some sort of Undead Liche Lord, arisen after centuries of rest to reclaim his empire, and they'll probably burst into his burial chamber.

What they'll find there is an ancient corpse, outfitted in ceremonial armor with his sword clutched in his skeletal grip.  He is clearly dead (and does not appear to be Undead).  He is, in fact, the sword's current Wielder (see below).

If they’re like typical PC’s, they’ll loot the place. If they don’t, then you may need to prod them a bit – use the Sword’s “Take Me” power (below). It should grab at least one of your PC’s.

Now we need to differentiate between the sword's Wielder and its Bearer.  In short: The Wielder is the character who is attuned to the sword.  To become the Wielder, you need to kill the previous Wielder (which requires using the Sword).  The Bearer is simply the character who is carrying and/or using the sword.  It is possible to be both the Wielder and the Bearer simultaneously.

The Bearer may not even realize that there is a difference between being the sword's Wielder and being its Bearer.

So what does the sword do?

1)  The Sword's Bearer can treat it as though it were a Sword of Sharpness +3. In fact, that is what identification rolls will reveal it to me (without a critical success). It's a powerful item, and definately worth holding onto.  The DM can grant one or more Daily or Encounter powers, as well.  Ideally, the Sword's power set make it desirable to the PC, as its goal is to increase the power and health of the Wielder.

2)  The Sword's Wielder can only be killed by the Sword.  While the Wielder can be reduced to zero (and fewer) hit points, the Sword's Daily "Bring 'Em Back" power will always work to return them to one hit point.  The Sword's Wielder gains no special immunities, but they do lose all of their Healing Surges.  This means that they cannot be healed by most Cleric abilities.

3)  The Sword itself has powers that are controlled by ... the Sword itself.  I can't do HTML formating, so you don't get convenient charts for these.  I suggest that the GM roll an initiative number with no modifier for the Sword.

Heal Him Up
At-Will * Weapon
Immediate Reaction   Melee
Trigger: The Bearer attacks and does damage with the Sword.
Effect: The Wielder gains hit points equal to the damage dealt with the Sword by this attack.  This Power cannot be used if the Wielder has less than one hit point.

Restore Him
Encounter * Weapon
Standard Action   Melee
Effect:  If the Wielder has less than one hit point, return the Wielder to one hit point.  This Power can only be used after the second round of combat.

Take Me
Daily * Weapon, Charm
Standard Action   Close Burst 3
Target: Each creature in burst
Attack: +10 vs. Will
Hit: The Target must attempt to obtain the Sword for their side of the conflict. If an ally already has the Sword, then defending that ally becomes the top priority for the Target, even at the cost of their own lives.

Notice: None of these powers is necessarily evil or bad - the Sword is designed to support the health of its Wielder. The Take Me power should keep the Sword in the hands of the stronger faction, when there is a division.

If the PC's manage to resurrect a long-dead Emperor in this manner, it may not be a bad thing. It's not as though the Emperor will wake up with a pre-assembled Empire. They will have to start from scratch and work their way up. And not all Emperors are bad, either. For every Caligula, History has a Constantine.

Either way, it drops a few possible hooks into the campaign that can take years to develop - if they ever develop.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


As I mentioned previously, Claustrophobia is set in the Hell Dorado universe. The rulebook mentions the connection once, and there are some minor references that fans of Hell Dorado will catch - but you don't need to know anything about Hell Dorado to enjoy Claustrophobia, as they are very different games.

The basic story behind Claustrophobia is that the city of New Jerusalem is under constant attack by demons, who are attacking from the catacombs below the city.

Enter the Redeemer:


Joined by a small force of convicts, the Redeemer has been entering the catacombs, and has had some small successes at beating back the Demonic menace.


So how does it play?

Surprisingly smoothly.

Step 1: Human Initiative.
The Human player rolls as many dice as he has Warriors. Each warrior is then assigned one of the dice.


In this image, the die is a '1', so the Condemned Blade for Hire uses the top line of his stats - Movement of 1, Combat of 3, Defense of 3. If the Blade had taken damage, there would be red tokens in the holes next to the stat lines. If you assign a die tied to a damaged stat line, the character is Exhausted - that is, Move 0, Combat 0, Defense 3.

Step 2: Human Action Phase
The Human player activates each Warrior in turn. The warriors will explore the maze and fight Demons during this phase.

Step 3: Demon Threat Phase
The Demon player rolls 3 dice, and assigns them to their control board.


Each space on the board does something different. Some of them allow the Demon player to draw cards, some give them Threat Points which are used to summon Demons, and some of them temporarily modify the stats and abilities of the Demons.

During their Threat Phase, they also spend their Threat Points to summon Demons.

Step 4: Demon Player's Action Phase
During this phase, the Demons move around the board and attack the humans.

Obviously, there's more to it than that. For example, many of the rooms cause special effects - some double the damage dealt in combat, some of them slow movement down. Each Human warrior has a different skill (or skills) in addition to their ever-changing stat line.

The game is scenario based - in the first scenario (for example), the goal is for the humans to find the exit and escape. If two Human warriors escape, the Humans win. If all of the Humans die, the Demons win. Any other result is a draw. Every time the Humans reveal a room (along the side with the d10), the d10 is increased and moved to an exit on the new room (or the nearest room if the new room is a dead end). When the die reaches ten, the next tile is the exit.

Each Scenario has a different reference card for the larger demon. Sure they could have used some of their Hell Dorado sculpts and included more minis - but they would have significantly increased the price and not actually added much to the game.

What does it look like in play?


In fact, I may not play this on a table very often - it's big. Very big. I have a large table, but not everyone will. So be prepared to play this on the floor.

The game is also expandable. The rulebook says to watch for new scenarios on their website. I suspect that new scenarios will have new demon reference cards.

If the game does well enough, I wouldn't be surprised to see expansions with more warriors (for both sides) and a variety of new scenarios.

I have a package waiting for me in my apartment complex's office. It contains Dungeon Twister: Prison and several other games. I'll probably get around to discussing them next week.

I've paused work on my solo cards until I get a few solo games under my belt. I want to make sure that my work plays similarly to the official version.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Claustrophobia Unboxing

Claustrophobia Unboxing
Originally uploaded by Gamethyme
A quick update: I received Claustrophobia today. I'll be going over it more in-depth hopefully for next week, if I get a chance to play it this weekend.

I have to say that I'm really impressed by the component quality on this one. I'll be taking some photos with more detail, but the paint jobs on the minis are good, the rooms are nice and thick - even the box seems very sturdy.

There will be copies of this game at BGG.con, as well.

The game itself should be hitting stores in December.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Claustrophobia is coming!

I don't know about you, but I was very disappointed when Hell Dorado was cancelled. I guess that's because I had more invested in it than most of you.

See, I ran demos at GenCon Indy 2006 (remember when we used to have to specify which GenCon?). The English translation we were using was ... functional.

Since then, I've seen three additional translations - two official, one fan.

And I've got to tell you - honestly - I love this game. I think the setting is completely unique, the system was simple and had some very distinctive elements, and the figures were beautifully sculpted.

Earlier this year, I started hearing about a "Hell Dorado board game." In July, I received a set of rules for review. I did what I usually did and tweaked the language so that it made sense.

That game is Claustrophobia. There is currently (from what I have heard) one English copy in North America, and it will be at BGG.con.

One more reason to wish I was in Texas, I guess.

Not that I plan to move any time soon - I love Seattle too much.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Next Few Weeks

These next few weeks are going to be a lot of fun for me:

At GenCon, Christophe with Asmodee told me that there were ten games releasing between GenCon and Christmas. That's a lot of games, so I figured it'd be a bunch of small boxes (such as you see for You Robot or Werewolves of Miller's Hollow).

I knew about Cyclades. I'd heard about Mr. Jack in New York. Of course, Dungeon Twister 2: Prison was on my radar. I knew about Ghost Stories: White Moon. I've seen the rules to Nostra City, Space Pirates, and several others, but the reality of their releases is starting to hit me.

That's a lot of big boxes!

I saw the rules to Claustrophobia a few months ago (and I now have the green light to discuss it). So I'm going to discuss it sometime soon. There is apparently one English copy in North America, and it will be at BGG.con.

I also have some magnets that I need to photograph and rave about, because they are excellent. I won them in the first GeekGold for Games Lottery, and I was so impressed that I have ordered more from the gentleman responsible.

So that's what you have to look forward to over the next short while. I hope to be far enough ahead with my posts to carry me through the holiday season, but we'll see.