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

Dragon Tipping

This idea was brought on by recent discussions of save-or-die, as well as omnipresent lamentation of the way solo monsters get brought down by status effects in 4e, and finally something I have touched upon in a past post: intuitively, it should be harder to trip a dragon than it is to trip a goblin. But how, and why?

Because a dragon is a solo monster. This suggests that it should be tougher, not to mention more dignified than to spend half the battle on its back. A spell that would stop a goblin’s heart should merely give it hiccups. See the common thread? Status effects inflicted upon solo monsters should be inherently weaker. This is what the +5 bonus to saves tried to achieve, but we all know how that fared. This is tangentially related to the thought that power is different from level, and that solo/elite/standard/minion actually describe the difference in tiers between a monster and the PCs. Now, what can we 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

Collision of Perfect Spheres

This is the third part of the two-part series on interactions between characters and encounter elements. Having discussed in some length how DMs can design compelling terrain powers and how players can be encouraged to interact with terrain, I now move on to the other significant element of encounters – monsters. Unlike the aforementioned posts, this one won’t be about (what I feel to be) a deficiency in design, but rather about an opportunity that is not being utilised. The whole of 4e is, essentially, about characters interacting with monsters. Yet these interactions are remarkably one-sided, going both ways. Characters do their thing to the monsters while monsters do their thing to the characters until one side, preferably monsters, runs out of hit points.

When it comes to being chopped to bits, the process is fairly homogeneous. Monsters may have certain defences that are lower than others, they may have vulnerabilities or resistances, and that’s about it. Every now and then a monster has special vulnerabilities, like undead whose aura turns off when hit with radiant damage or golems who behave erratically when hit with particular energy type. Those are good, and they are the focus of this post. Most of the time though the monsters don’t get an individual approach as they get thrown into a blender that is adventurers.

A power that works on a goblin will work just as well on a dragon. This leads to a disconnect where characters easily trip and daze dragons, the source of many how-to-make-your-solos-not-suck fixes, and this is something worth thinking about – in a future post, maybe. But this stems from the exact same issue mentioned in the first post, the perfect spherical nature of characters. They have to fight goblins and dragons and stranger things, so they can’t have powers specifically for fighting dragons and powers specifically for fighting goblins. They can’t, but monsters can.

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Unwieldy Contraption

What happens, when you put a crazed dwarf in a neogi-designed battle suit? This guy:

Very fiddly for an elite, but so much fun with underlings he can inadvertently step on.

Not very happy with the wording, and Plow Through is somewhat mangled – couldn’t find a better way to make it in the monster builder. But overall I’ve thoroughly enjoyed making him up, and may even do more unwieldy contraptions – “monsters” that can’t just hit adventurers over the head repeatedly. Unless I forget about this blog for another couple of months.


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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