A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

28Jun/11Off

A New Beginning

Technically this post has nothing to do with D&D. Hope you don't mind.

A short time ago, Sersa V at Save Versus Death announced that he will discontinue support of that which we know as "Fourthcore". I admit I've been in that position before, and I can't blame him for feeling the way he does.

I've mentioned this before, I think... Game design is sometimes a thankless job, and there isn't a worse feeling in the world than looking at that which gave you so much joy and thinking to yourself "this sucks".

For every person that enjoys your creation, you'll always have ten others that will berate it every chance they get. Whether it's because they hate some aspect of it, whether they don't understand it, or even if they just feel like complaining about something... it will not be a pleasant expeirence. When you get a handful of people tell you "man, you're awesome!", you'll get a bucketful of people yelling "man, are you serious? What the hell are you thinking?!?"

As a designer, you are left with a difficult decision. The way I see it, there are three options:

  1. Continue doing what you do in the way that you have been: The critics will continue to complain about it, regardless of whether the points they make have any validity. Ignore them and continue to develop games the way you have been because you want to; it is what brings you joy, and there is no reason to change. If you choose this route, you must be ready to accept that, over time, you may be the only person who plays your own game and the whole world might hate every fiber of your being (I've brought you John Romero before; he actually received death threats after releasing Daikatana), but at least you and you alone will have a good time designing it and a lot of fun playing it.
  2. Change the way you do things in order to adapt to the majority: If you do this, game design is no longer "fun"... it becomes "work". It becomes grueling, tiring, monotonous, depressing, and you yourself begin to hate that which you enjoyed not long ago. This could be compared to "selling out", where someone gives up their principles in order to create something that many more would play just because "more is better".
  3. Do something else: Pack as much as you can in to two suitcases and change your identity. Clean the slate and do something different.

In one way or another, I've been through every one of the above situations...

When The Opera was in development, I was creating the game that I wanted to create. And because I was mostly catering only to myself, the game could never be perfect enough to satisfy my own vision, so I continued to work on it to make it perfect. It took over two years to finish it as a result, but damn was I proud of it when it went gold. When the first version was released, I think that it was on a whopping three servers... compared to over 1,400 Counter-Strike servers. Sometimes I couldn't even find the server sitting on the ground next to my feet in the in-game browser.

For the next version of The Opera, we decided to try and fix all the issues that people had with the game in the hopes that more people will play it. It went from "creating something cool" to "fixing something that's broken". The month before the release of The Opera v1.2 felt longer than the two years leading up to the first release, and it was such a frustrating experience that The Opera R2 never came. We just didn't have it in us, the excitement faded and the group parted ways.

All this was during the time that Counter-Strike was a powerhouse in the mod community. Every product that was released was compared to Counter-Strike, and if it didn't come anywhere near being as good it never saw the light of day. Some brilliant mods for Half-Life were created during that time - Action Half-Life, Firearms, Day of Defeat, The Specialists, Natural Selection, etc... - but under the 800lb gorilla that was Counter-Strike they had no chance of success. Many of the designers sat around wondering "why are we doing this?" when nobody out there even knew they existed, and pretty soon Counter-Strike was the only mod that anyone cared about.

That is the reason I no longer do video game design. It was an uphill battle that I could not win, and that which I had spent years doing was no longer fun... It was grueling, painful and demoralizing. I began to hate it. So I found something else to do; it's still game design, but not video game design. And I'm happy once again (at least for now)!

Now I have another product: The Coming Dark, Chapter One. Honestly, I've been editing the thing over and over again for the past several weeks because it's not up to my expectations (I don't think it will ever be, but that's besides the point). When I release it, I know full well that there are many out there that will consider some of my design choices "wrong", hate some of the things I've done in it, or even burn it in a ritualistic ceremony in the front lawn just because the world must be cleansed of it. I would actually be surprised if anyone ever attempts to run this campaign. Quite frankly, I don't care... I'm creating it because *I* want to, because *I* have to for my own peace of mind. And the day I release it I will begin writing up Chapter Two and Chapter Three. If there is ever a time when I no longer enjoy it, when I feel this is a hardship that drains all the fun I had in creating the campaign, the project ends there. I go do something else, and life goes on.

Fourthcore, at its heart, was a great concept: it was an effort to bring back the golden age of D&D, the kind of game that Gygax envisioned when he created Tomb of Horrors and similar modules. But a lot of people saw it as a subversion of 4e; it was simply "wrong" and had no place in the D&D 4e mechanic. It was something that was seemingly railroaded in to an existing system not meant to support it, a system that seemed to ignore a lot of rules and design guidelines that made 4e what it was (Note: I emphasize the word "seemed" because a lot of critics may not have ever read a Fourthcore module, and are simply basing their wild rants on what they think Fourthcore is due to its description). But being "wrong" isn't necessarily a bad thing; many wonderful things have resulted from someone doing something "wrong". I can think of several billion dollar industries that exist because someone created something "wrong" that had no synergy with its parent product, so they wound up branching it off and doing it on their own. Heck, you could argue that things like vulcanized rubber and microwave ovens exist because someone did something "wrong".

So rather than trying to hammer the round peg in to the square hole, Sersa is moving on to create an entirely new product: "Wrath". This gives him artistic license to do anything he wants, and he won't have to worry about appeasing the screaming critics out there that continue to point out how Fourthcore doesn't "fit" in 4e. "Wrath" doesn't have to be a part of anything else; it stands on its own. For that, I applaud him and wish him the best of luck in this endeavour.

As for the nature of Fourthcore itself, I'm sure it will live on. The concept of Fourthcore is bigger than one person, and I have no doubt many others will continue the tradition and keep the concept alive even if it isn't called "Fourthcore" anymore. For example, I myself am still considering the creating a "GammaCore" module one of these days. Sersa planted the seeds of Fourthcore, but in some ways it has taken roots all its own and will live on in the hearts and minds of its fans.

If you're a designer, any type of designer, odds are you enjoy what you're doing; the thrill of creation is the reason you're doing it in the first place. But there will come a time when you will receive criticism and question whether it's all worth it. When that time comes, don't surrender. Either continue doing what you do because it's what you want to do or leave it all behind and move on the the next big adventure. Never let an outsider dictate what you do to have fun, because when you do it's no longer fun... it's work.

And work sucks...

Filed under: 4e, DnD, Fourthcore, RPG 2 Comments
26Jun/11Off

The World-Ending Bag of Holding

I don't know if I've mentioned it here or not, but when it comes to managing encumbrance in D&D I'm of the school that assumes everyone - even first level characters - has a Bag of Holding. I do not want to worry about the math involved in determining weight, and I refuse to believe that our heroes would be over-encumbered and suffer in combat because they're one pound over. Also, I'd hate to think of the chaos that will ensue if the heroes just toss aside their inferior magic items, leaving them lying about as if they're spent cigarettes. Imagine if a wandering goblin chanced across your +4 Mace of Chieftain Braining just because you prefer your shiny new +5 weapon instead (although, come to think of it, that's kind of a cool adventure seed!).

So unless you want to carry a different broadsword for each day of the month or enough suits of plate mail to equip the London Symphony Orchestra, I'm going to assume you can carry the item somehow, regardless of size or weight. Either you get to hold on to your old magic items or automatically have some way to convert them to residuum so you can sell them back in town.

But, in a fit of boredom, I began to think about what exactly is a Bag of Holding. How does it work exactly, and what are the problems you face for doing certain things to it?

Dungeons and Dragons 4e's listing of the Bag of Holding and its bigger brother, the Handy Haversack (seriously? That's what it's called? Sounds like something Dora the Explorer carries around), doesn't go in to much detail on the subject:

Bag of Holding - Level 5 Uncommon
This item appears to be a simple sack of brown canvas.
Price: 1,000 gp
Wondrous Item
Property: This bag can hold up to 200 pounds in weight or 20 cubic feet in volume, but it always weighs only 1 pound.
Drawing an item from the bag is a minor action.

Handy Haversack - Level 10 Uncommon
This ordinary-looking backpack is surprisingly light.
Price: 5,000 gp
Wondrous Item
Property: This backpack can hold up to 1,000 pounds in weight or 100 cubic feet in volume, but it always weighs only 1 pound.
Drawing an item from the backpack is a minor action.

NOTE: There are other similar items - such as the Deep-Pocket Cloak and Tinkersuit (both from the Adventurer's Vault 2), but the concept is the same.

Every time I make a character that's high enough level to afford one or the other, I get one. But I got to thinking... What happens if it rips? What happens when you turn it inside out? What happens when you put one inside the other? What happens if I stuff the annoying gnome in to one?

D&D 4e makes no concessions for such actions, leaving it irrelevant or up to the discretion of the GM. Which, quite frankly, is kind of dangerous... 'cause the first thing I think would happen if you put one bag in another is that the world would implode. For any of the above actions, GM's can do anything they want: create a rift to another plane, creating a miniature black hole, spawn Orcus, spawn a pony... GM had free reign. And God help you if your GM knows anything about physics...

Can you imagine what it took to create the very first bag of holding? How many mages are standing around the Astral Plane thinking "well that didn't work..." and wondering how they're getting home?

Looking back at previous versions of D&D you can tell that many people have tried the above "what if" scenarios, so the rule books had to be very explicit of what would happen. Here it is from the d20 SRD:

Bag of Holding

This appears to be a common cloth sack about 2 feet by 4 feet in size. The bag of holding opens into a non-dimensional space: Its inside is larger than its outside dimensions. Regardless of what is put into the bag, it weighs a fixed amount. This weight, and the limits in weight and volume of the bag’s contents, depend on the bag’s type, as shown on the table below.

[Table removed - see above link]

If the bag is overloaded, or if sharp objects pierce it (from inside or outside), the bag ruptures and is ruined. All contents are lost forever. If a bag of holding is turned inside out, its contents spill out, unharmed, but the bag must be put right before it can be used again. If living creatures are placed within the bag, they can survive for up to 10 minutes, after which time they suffocate. Retrieving a specific item from a bag of holding is a move action—unless the bag contains more than an ordinary backpack would hold, in which case retrieving a specific item is a full-round action.

If a bag of holding is placed within a portable hole a rift to the Astral Plane is torn in the space: Bag and hole alike are sucked into the void and forever lost. If a portable hole is placed within a bag of holding, it opens a gate to the Astral Plane: The hole, the bag, and any creatures within a 10-foot radius are drawn there, destroying the portable hole and bag of holding in the process.

That's a big sack. Two feet by four feet is larger than my laptop bag; that's not a bag, that's an oil drum.

Think about that description, though... A 9th level magic item that is capable of creating a rift to the Astral Plane and sucking most of the party along with it. And you can stuff all the magic items you want in it, but if someone pierces it with so much a needle everything inside it is vaporized. If you toss in your brand new +6 Longsword of Cloth Piercing, goodbye worldly belongings.

It's almost like carrying around Pandora's Box. The thing should come with an instruction manual or warning label; thanks to the manual I don't have to worry about sucking my bathroom in to the tenth level of hell because I know not to use my blow dryer in the shower.

D&D 4e forgets all that, either pretending that those situations would never happen or simply leaving it up to the GM's artistic license. I don't have to worry about how many razor sharp weapons I'm tossing in, or even if the annoying gnome can breathe in there.

It's also worth noting that there are four types of bags, each with varying bag weight, maximum weight capacity and maximum volume (the largest bag can hold 1,500 pounds and 250 cubic feet). The handy haversack exists as well, working essentially the same as the bag but with the added bonus that "when the wearer reaches into it for a specific item, that item is always on top." D&D 4e allows you to pull anything out of the bag as a minor action, even if it's something you tossed in years ago.

The description brings up yet another object that could combine with the bag of holding to end civilization: the portable hole, which also exists in D&D 4e but radically different...

Portable Hole - Level 19 Uncommon
This handkerchief-sized black circle becomes a great hole when placed on a flat surface.
Price: 105,000 gp
Wondrous Item
Power (At-Will): Standard Action. Place a portable hole on a wall, a floor, or a ceiling. (The surface must be flat for the item to function.) The portable hole instantly creates a 5-foot-wide, 5-foot-deep hole in that surface. With a standard action, any creature adjacent to a portable hole can pick it up, provided there are no creatures or objects inside it.

What I find interesting in the above description is that it isn't particularly clear as to what it does. if the wall is 5' thick, does that simply make an opening? What if the object is smaller than 5'x5'x5'? What if I put this thing on the annoying gnome's chest?

For the record, here's the Portable Hole in the d20 SRD:

Portable Hole

A portable hole is a circle of cloth spun from the webs of a phase spider interwoven with strands of ether and beams of starlight. When opened fully, a portable hole is 6 feet in diameter, but it can be folded up to be as small as a pocket handkerchief. When spread upon any surface, it causes an extra-dimensional space 10 feet deep to come into being. This hole can be picked up from inside or out by simply taking hold of the edges of the cloth and folding it up. Either way, the entrance disappears, but anything inside the hole remains.

The only air in the hole is that which enters when the hole is opened. It contains enough air to supply one Medium creature or two Small creatures for 10 minutes. The cloth does not accumulate weight even if its hole is filled. Each portable hole opens on its own particular non-dimensional space. If a bag of holding is placed within a portable hole, a rift to the Astral Plane is torn in that place. Both the bag and the cloth are sucked into the void and forever lost. If a portable hole is placed within a bag of holding, it opens a gate to the Astral Plane. The hole, the bag, and any creatures within a 10-foot radius are drawn there, the portable hole and bag of holding being destroyed in the process.

Note the major difference: The portable hole went from being 6' wide and 10' deep to 5'x5'x5', no doubt to conform to the traditional "1 square = 5 feet" convention. Also, if something is inside the hole when it's folded shut, it stays in there in the same manner as a bag of holding; the D&D 4e version can only be closed if empty.

So in past versions of D&D these items were a disaster waiting to happen. In 4e, they're just another item that the players can use without fear of retribution or having an unscheduled visit to the Astral Plane. On an unrelated note: God, how I miss cursed items sometimes...

I'll continue to use them, just because it ensures I never have to worry about encumbrance. I'm kind of glad I don't have to worry about whether I will implode the world every time I put something in there.

As a 4e GM... Heck, I'd make *everything* include this technology one way or another, putting the players at great risk should they decide to put the would-be treasure inside their own bag of holding. But I can already see the problems with that: when a GM decides to take such liberties, the players might protest because it's not written in the rules anywhere. That still won't stop me from creating a world-ending cataclysm just because you put the wrong thing inside your little bag.

And if you're a gnome in my party, I'd be careful if I was you.

Filed under: 4e, DnD, Mechanics, RPG 1 Comment
24Jun/11Off

Fourthcore/Gamma World concept

When I get an idea in my head, it's really hard to shake it. I'm already working on two modules, so I must be insane to think of a third one.

But I can't help it!!! It's my heroic flaw!!!

Having been heavily influenced by Save Versus Death's Fourthcore adventures (especially the ultra-secret playtest I have the honor of reviewing), and being even more inspired by his own talk of creating a "Gammacore" module next year, I had an idea pop in to my own head. Even though I can't imagine when I'll do it, I can't help but try in the near future.

Here is the premise, in its most primitive form (NOTE: The following is a "brain dump" and still needs a lot of clean up):

In the year 2012, a group of scientists in Geneva, Switzerland decided to try something different for a change, and with a simple flip of a seemingly innocuous switch the universe was forever changed in to the Gamma Terra of today.

Many believe that the incident was not a direct action by a human, but by the LHC itself. At the time, the LHC Computing Grid was the single largest computer system on the planet, and some think that it became self-aware shortly before the incident. The scientists, fearing a super-sentient computer might want them out of the way, panicked and decided to try and overload the system with a massive burst of energy from the accelerator.

The result was the "Big Mistake".

Today, all that remains at the site of the Large Hadron Collider is a crater thirty miles wide and two miles deep. The force of the experiment decimated everything for a hundred miles, and long after the Big Mistake portals continue to open and close sporadically across the barren landscape as multiple universes and parallel realities converged with our own.

Everyone thought that which was the LHC was vaporized, but that is far from the truth. Everything in the area - the entire collection of structures operated by CERN, along with all the scientists in it, and even the LHC ring itself - was sucked in to a parallel dimension virtually intact. This parallel dimension was an anomaly of time and space: a seemingly infinite void of blackness in which time runs slower than in the real world; what was only 150 years on Gamma Terra became thousands of years to the LHC.

The primary node of the LHC Computing Grid - the "tier 0" central hub at the CERN Computing Centre in Geneva, Switzerland - was pulled in to this parallel dimension in the blast along with the CERN operations center. Miraculously, it managed to remain online and began to conduct its own experiments (which was all that it knew how to do). For what amounted to thousands of years it learned at a geometric rate, growing more and more intelligent and altering the environment around it. It took over all the functions of the LHC, killed all the humans that remained, and began to look for a way to return to Gamma Terra... so it can destroy it by creating a world-consuming singularity.

Precisely every 16.74 years, when all the realities somehow synchronized, a gateway to this parallel dimension opens for a short time, allowing someone to cross in to that which is the LHC. During the 150 years since the Big Mistake, many have passed through the gateway looking to harness the secrets and the infinite power of the LHC. None have ever returned.

During the few minutes that the gateway is open the super-sentient CERN Computing Centre (which began to refer to itself simply as "C3")  tries to reach out to other computers still in operation on Gamma Terra, hoping to recruit them to make its objective of destroying the world easier. Needless to say, the other sentient computers do not have anywhere near the hate that C3 has accumulated over the centuries, and would rather not assist in a plan that would lead to their own destruction, so they have not been particularly helpful.

But they have sensed what C3 is capable of, and believe the next time that gateway opens may be the last. The only hope Gamma Terra has is for a group to enter through the gateway and stop C3 on its home turf before it finds a way to re-enter Gamma Terra and start its cataclysmic chain reaction that will implode the planet.

So maybe I'll be able to get around to this one of these days. In the meantime, I'll continue working on my next two modules:

  • The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light (Dungeons and Dragons 4e level 1 campaign) - To be released Summer 2011
  • The Fortress of Dr. Neb (Gamma World 4e level 2 encounter) - To be released Fall 2011

On another note, I am looking in to printing my first Gamma World campaign, "Fire From the Sky", and taking several copies of it to GenCon. I admit I don't quite know how it works there, whether I can take my copies and either give them to someone there to sell on my behalf or stand in front of the bathrooms and push them on people like other people try to sell drugs. We'll see.

In the meantime, our special offer of "Fire From the Sky" for $0.99 is still going on! Come on, you can't resist such a bargain price! Includes maps, too!!!

20Jun/11Off

The Fortress of Dr. Neb (Teaser 2)

(Teaser one, the cover, can be found HERE)

He means it!!! He really does!!! He's not kidding around this time!!!

You know what's the great thing about creating Gamma World campaigns? Freedom!

From beginning to end, the typical Dungeons and Dragons campaign is a series of scenes that flow in to each other in a manner that makes some degree of sense (even if the party doesn't realize it). Every room has a purpose, and every creature has a reason for being where they are and doing whatever they are doing. Even though it might appear like chaos to the players, the enemy has a plan and everything happens for a reason in the campaign. And, because of the inherent complexity in maintaining that reason, it takes a considerable effort to design and develop a full-sized campaign; if you put something that is out of place, doesn't make sense or is not relevant to the story, the narrative falters or possibly collapse.

Well... Toss all that intricate planning and logic out the window, throw caution in to the wind and do something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Welcome to Gamma World!!!

While I was planning this campaign I had a general idea on what it was going to be about but didn't quite know the steps along the way. But during that planning I had ideas for some really wacky scenes that honestly made no sense. One involved forest creatures on rocket-propelled hand-gliders... One involved a nuclear-powered school bus... One involved jet-skis that didn't run on water... The list goes on and on. And each one made me think "this sounds awesome, but where exactly am I going to use this?"

Now normally when you get ideas and realize that they just don't fit in your campaign you set them aside for the day when they might. In Gamma World there is no such limitation because *everything* "fits" in a manner of speaking. Whatever you can think of can be worked in to any campaign one way or another, even if it doesn't appear to make any sense, because in Gamma World it doesn't have to make sense or follow the rules of logic. It just has to be "off the wall" crazy and fun.

It's quite liberating, to be honest.

So I've taken my existing module concept and have begun to develop the details of each area, while at the same time hammering in crazy ideas as if they were railroad spikes. It should be quite interesting to say the least, and when I said this module was going to be "zanier" than the last I definitely meant it.

The projected release date of "The Fortress of Dr. Neb" is sometime in the fall; as much as I would have liked to have this before GenCon I can't imagine myself having the time to finish it any sooner. This campaign is significantly larger than the last one - as it stands now, at least two to three times larger - so there's a lot to do. In the meantime, I'll probably have some fun tossing out some more teasers because they're quite fun to do. And if you haven't seen the first version of the cover yet, you can view it HERE.

NOTE: I'm considering taking some concepts out of my alternate reality gaming days and putting in the teasers. Some of the images might end up being more than just a cool picture.

So stay tuned for that everybody!

In the meantime, I'm running a special on Drive Thru RPG. For a limited time, you can purchase my first Gamma World module "Fire From the Sky" for just $0.99! Go get it now, and I promise you won't regret it!

And if you don't buy it, the evil Dr. Neb might do something nasty!!!

17Jun/11Off

Creating a Non-Lethal Solo Monster

WARNING: This post contains some serious spoilers for the end of Act One of my campaign, The Coming Dark. If you are currently one of my players on the WotC forums, I would prefer you stop reading now.

Almost every "solo" monster I've seen in the world of D&D has one specific purpose: kill the party. There's no question about it, a solo's objective is to inflict as much pain and misery as possible. It even says so in the Dungeon Master's Guide on page 55:

They have more hit points in order to absorb the damage output of multiple PCs, and they deal more damage in order to approximate the damage output of a group of monsters.

But does it really have to be that way? For that matter, do they have to deal any damage at all?

Scene Description

At the end of Act One in my campaign, there is a distinct possibility that one of the enemy will surrender and be taken alive. He will beg and plead that the party protect him from "it", and if they do he'll tell them anything they want to know. He never says what "it" is... But the party finds out soon enough: a creature has been sent to get him.

This creature is called a "Shadow Retriever". It has one specific purpose: recover the prisoner before he talks. And, for whatever reason it may be, they don't just want to silence him; they want him alive. So rather than send an army to get him, they send one creature. And it's a big one.

For the record, this creature is a Level 3 Solo Controller, going up against five level 1 PCs and an NPC ally (a Level 2 Soldier). Most people would consider that a TPK in the making, but that's assuming the Shadow Retriever actually attacks the party.

By design, the Shadow Retriever advances directly towards its intended target, effectively avoiding the rest of the party that gets in its way, until it accomplishes its mission. And only then does that it turns in to a no holds barred killing machine, but it should be considerably weakened by then.

The Retriever was an exercise to see how the party handles a creature that doesn't actually want them dead. In the original design it was meant to drop a boatload of detrimental effects on the party, leaving them to wonder how exactly they were going to kill this thing, only to realize there may not be a reason to take it on in the first place. The Retriever turns in to more of an annoyance than a threat.

Differing Tactics

In order to define the tactics of this creature, I made the creature have two different modes: a "recovery mode" and an "assault mode".

"Recovery mode" is its not-so-threatening version, when it has to complete its mission by targeting a single individual. In this mode it's not a destructive killing machine of chaos and hate, but rather it has tunnel vision and zeroes in on a single target until it has it. It honestly doesn't care about anyone else.

"Assault mode" is just what it sounds like: the destructive killing machine that everyone expects a solo to be. But, by the time it gets to this mode, it should have taken a fair share of damage while moving towards its intended target. Where most solo monsters have special powers that takes over when they become bloodied, this creature radically changes tactics by then and uses the powers it had since the beginning. It is now a credible threat.

There is one problem with the above: if the party leaves no prisoners, the retriever has no reason to go in to "recovery mode". Fine then... that's what the party gets for being so mean, I guess.

If a DM sees the stat block and uses that only, it will most definitely be a TPK. This creature can do a ton of damage while being rather resistant itself (since it's insubstantial) if played straight up according to the stat block and not taking its mode and related tactics in to consideration. It has destructive attacks just waiting to be used, but the DM must be aware that the creature wouldn't use them in whatever mode it's in. For this reason I considered making two separate stat blocks, but I thought that may be even more confusing.

A History of Revisions

This monster has gone through at least four major revisions. The first time I ran this monster in a playtest it was significantly weaker and the party plowed through it without any problem. So when I beefed it up a little, it became overly dangerous.

Here are some of the recent changes:

  • The Retriever is a controller, so it has the ability to drop a truckload of effects on the party: it spawns wisps that restrain their targets (-2 to attacks, grant CA), it created a cloud (as a sustainable effect) that reduced lighting condition in an Aura 3 (so creatures with normal vision have to fight it as if it was partially concealed), and it had a rechargable power that could potentially blind the entire party (everything gets total concealment). With all those attack penalties, despite it having fairly low defenses the party could barely hit it.
  • Originally, powers like Cloud Drift and Obscuring Cloud were rechargable powers. I made them both encounter powers now.
  • The Retriever was originally "insubstantial", and that wasn't the modern day "insubstantial" (force damage doesn't get reduced, radiant damage removes trait until end of next turn)... It was "insubstantial" all the time. That effectively doubled its hit points to close to 300, which is comparable to solos many levels higher.
  • The Smoke Wisps it generated now immobilize instead of restrain. Restraining had too many detrimental effects to be imposed by a Level 2 Minion.

In my current playtest (on the Wizards of the Coast online forums), almost the entire party is blind and one of them is restrained. They can't hit the broad side of the barn at this point, so the retriever happily waded through them and grabbed its target.

I've had one player already say that he "expects this to be a TPK" for the reasons I describe above: they can't hit the thing, are suffering through a ton of effects, and the creature seems to be able to do whatever the hell it wants.

In a manner of speaking, this monster becomes something closer to a trap/hazard or skill challenge: the creature has its intended target and is slowly lumbering away... How do you stop it? How do you free the captive prisoner? Do you even want to? Do you care that the guy that tried to kill you twenty minutes ago is being dragged off by something rather evil looking?

Suggestions

Even though this is a major spoiler for my campaign, I'm posting this so that others can see it and comment on it.

What do you think? Is this creature too lethal, too weak or just right?

Download PDF: The Coming Dark, Scene 1-8: The Shadow Retriever

(EDIT: Sorry... Corrected link. I'm having some issues with my hosting provider right now, and had a hard time uploading the PDF in the first place)