Psychodrama on the battlemat

Reviewing DramaSystem and analyzing how it handles inner character conflict got me thinking of how I’ve handled this in my 4e campaign. The fact of the matter is, 4e and D&D in general offer little to no support for creating drama. They provide rules for actions, but how character motivations inform those actions, and how in turn completion of those actions affects motivations is left entirely to the players. So, given an abundance of action rules, in particular combat rules, is there a way to express motivations and dramatic conflict through them? Of course there is. This is in many ways a corollary to the post I wrote on providing encounters with purpose: once you decide you want to use a combat encounter to highlight some dramatic moment, you can use these techniques. Continue reading

Inconsequential Combat

A while back I wrote a post on the inconsequential nature of most fights in D&D. Summarizing (and by all means, do read it, it’s probably the best post I have here), combat is inconsequential because its purpose is resource ablation. Originating in the dungeon crawling roots of D&D, this default approach allows the party to go through 4-6 fights a day, with tension rising as resources get expended. Only the last fight will carry the threat of killing a character or three, if things go well. Everything before was a prelude, with good tactics on the part of PCs letting them reduce the danger in that final confrontation. Troubles begin when your adventure doesn’t expect the PCs to have that many fights in a day.

This is the bit that many DMs stumble over: they consider threat of death being the purpose of combat, and therefore try to make every fight be a fight that can kill a PC. Since 4e wasn’t built for that, they have to use more and higher level monsters (or introduce drastic house rules like “halve the hit points and double the damage of monsters”, but that’s outside the scope of this post), which only serves to make combat longer. And since the PCs still refuse to go down, this results in DMs becoming even more frustrated as combat is now longer and still not doing what they want it to do.

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Patient Two

In the previous part, after months of preparation the party had delivered their oldest enemy, the lord of madness called Patient One, to the one place where it could be destroyed. They ventured down into its prison, dragged it out of hiding and watched it burn. Just as it looked like it was about to unleash some new hell on them it exploded, showering them in aberrant flesh. They have won. Or so it seemed.

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Patient One

In the interest of keeping up with semi-weekly posts as well as running my weekly D&D game, I’ve decided to post some of my notes for said game when there’s no other topic I’d like to discuss. They’ll probably range from separate monsters to encounters to adventures to house rules and system hacks. I’ll also provide commentary on the intent of each design, as well as whether or not it worked and reasons for it. The usual approach. So while I doubt you’d find much you can lift straight out (and you’re welcome to), hopefully the thinking behind these mechanics will allow you to adapt them to your game, if you so choose. Lets kick things off with one of the main bosses of the campaign, a Lord of Madness, the Patient One. Continue reading


In the game I’m running, the 21st level party is currently on a bit of a side-quest, invading the yuan-ti secret City of Gold.  Having fought their way into the main temple and to its depths, they find the chamber of the anathema where it was being kept captive… until the priests set it free and fed all their prisoners and themselves to it in the hopes of it defeating the seemingly unstoppable heroes. Upon meeting it, the party has decided to implement “their oldest strategy”. To my surprise, it wasn’t “feed the dwarf to it”, but rather “run away screaming like little girls”.

As a note, I much prefer the 3rd edition version of the anathema to the 4th edition version. Snake elemental just seems silly. That, plus the 4e stats for it aren’t as terror-inspiring as I would have liked them to be, even after upgrading the damage to the MM3 standards. Overall, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try my hand at creating epic solos and to test Gamefiend’s worldbreaker mechanic. Yes, I know, it’s a second link to the At-Will blog in as many posts. Good stuff there, what can I say.

As the basis for my anathema I took the Venom-Maw Hydra from the Monster Vault, and as the model for the worldbreaker, its latest iteration. It ended up not being as major a part of the monster as it probably should have been, but I was running out of time. Here’s what I got.

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