Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PC Profile: Fen Silverfang

  • Fen Silverfang was a respected berserker warrior of the Moonsilver tribe, an all-Shifter society whose territory included a Fey crossing to Brokenstone Vale. The crossing lies in a wide valley surrounded by tall mountains, one of the only productive winter hunting grounds for the tribe. Lycanthrope raids are common, and despite their ancestry the Moonsilver’s are their bitter enemies. The tribe relies heavily on its warrior caste, which includes the elite berserkers and bear warriors who have learned to channel the Primal Spirits to come to their aid in battle. Most members of the tribe (including Fen) fear the Feywild, and avoid the crossing.
  • While escorting a party of the tribe’s best hunters over a high mountain pass, Fen and his allies were ambushed by werewolves. The fight was brutal, and several good warriors were slain. Fen was grievously injured, and only survived after being pushed over a small cliff and landing in an icy tarn. He slowly returned back to camp, noticing an unusually large amount of werewolf tracks. When he finally made it back he learned that attacks had grown much more frequent, and that the tribe was planning on abandoning their territory. Within days they had packed up what they could and left the valley.
  • It didn’t surprise the Moonsilvers to learn that they were feared in most of the civilized lands. They ended up making a temporary camp in the foothills of the Dawnforge Mountains, relying on bundles of Wolfsbane hung outside of their huts and a few silvered weapons for protection against any werewolves that may have tracked them.
  • After several months of relative safety, the Moonsilvers decided to try and improve their situation. About half of the warriors were left behind to guard the camp, and emissaries escorted by warriors were sent out to look for anyone friendly toward Shifters. They weren’t openly shunned in Fallcrest or Nenlast, and so several members of the tribe settled in these towns temporarily. A friendly Shifter tribe that patrolled the coast of Lake Nen proved worthy allies, and they also had dealings with an Elven village on the outskirts of the Harken Forest.
  • Some of the warriors, including Fen, were sent out to seek the wealth necessary to amass more silvered weapons. The plan was eventually to increase their numbers and equip themselves better so that they could re-take their former territory. Each warrior went about this task in a different way, but Fen’s decision was to join up with the Red Frog’s mercenary guild...

Though his disposition is generally amicable, people are often uneasy around Fen Silverfang. His lycanthropic bloodline shows with a thin, silky coat of dark salt-and-pepper hair, thickening to wolf-like fur on his shoulders and jaw (though this “beard” is nearly all black). His lips are thin and jet black, with a slight sag where his upper canines protrude slightly from his jaw. Most wolf-like, perhaps, are his long feet which are unshod and bear large claws halfway between a wolf's and a bear's. An efficient gait places his heel on the ground only when walking at very slow speeds. When you first meet Fen, his amber eyes often give the uncomfortable impression that he's sizing you up (and he is). If you shake his large, thickly padded hand (criss-crossed with scars) you're surprised by a light grip that brings to mind the gentleness of an alligator carrying her young in her mouth. Looking back up to his eyes you notice the sombre longing of a warrior who grew up too fast and simply wants to settle down in peace. But that's not to diminish his skills as a fighter. He's about the size of an average human, but far stronger than most warriors of that race (and far less visibly muscle-bound). His technique confirms that he's been fighting all his life, though by channeling the Primal Spirits in battle he can go from precise, opportunistic strikes and parries to a full-on, trance-like state wherein his brute force is fully realized. His worn hide armor and thick, wooden shield suggest a primitive upbringing far from civilization, and yet his gleaming sword resembles the finest burnished silver and appears to be a curiosity (until you learn that what he grew up fighting were lycanthropes).

Character Sheet
Longtooth Shifter, Temperate Lands Berserker

Trained Skills:  Athletics, Endurance, Perception
Languages:  Common, Elven

Feats:  Weapon Prof (Bastard Sword), Shield Prof (Heavy), Master at Arms, Berserk Vitality

A-W:  Run Down, Stalk and Strike
E:  Batter Down, Implacable Advance, Curtain of Steel
D:  Sweeping Cut, Rage of the Crimson Hurricane
U:  Feral Rejuvenation, Cull Weakness

Equipment:  Vanguard Bastard Sword +2 (silvered), Magic Handaxe +1, Magic Hide +2, Vanguard Shield, Acrobat Boots, Lesser Badge of the Berserker +2, Belt of Vigor, Wolfsbane (4 bundles), Potion of Healing (2), Grey Rain Cloak, Standard Adv. Kit (with extra rope).

PC Profile: Keyleth Arwyl

I thought I'd create a post for each of my PCs that I could link to from the "Cast of Characters" section of my session reviews.  For now I'll focus on my new adventurers, who get to see their first real play in the next adventure (which we should start up in the next week or so). 

Note that I used the "Build Your Story" option from Heroes of the Feywild to jump start this (indeed, this was the character that I made when I first tried that chapter out!).  The link to that post is here.   Below is a somewhat abbreviated (and yet, expanded) version.
  • Keyleth was orphaned at a young age, and grew up in the city of Shinaelestra in the Feywild where her foster parents moved after fleeing the Gnoll force that destroyed their village. They made a meager living as farmhands at one of the local vineyards, and when Keyleth was old enough she was hired by an apothecary to collect rare herbs (in the Feywild, and in the Mortal Realm after Shinaelestra's nightly worldfall).
  • After learning that her parents were actually respected members of the Druidic Circle of Shelter and had left her in order to pursue a dangerous mission in search of a necromancer (Decius Derakh), she departed on a quest to learn what may have become of them. She suffered a mishap in the goblin-controlled Murkroot swamp, and was sold into Fomorian slavery for a time before escaping into Brokenstone Vale, the Valley of the Lycanthropes. There she befriended a werebear tribal elder, who advised her to seek out the Citadel Arcanum in Mithrendain. She was captured by the guards, but not before discovering records showing that Decius had attempted to get through the Maze of Fathaghn to steal a branch from the Mother Tree for some dark ritual. He was no match for the Dryad Queen that resided there, but perhaps she could be of help to Keyleth in locating him now.
  • On her way to the Maze the Primal Spirits began whispering to her, starting her on the Druidic path. The Dryad Queen was sympathetic, pointing her to where she had banished Decius into the Mortal World (and giving her a magical fire box that showed his face in its smoke). She advised Keyleth to seek out members of her parents' Circle.
  • Despite the Dryad Queen's warning, upon entering the Mortal Realm Keyleth became singularly obsessed with hunting down Decius. Though she slowly developed a mastery of Primal magics, they began to manifest her wild recklessness. After developing an unpleasant reputation, an elderly member of the Circle of Shelter (Bryce Calanor) sought her out and presented her with a task; he would train her in the ways of the Beastwalker Circle, and then she was to go on a personal quest. She was to remain in beast form with no outside contact “until her reflection acknowledged her.” This was the path to Wisdom.
  • Unable to make sense of her end goal, she alternated between many different animal forms for nearly a year. Most other creatures were wary around her, and avoided her despite her guise. Then one evening, while foraging through the forest in the form of a black bear, Keyleth heard the mournful howl of a wolf. For no reason that she could explain, with a swift leap she took wolf form and bounded toward the sound. She encountered a litter of yearling pups that had struck out on their own, and they greeted her enthusiastically. She traveled with them for several days, hunting and lounging and frolicking. She let her concerns about Decius and her quest melt away. Then, one of the young wolves approached her, sat down, and turned into Bryce! By opening her mind to the influence of the Primal Beast she had learned to view the world from a new perspective, and to shed away her dangerous single-mindedness.
  • Though he had no information about Decius or Keyleth's parents, Bryce advised Keyleth to live her life and to see the world, seeking out a variety of experiences and perspectives. The Dryad Queen's fire box would alert her when an opportunity to seek Decius arose. In the meantime, he pointed her to a treasure-seeking mercenary group that he had helped co-found years ago, the Red Frogs...
In her elven form Keyleth's moss green eyes slowly scan the room, with a focused patience behind them. With just a momentary wolf-like glance, you can sense her connection with the Primal Beast. Her dark brown hair (which shows flecks of autumn-gold in the sunlight) is long but tame; a braid on each side corrals it in place down her back as they weave through to beautiful but practical effect. An elven technique, to be sure. Every movement of her lithe-but-field-tested limbs portrays a calculated grace, as if she is at home in any environment, which the slight semi-permanent curve of her mouth confirms, conveying a relaxed joviality. And yet her gear reveals that she's not to be underestimated. Worn over her finely-spun woolen tunic are plates of reinforced animal hide – the thick but supple tanned armor of woodland bison which bears the evidence of averted injury. Around her left forearm is tied a short length of wood adorned with various protective wards, including carved runes and talismans of bone and gemstone. In her right hand she carries a full-length staff carved with the shapes of sinuous vipers and wrapped in a snakeskin grip. Light, thinly padded moccasins and the sure footing of a mountain goat allow her to travel with speed across any terrain.  Her favored beast forms are the black bear, wolf, and dog (wolfhound mix, mostly for civilized areas), though her forms vary based on her mood.

Character Sheet
Elf, Circle of Shelter Protector

Trained Skills:  Athletics, Insight, Nature, Stealth 
Languages:  Common, Elven, Goblin
Primal Attunements:  Air Spirit, Senses of the Wild, Call the Spirits

Feats:  Superior Implement Training (Accurate Staff), Beastwalker Circle, Staff Expertise, Cunning Stalker

A-W:  Grasping Claws, Magic Stones
E:  Gust of Wind, Predator's Flurry, Charm Beast
D:  Summon Natural Ally, Vine Serpents
U:  Sudden Bite, Camouflage Cloak

Equipment:  Staff of the Serpent +2, Aversion Staff +1 (reflavored), Pouncing Beast Armor +2, Claw Gloves, Lesser Badge of the Berserker +1, Siberys Shard of the Mage, Hamanu's Terrible Roar (boon), standard adventurer's kit (with extra rope), Dryad Queen's fire box (story item)

Civilization Board Game

This past week we took a short break from D&D to play the Civilization board game, which one of our players picked up.  Such breaks can keep a campaign from becoming monotonous, in addition to providing a much different experience for "game night."  I'm not going to go into a full review (because quite honestly, I don't know the game well enough to do so), but I will offer some first impressions.

It was obvious from the second I walked into the room that this was going to be a complicated game with a lot of depth.  The "board" was actually made up of 16 (if I remember correctly) smaller pieces, and there were several different types of cards, many different tokens, and a player card for everyone that had multiple dials in addition to the traits of your civilization.  As we finished setting everything up, I started to get a vague sense of how the game played (though it wasn't until we were a few turns in that I really got the hang of it).  All told, the game has a lot of depth.  In addition to the general complexity, there are several different "tracks" that you can build up to win the game (military, technology, economic, and culture). 

In brief, each player (2-4) gets to choose one of 6 different civilizations (America, Germany, Russia, China, Rome, and Egypt).  The "homeland" tiles are placed in each corner, with the rest of the board tiles placed face down (these lands haven't been discovered yet).  Everyone starts out with a capital city which you can place wherever (though there is a recommended location on your tile), as well as 2 armies and a scout/settlement party.  Each tile is broken up into a grid, and each grid square has a terrain (mountains, forest, grassland, desert, and water), as well as different trade values, production values, and resources (iron, wheat, etc).  The turn is broken up into phases, and you go around to each player during each phase.  Start of turn phase you can activate certain cards, change your government, and you build cities (a lot of the time nobody does anything in this phase).  Trade phase is when you collect your trade points (move your trade dial up by however many points are adjacent to your cities/settlements) and you can trade resources with other players.  This is rather open-ended.  City Management Phase is a big deal, since this is when you can actually build your civilization up.  Each city you have gets one action, and you can use these actions to build in a square adjacent to your city center (for example, put up a library).  The different buildings have different resources, production, and trade values that you can take advantage of.  You can also build up your military (through artillery, mounted, and infantry cards, and eventually airplanes), or build another army or scouting party.  Construction buildings or adding units/building your military all key off of the production value around your cities (you can spend trade value to increase production as well).  Another action is to harvest a resource (for example, mine iron).  Finally, you can use this turn to devote your city to the arts, which moves you up on the cultural track and gives you access to different sets of cards with some nifty abilities.  After that there's the movement phase, where you move your armies and scouting/settlement parties.  You can use a square of movement to flip over a tile "discovering" new land.  New areas will contain huts and villages (huts you can take over without a fight and gain resources from, villages you need to fight to obtain).  When you move your scout/settlement party you can use them to obtain resources, or if they're placed favorably you can build a new city (which "absorbs" that unit) during the next start of turn phase.  The last phase is the research phase, where you can spend your trade value (if you have enough) to research new technologies.  Technology is leveled 1-5, and you need at least 2 of a lower level tech in order to research 1 higher level tech (in addition to higher trade cost).

So far the game is a lot of fun, but we didn't finish it despite playing for around 3 hours.  We're planning on picking it up this week, though, and perhaps getting a little D&D in if it doesn't take too long.  The civilizations in play are China (me), America, Germany, and Russia, and all of them have different strengths (which seem to favor at least 2 different victory tracks).  Interestingly, we're all going for different tracks, perhaps to subconsciously avoid direct competition.  I'm going for Cultural, Russia is going for Tech, America is working on Military, and Germany is focusing on Economic.  Of course you can't just focus on one single thing, and our game was somewhat complicated by "alliances" that were drawn early (China and Russia vs America and Germany).  Interestingly, my Cultural track gave me access to a lot of cards that allowed me and Russia to trade our Tech knowledge, giving me increased ability (some of the techs directly impact Culture) and moving him along the Tech track faster.  America and Germany have emphasized military a lot more, as has Russia to a lesser extent, but I personally have only expanded my military by 1 card, and haven't attacked any villages.  Risk, this is not :P

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Heroic Tier Sweet Spot

For this post I'll simply link to an article from Dungeon's Master, The Golden Level of Heroic Adventure.  Though I would disagree that level 12 is a sweet spot (there's a greater power jump at 11, which is when you finally get to experience Paragon tier), I think that the author is otherwise right on the money.  I'd add that the sweet spot starts at level 5 when you get your second daily, peaks at level 6 (which as the article mentions is an important feat level and you get a utility power, which is one of the most customizable elements in the game), and continues into level 7 (having three encounter powers increases your offensive capacity, particularly nova or alpha-strike in many cases, and boosts your overall versatility for many classes).  Level 8 gives those PCs who started with even abilities (which is probably most of them) their first numerical boost, and the feat is certainly nice, but this is where you start inching toward Paragon tier and the challenges become much more difficult before you're fully equipped to deal with them.  Status effects begin to creep up more often, and many fights pit you against Paragon level monsters (level + 3). 

I think the most important issue that the author touched upon, however, is that as a DM you should use these sweet spots as benchmarks for your campaign's pacing.  Something should culminate within the level 5-7 range, and after that a more difficult challenge should rear its ugly head.  I've found late Heroic (levels 8-10, but especially 10) to be almost as challenging as early Heroic precisely because of the Paragon level threats that the Heroic PCs will face regularly.  Using the same encounter design principles that you've been using (perhaps throwing a little more at the PCs since they're gaining power) will result in the PCs feeling slightly overwhelmed without much effort by you as a DM.  Make sure that the plot matches this increase in difficulty, and then have the PCs finally reach a major turning point at level 10 or 11.  At level 10 the PCs will be struggling by the skin of their teeth to defeat the final "boss" encounter.  At level 11 you have a couple of choices as the DM; either use the power boost as a narrative element corresponding to a major advantage that makes the boss fight easier (showcasing the new power of the PCs), or take advantage of the PC's newly-acquired power to go all out with the boss fight (something that the PCs would be unlikely to have survived in Heroic tier).  Either way, it pays to be aware of these sweet spots as you try to set your campaign's pacing.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Recovery: Viral's Diary (Session 3)

Cast of Characters (Level 6)
  1. Lyra Cinderfield - Human Staff of Defense Wizard
  2. Berylis Lindelenon - Elf Panther Shaman
  3. Unit 27 - Warforged Weapon Talent Fighter
  4. Rozzle - Elf Brutal Scoundrel Rogue
  5. Zeus - Dwarf Wrathful Invoker
Approach to the Tomb

The PCs began this session continuing their journey down the river, eventually coming to a small clearing that led into a very old and overgrown cemetery.  As Nero had warned them, the party circles around the cemetery to find Midos' grave near the back.  Rozzle and Berylis scout ahead to keep an eye out for danger.  It's too bad they didn't have tremorsense; as they follow Nero's tracks skeletal hands burst out of the ground and knock Rozzle prone, as well as grabbing him.  The party is soon beset by several more skeletons, two of which can hurl fire from range.  Given the undead theme of this adventure, we'd really missed Zeus last session.  Unfortunately, his dice were extremely cold tonight (actually, he was borrowing mine, and that's usually one of my hottest D20s), and he missed with his first 4 attacks.  Disappointing to be sure.  Ultimately we were able to protect Rozzle (who had only 2 surges remaining) really well, but at a huge cost to both Berylis and Zeus (Zeus used 4 surges in that combat, and Berylis ended up down to only 2 as well). 

I continue to be impressed by the Shaman class (in the Heroic tier at least, Spirit Hunt and Twin Panthers end up being equivalent to optimized striker powers).  I'm finally starting to get used to the "splash heal" style of Healing Spirit, which was really useful for healing up what little damage Rozzle took without dipping into his two remaining surges.  Despite the fact that I don't normally like strikers, it's nice to have hefty damage in your back pocket, in addition to all of the fun positioning and control tactics that the spirit companion entails.  My trend of "not feeling" the Wizard recently continued tonight (at least in combat; she proved invaluable OoC later).  Missing with Charm of Misplaced Wrath sucks quite a bit, and it seems to happen quite a bit.  My multi-target control power (Icy Rays) has been serviceable, but unless I blow a daily it's usually the most interesting thing I have to do.  At-wills have tended to be underwhelming; I don't think I've used Beguiling Strands this whole level, and the best thing about Winged Horde has been its minion-sweeping utility (the Rogue is mobile enough to avoid OAs on his own most of the time).  I'll be glad to get back to playing a Druid again, though I'm sure I'll pick Lyra back up at some time during this campaign.

Into the Tomb

The PCs find the gravestone they're looking for, and Unit 27 unceremoniously picks it up and tosses it aside to expose the tunnel.  Berylis and Zeus notice that the tunnel was only dug within the last year or so.  It opens into a hole in the floor, which leads into the tomb's interior.  Lyra sends Helo, her Dragonling familiar, down to scout it out and make sure the room is safe (which it is).  It's a large room with an altar at the center.  The altar has a round well and a square well on it, with a round and square lantern on a nearby table.  A glass sphere (actually, it's more oblong) hangs from the ceiling above the altar.  Two pillars flank a sealed black door (which presumably is the front entrance that we were warned by Nero to avoid).  The pillars do not reach the ceiling, and dials on them cause gas to emanate from the tops.  Opposite the black door is a purple door with a symbol of the sun above it.  On the remaining walls are a door each; one red, and one blue.  After playing around with a pebble that had Light cast on it (carried around the sphere via Mage Hand) it became obvious that a light placed on the line between the glass sphere and either pillar caused a beam to focus on the sun symbol above the purple door.  Since the PCs were warned to beware the blue door, they started with the red one.  Behind it was a large room with a red flame burning on the opposite side.  Being paranoid, Lyra simply used Mage Hand to carry the lantern across the room and sweep it into the flame.  The lantern lit, and she placed it onto the pillar with the dial turned (focusing a red beam of light above the purple door).  It turns out that by using Mage Hand and not entering the room, the party was able to avoid a combat encounter altogether.  Sweet!

The blue door revealed a long (25 square) hallway, which was only 3 squares wide.  The floor was made of extremely slippery tile, with a pattern of blue tiles winding back and forth across a matrix of red tiles.  Lyra had her dragonling step on one of the red tiles, which triggered a dart trap (which missed the familiar, not that it would have mattered).  Crossing the hall without triggering red tiles looked to be extremely difficult, as evidenced by the body lying near the opposite end (at which a blue flame burned).  Though this flame was out of range for Mage Hand, Lyra simply cast the Familiar Mount ritual and flew across the hall on Helo (recovering the body, which turned out to be Nero).  The heroes lit the blue flame which unlocked the purple door, and placed Nero's body in their bag of holding.  Once they were finished here, they would give him a proper burial, including fare for the boatman.

Viral's Chamber

The purple door revealed a simple room with a long, stone bridge across a subterranean creek.  The bridge led to another door, which Lyra opened via Mage Hand and sent her (now large) Dragonling to scout out.  Helo poked his head it to find 3 women sitting on a large bed, and a man that looked to be in his 30s reading a book at a desk.  The man looked shocked to see Helo, who retreated.  Lyra used Ghost Sound to imitate the sound of a large army crossing the bridge toward the room (succeeding her Bluff check to fool the occupants), and the party entered.  The man seemed excited to see the PCs, exclaiming that it's not often that he receives visitors.  When questioned about his diary, he explains that Emaf (the PC's current employer), Gibs (the adventurer-turned-zombie, Athos (the farmer whose daughter the party rescued earlier), and himself were once an adventuring party themselves.  They discovered this very tomb, and within it woke the relic of a mysterious deity.  They were each granted 1 wish.  Emaf wished for fame and glory, which he was granted via knowledge of many ruins which he plundered for their artifacts.  The deity, it turned out, was not benevolent, and turned each wish against its recipient.  Emaf eventually looted all the ruins that he could find, and sought to once again find the tomb where they now stood.  He had lost knowledge of it, however, and it had driven an insane obsession (which eventually led to his hiring of the party).  Gibs just wanted to retire, settle down, and live a quiet life.  He was given a nice house in Deadwood Falls, but he never specified that where he settled down would need to remain forever safe (obviously he paid his price for that).  Athos wished for good health and longevity for his family.  While his daughter reaped this award, he himself was killed. 

When the party asked Viral what his wish was, he kept trying to evade the topic.  They worked out that he was trapped down here (had a lot of time to read), and he let slip an implication that perhaps he sought immortality.  The party asked why he couldn't just walk out, and whether the women were free to do so.  When he finally admitted that it was the creek that kept him in his chamber, the PCs knew that they were dealing with a vampire.  They suspected that he was feeding on the women, and so they kept questioning him without letting him know that they were on to him.  He kept pressing them to stay, but they wanted time to regroup and think things over.  They tried to let 27 (who has no blood for a vampire to feed off of) stall him with conversation while they went back into the hall to talk things over in private, but the door slammed shut.  Two invisible creatures (Pale Reavers) materialized near it, and the party immediately rolled initiative. 

The fight turned out to be fairly difficult, and quite appropriate for a final battle.  After 1 initial attack the party focused their status effects on Viral (the most effective which was Zeus' Silent Malediction).  The women turned out to be minion Pale Reavers who could take human form, and halfway through the battle more Pale Reaver reinforcements showed up.  Berylis, Rozzle, and Zeus all had a fairly typical encounter, with all of them performing their roles admirably.  Unit 27 and Lyra had a quirky fight.  First of all, it should be mentioned that the Pale Reavers could drain healing surges, which was extremely dangerous for Rozzle and Berylis, who each had only 2 left.  I was extremely surprised to learn halfway through the battle that Unit 27, in contrast, had TWELVE surges yet!  It hadn't occurred to me before this, but he really wasn't suffering very many hits at all before this, and this encounter was no different.  This was partially because he was being missed (there were many rounds where he dutifully protected Rozzle), but a lot of the time he was off on his own going toe-to-toe with a single enemy.  I think that the player controlling him was more focused on running Rozzle overall, and he often just got somewhat forgotten.  He was usually locking down minor enemies instead of the biggest, baddest target that a defender should be going after. 

After suffering a nasty blow, Lyra took her second wind early on (round 2 I believe) and then activated Fire Shield.  Her plan was to move away from the Pale Reaver that was causing her trouble, and park herself adjacent to one of the minions who happened to be backed into a corner.  She was going to provoke an OA to deal Fire Shield damage to it, and after all why not?  The Reaver was marked, she had her defense bonus from Second Wind, and she hadn't used Shield yet.  Her effective AC was 29 (at level 6), without accounting for the Mark (so it was actually 31).  Simply put, the Reaver could only hit her with a natural 20, and if it took a swing it would be sucking fire damage.  Well, it took the swing and it made that crit, leaving Lyra with a scant 10 HP.  Fortunately, the cornered minion tried attacking her, killing itself with Fire Shield damage (I think the DM felt sorry for Lyra's luck, lol).  But the shenanigans didn't stop there.  It was during this round that the Dark Reaver reinforcements arrived, and two set themselves up in a flank with Lyra.  I dared the DM to set them up that way, knowing that I still had my second wind bonus (and Shield was unused).  Before CA they could only hit me on a natural 20, and including CA into the equation doubled their odds (19-20 would be a hit).  The DM rolled ANOTHER FRICKIN' TWENTY!!!!!  Poor Lyra took 30 damage, while she only had 10 HP remaining.  This was two away from her negative bloodied value of 22.  Talk about a close call!  Sucks that my "fire tank" strategy backfired so badly, but who expects 2 crits in a row after becoming nearly untouchable thanks to second wind + shield? 

In any case, the party was mopping up by the time Lyra got an opportunity to act again.  It was pretty late by this point, and we all decided to call it a night immediately after the fight without RPing the conclusion.  We'll probably take care of that next session.  Overall, it seemed like we were all running a little slow, and there were a lot of distractions (the cats and dog were being quite rambunctious).  It was a fitting end to the adventure though; an unexpected plot twist (we figured Viral was dead, not undead) followed by a suitably challenging final encounter.  I'll certainly remember Lyra's terrible luck for a good, long while after this. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

First Look: Heroes of the Elemental Chaos Art

I recently discovered Tyler Jacobsen's blog, which showcases some of the art that he does (including some published D&D pieces).  He recently posted a first look at some of the new characters that will be in HotEC.  The new subclasses presented in this book will be the Elementalist (rumored to be a Sorcerer build), the Shugenja (rumors point to Monk), and the Sha'ir (a confirmed Wizard build).  Actually, truth be told the Sorcerer and Monk rumors may have been confirmed at some point (I vaguely remember reading that), but I can't be sure so I'm going to play it safe.  Anyways, the current speculation is that Anise is the Sha'ir, Galafaer is the Shugenja, and Scar is the Elementalist.  Now, the current builds for all of these classes should (interestingly enough) all be wearing cloth armor.  So if Scar's appearance seems problematic for a Sorcerer, the same would be true for a Monk or Wizard as well.

It is, of course, possible that he's supposed to be a different class with an elemental flair (and that a named Elementalist character is not included in the book's art); after all, HotF featured Rowena (a Warlock/Hexblade) and Viltham (a Wizard, likely Illusionist) in addition to examples of the 4 subclasses featured in the book.  It's also possible that this plate doesn't include all of the named characters from the HotEC art.  But what if Scar is the Elementalist?  There's already a precedent for Sorcerers fighting with weapons (namely daggers) in melee; what if HotEC simply stepped it up a notch?  After all, the Cleric (and Bard, and Warlock) supports both a ranged-caster archetype as well as an armored weapon-user, so what's preventing the Sorcerer from doing the same?  Sorcerers have a history of being a bit more physical (if only marginally so) than Wizards, and this would be a nice way to further differentiate the two classes.  A differentiation that is sorely needed in my opinion, since well-built blaster Wizards can already beat the Sorcerer at his own game. One of the more radical possibilities is a dual source Martial/Arcane Sorcerer. 

A while ago there were rumors (though I can't recall how reliable they were) of a simplified Essentials-style caster.  A boomstick Sorcerer, if you will, that functioned very much like the basic attack spamming builds (Slayer, Thief, etc).  Or maybe people just wanted such a build (why should spellcasters always be more complicated?).  This being the case, it's possible that the designers went the lazy route and made a MBA-spamming Sorcerer build, either like a Skald or a Slayer with an Arcane flavor.  I actually hope this isn't the case, because it strikes me as disingenuous.  A ranged basic attack spammer would have been interesting.  Sure, the concept has been touched upon with the Hunter and Seeker, but those guys aren't lobbing fireballs around.  A simplified design for a caster that just wants to make things go "boom!" is fitting.  Forcing the Sorcerer into the MBA (but with magic) spamming mold is much less so.  Since the "blow stuff up" ranged guy is out based on that picture, and I don't like the lazy MBA spamming possibility, I'm hoping that something much more innovative was done with the Elementalist.  Something similar to the Berserker's dual role, perhaps?  A unique take on a gish?  Maybe a character that plays as a defender until some trigger causes an uncontrolled burst of elemental energy to surge through his veins, turning him into a controller or a striker?  Pure speculation, of course, but that picture of Scar just begs for it!

On a related note, he also published plates of the HotF characters: Keldar, Andronus and Rowena, and Viltham, Lyrindel, and Nistyncia.  I'll just say that I love this picture of Lyrindel, and I'm at a loss as to why this wasn't included in the book.  All of the other pictures of her look a bit "cartoon-y," and some seem almost like caricatures compared with the art of the other characters.  I never got the sense for what a Hamadryad would really look like from the book's art, but this picture hits it perfectly.  She looks like a more alien version of a Elf, with the dark blotches giving her an almost reptilian flair.  Perhaps not the paragon of beauty that her Nymph aspect is supposed to evoke (nor does it have any plant-like characteristics reminiscent of the Dryad aspect), but I like it nevertheless.  I imagine this being her "default" form, with her racial power offering a peek into either her Autumn Nymph heritage or Dryad future (think Galadriel when Frodo offers her the Ring in Lothlorien).  A transformation that lasts only for a split second, but forever affects all who behold it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Random Playtesting Thoughts

I've run a couple more playtests using the same party as my last one.  Quick recap of the party:
  • Keyleth:  Elf Protector Druid (Predator)
  • Fen:  LT Shifter Berserker (Temperate)
  • Albanon:  Eladrin Warlock|Swordmage (S-K|Assault)
  • Bharash:  Dragonborn Warlord (Bravura)
One playtest was against a bunch of random Orcs, the other was against leveled Dragonborn (including a custom elite, the Legion Champion).  Both were level +3, with the party at level 6.

Calling the Fight
My second playtest showed very well why this is important.  The party had swiftly dispatched 2 level 7 Dragonborn Mercenaries (Skirmishers), and shortly after that the Dragonborn Soldier (level 8).  All that remained was the Legion Champion (level 8 Elite), who was still unscathed.  Bharash went down, and shortly after that the party bloodied their foe.  Bharash eventually failed all 3 death saves, and Keyleth failed 2 heal checks to revive him (given that it's a DC 10 and she has a +7 modifier, this was unexpected.  She rolled a "2" twice).  So there was a man down (the leader, no less) and the remaining enemy was now in pretty bad shape.  Still, I pressed on.  Fen had started mop-up with almost full health and all of his THP from Berserk Vitality.  Well, a few double attacks later and he was badly bloodied, and a round after that he was well below his negative bloodied value.  In hindsight he should have fallen back and let Albanon (who wasn't hit the entire encounter) tank.  He and Keyleth could have dispatched the Champion pretty quickly (Keyleth had only been hit once during the encounter, though she had also lost a surge when her Giant Toad was destroyed). 

Now let's think about this scenario.  The Legion Champion is an intelligent enemy who presumably has a sense of self-preservation.  The party has seen how hard his double attacks hit.  By mop-up the Champion knows he cannot possibly win, even if he can take out a PC or two as his final act.  Still, he'd probably much rather live to see another day.  With Bharash down, the best option for the party would be to let the Champion escape and tend to their comrade's wounds.  Heck, even if the DM asks for a surge expenditure to "call the fight," it's better in the long run than possibly dying.  Combat is dangerous.  The party started this encounter with guns blazing, and had it well under control until the string of bad luck in the mop-up phase.

Bharash the Bravura Warlord
Ok, so this build has been around for a good long while, but it's new to me so I'll say a few quick things.  First of all, Bravura Presence has got to be the best option for Warlords by far.  If an ally is going to spend an AP, that usually means it's a nova round.  What better than to get an extra attack?  Though it didn't quite work out this way, Albanon could have conceivably used Fey Step (+Eladrin Swordmage Advance), Standard, AP, and the free attack to use Eldritch Strike 4 times in a single turn.  As it turned out, he killed the only foe in range with his standard, so his AP was used later for a 3 attack turn.  Fen opened the encounter with Batter Down, AP Run Down, free MBA, hitting with all 3.

The problem I've been having with this guy is that his immediate actions tend to be difficult to use.  He has two (Vengeance is Mine and Inspiring Reaction).  The vast majority of the time when I'd really like to use one of these I can't because it's either my turn (provoking OAs or granting attacks with Brash Assault) or an attack just knocked me unconscious.  In this most recent encounter I did use Vengeance is Mine, but both attacks missed.  Later that round I wanted to use Inspiring Reaction, but since I'd already used my IA I couldn't.  Bummer.

Fen the Berserker
Alright, moving on to some Heroes of the Feywild stuff.   Before this encounter with the dragonborn I'd been using Fury too late in the battle, resulting in the THP from Berserk Vitality never being used.  This time I used Fury earlier (plus the encounter lasted longer than most), and the THP not only got chewed through, but Fen got knocked past negative bloodied.  Go figure.  Now that I've seen him in a Fury for more than a couple of rounds, however, I'm getting the sense that Berserkers might be slightly better in defender mode.  They still deal top-notch damage for a defender, have a VERY painful punishment, and are simply more durable thanks to the AC boost.  If enemies trigger your punishment you'll end up doing more damage than you would in a Fury anyways.  This will likely change at level 7, however, when I inevitably pick up Curtain of Steel, and the scales will tip even further at level 13 when Storm of Blades becomes available. 

Keyleth the Druid
In the encounter vs the Orcs Nature's Growth proved very useful.  I'd been counting on slowing an orc that was charging past me with Grasping Claws, but the attack missed.  Once the orc continued his movement, however, I realized that he was 1 square short of reaching his target because he had to move through 2 squares of Nature's Growth!  The room happened to be cramped (I was using the cave map from MV2), and in these circumstances it seems like Nature's Growth really shines.  It was also useful in the encounter vs the Dragonborn, as I placed my Toad and the zone in front of a Merc and the Legion Champion in round 1, leaving those monsters unable to reach Keyleth or Albanon without charging (the Merc instead went for Bharash, and the Champion attacked the Toad).

Even without an Alfsair Spear for prone shenanigans, Magic Stones proved to be a very good power.  The push was moderately useful against one target in the Orc fight, but the real kicker was that I got to attack 3 creatures, critting with the 3rd attack.  For my first level encounter power I went with Gust of Wind, which actually simulates what I would be doing with Magic Stones had I gone the polearm route.  Assuming you have Grasping Claws, this is probably the best power for action denial at this level.  Position yourself 1 square away from whoever you prone, and when they charge past you to get at your allies you can slow them (stopping their movement, since they've moved 2 squares once they provoked) if you hit with your OA.  Since the push is an effect you may even get some action denial out of it if you miss.  In the Dragonborn encounter I missed with it, and followed the push up with a Camouflage Cloak.  The other obvious use would be to push enemies into a pit or off a cliff, if one is available.  The last power I'd like to discuss is Wind Wall.  You'll only get the full effect situationally (if there's ranged enemies that target AC or Reflex present), but fortunately it's still a solid blaster power (I've been reliably hitting 2-3 targets with it), and in the dragonborn encounter the slide was useful in bringing an enemy within 3 squares of my Toad, which otherwise would not have gotten an Instinctive Action that turn.  I still miss Predator's Flurry (which is better for action denial), but Wind Wall definitely gives it some competition. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sandbox Resources

As I mentioned in the commentary of my last Red Frogs session summary, when designing an adventure or campaign it's really common for many DMs to adopt a railroad style.  In my experience, the problem stems from the fact that when planning, you get this idea for a "story" in your head and it becomes so entrenched that you expect it to be followed during play.  After all, a D&D adventure is really just a story with the PCs as the heroes, right?  Many DMs begin playing the game as players, and have participated in many a memorable narrative with their PC as one of the stars.  But DMing is more than just creating a story to be populated by the PCs.  D&D is, more specifically, cooperative storytelling.  Everyone at the table plays a part in telling it, even if the DM usually does the most work. 

Most people who GM RPGs are aware of the distinction between a railroaded adventure and a sandbox.  In the first type of game the story is on rails, and the PCs can't really get off the track.  The DM creates a linear set of events or encounters, with each one leading to the next in the series.  Most new DMs panic when the PCs try to diverge from the rails, and do everything in their power to steer them back.  It almost always feels forced, leaving the PCs at a loss for a sense of freedom (which, after all, is one of the biggest strengths of tabletop RPGs vs video games).  In the second type of game, the DM supplies the world which the PCs are free to explore and influence as they desire (much like a child playing in a sandbox, building sandcastles, etc. wherever they desire).  There's often not an obvious "hook," and the PCs won't have an employer that meets them in a tavern to tell them exactly what they need to go and do to obtain the treasure.  It feels very much like a living, breathing world.

The problem is that railroad adventures are much easier to design because you know exactly what you'll have to plan for.  While DMing a sandbox, you need to be prepared for almost anything, and you need to be at least reasonably comfortable improvising.  What sometimes gets overlooked, however, is that these two styles are not always dichotomous, and most campaigns exist somewhere between the two on a spectrum.  Indeed, this is probably for the best.  Not all players have the creativity or motivation to move forward in a sandbox campaign, and even those who can won't necessarily be doing it all the time.  Sometimes glimpses of a track are necessary to show players the way, or to get the creative juices flowing.  Likewise even the most apathetic of players will sometimes do something unexpected that causes the party to veer off the rails, and it usually works out for the better if the DM just goes with it (in an interesting and engaging manner), before eventually steering everyone back to the railroad. 

A good DM will be able to fine tune their campaign depending on their group, or even on how their players are feeling on a given day.  In other words, they need to be able to move across the spectrum in either direction without too much effort.  Because I personally have more trouble designing sandbox style campaigns, and because my group tends strongly toward railroading when they DM, I'm linking some helpful resources that I found pretty much by chance today.

  • The West Marches describes a specific campaign that lies very far toward the sandbox end of the spectrum.  The DM is explicitly neutral and has no ulterior narrative motive.  He just provides an interesting and detailed world which the players (which are many) are free to explore.  This type of campaign honestly sounds like a whole lot of fun.  The obvious downside is that there's no narrative structure, but that's by design.  It's just a different type of game, really.
  • The Slaughterhouse system uses a lot of sleek 4e design elements to organize sandbox campaigns.  The world is divided into zones (the author gets bonus points for using Metroid as an example) and zones are populated by factions (the exact meaning of which is left intentionally vague).  Each zone gets its own stat block, and are event assigned one of 4 roles (Lair, Outpost, Contested Territory, Uncontested Territory).  The stat blocks state who (which faction) occupies or uses a zone, how they use it and how they behave when confronted, their numbers, how the zone can be re-populated, and how its role can change.  Since the PCs will be directly affecting these things, each zone actually has multiple stat blocks describing possible outcomes (and since outcomes are very general and relates to the zone's role, this is far less intimidating than it sounds).  While I might not use this system exactly as presented, I'm definitely planning on heavily borrowing its elements as a way of providing tangible structure for a sandbox-style adventure.  It seems to me that just by actively using it the system encourages sandbox thinking over railroading, and therein may lie its biggest value.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Surprise, Surprise, More HotF Stuff!

An article about Heroes of the Feywild just went up today on the WotC website, and I figured I'd share it here.  Most of the discussion on the WotC forums has been regarding mechanical optimization, and I like that these articles take a step back and view the book from a different angle.  Seeing as I've had the book for several weeks now I've already soaked in much of the information, but this article provides some interesting tidbits that I overlooked as well as the author's reactions to some of the material.

First of all, tying together the references to fey bargains and souls was a nice touch.  There was a lot of backlash over why the Witch wasn't a Warlock build since the two are both arcane spellcasters who make pacts with otherworldly entities (and there is even a controller subclass of the Warlock, even if it is terrible).  I was admittedly among those who thought making the Witch a Wizard build was stupid.  But the thing is, difference between the two classes isn't who their patrons are or even the nature of the pact, but rather how that pact is made.  It's a subtle distinction, but I think it's important.  The Warlock deals directly with his patron, whether that's by physically meeting with them or through some other means.  It's straightforward, even if the Warlock doesn't necessarily know all of the terms of the agreement.  The Witch, on the other hand, is chosen by their patron and visited by the familiar, which is the patron's emissary. 

There is an air of secrecy in everything about the Witch - the Witch's power is gained by the familiar speaking arcane secrets (as opposed to the Warlock, who just gets his power).  This is why it makes sense that the Witch uses Int, since it takes a sharp intellect to interpret those secrets and employ them.  The Warlock's power is determined by their Con (how much power they can handle) or Cha (how much they can persuade the patron to give them).  At the end of the day, the Witch is still studying for her power, albeit from a very biased source (the patron, through the familiar).  Augury is a divination feature that allows the Witch insight into some of the campaign's secrets.  Finally, a Witch has to be secretive about how she practices, since (as the article emphasizes) there are witch hunters everywhere.  I hadn't really thought about the covens much since I haven't looked much at the Witch in general, but I like this structure for class features (it parallels the different circles that Druids join). 

I hadn't caught the "fey bargain" mechanics of the Sidhe Lord theme, and I hadn't thought much about the powers for the Tuathan that I noticed.   Now that it's laid out though, it does fit the flavor of the Feywild very well.  Even if those options aren't terribly strong mechanically, becoming a minor patron of sorts could be appealing to a lot of people.  I especially like the story of how the author's character convinced the Warlock that the Winter King would buy his contract from Asmodeus.  VERY nice touch.

Perhaps my favorite part of this article is the author's discussion of the book's art.  I'd registered that the art tells a story, but I hadn't paid enough attention to note how much it conveys the characters' personalities.  Of course Andronus ate the hag's cookies, because Satyr's are hedonistic!  Now that you mention it, that's one of my favorite pieces as well.  Seeing these specific illustrations next to each other also provided a contrast between Lyrindel's and Nistyncia's very different reactions to how his aloofness and lack of caution can cause trouble. 

And then there were Pixies indeed.  This discussion almost makes me want to play one of these little buggers.  The depth that he goes into regarding depicting the child-like nature of pixies is impressive, and I hadn't really thought too much about what implications that would have.  It does sort of highlight how disruptive a Pixie can be, both in terms of RPing and mechanics.  That's not to say that I think they're broken (even if they are "bent"), but they'll certainly be a source of friction in the party.

Anyways, that's about it.  Awesome book overall, and well worth picking up.  It's officially joined my "elite list" of 4e books, which include DMG2, MV, MV2, and Underdark.  You're in good company Heroes of the Feywild, and you're the first player book to make the cut! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Recovery: Viral's Diary (Session 2)

Well, it's been over 2 months but the Red Frogs are adventuring once again!  And we should be back to a weekly schedule for a while, which is definitely welcome.  We're continuing the Viral's Diary arc, although the next DM in the lineup has said that he's scrapping his original adventure (the prologue of which we've already played).  This actually works out fine for me, because it allows me to try out some of the Heroes of the Feywild options in actual play sooner.  But I digress.  On with the session summary.

Cast of Characters

Lyra Cinderfield (my character):  Human Staff of Defense Wizard
Berylis Lindelenon (my character):  Elf Panther Shaman
Rozzle:  Elf Brutal Rogue
Unit 27:  Warforged Weapon Talent Fighter

Note:  The player of Zeus, our Wrathful Invoker, was out of town.  Hopefully he'll be joining us for next session.

Note 2:  I'd set Lyra up to be my primary character, but for this session I pretty much played Berylis as primary.  His skills were more relevant, I had more fun with him in combat, and I was just feeling his personality more than Lyra's today.  Perhaps it's also me distancing myself from her since I plan on possibly running a Druid again, and it would be a bit silly for me to run 2 controllers when there's also an Invoker in the party. 

Deadwood Falls

The party arrives at the edge of Deadwood Forest, following the directions found in the farmhouse.  Lyra uses Create Campsite to hide them because the forest had a reputation for being treacherous.  They wake to a heavy fog, and make their way through the forest.  Berylis and Rozzle scout ahead, and soon they hear something crashing through the undergrowth.  The party gets into position just before a party of goblins comes rushing ahead.  We roll initiative and attack.  The goblin leader gets a low initiative roll, but when his turn comes up he simply calls the other goblins off and says "no fight!" in halting Common.  As the party decides what to do, Berylis hears some rustling off behind them, and Lyra throws a stick in that direction.  All of the sudden 2 spider swarms erupt from under the dead tree that Lyra, Berylis, and 27 are under, and 2 Deathjump Spiders join them.  At this point Rozzle is across a small gully with all of the goblins, separated from everyone else (1 of the deathjumps is on their side).  The spiders are dispatched (with some help from the goblins), and the party continues their questioning.  They are able to gather that the Goblins are running "from Death," but they're unable to describe what they mean any further.  In any case, they're coming from the direction of Deadwood Falls, which is of course ominous.

Outside of Deadwood falls, the party comes to a clearing where many people are hung from nooses.  Berylis searches the area for tracks, and finds some that go off running, but it looks like the people were chased and then captured again.  Rozzle notices some nooses that were snapped, and it looks as though they were chewed threw.  With a very high Nature check, Berylis determines that the chew marks were from a humanoid.  Finding nothing else of interest, they head toward town, which is deserted.  It looks to be in shambles, and eventually the party stumbles across a child's arm clutching a diary.  The most recent entry talks about Gibs (the man that the party is seeking), who would always invite the local children into his blue house and tell them stories, and about how he became sick after returning from his latest adventure.  People who visited him also became sick, and they were all taken into the woods and didn't return with those who took them.  Eventually Gibs did come back, but everyone started screaming and Milty (the boy) was instructed to hide.  Sounds like a zombie infection if ever we saw one. 

Berylis searched the town's perimeter and found tracks leading everywhere.  He followed a set until eventually they confirmed the zombie theory.  They dispatched the zombie and then returned to town to look for a blue house.  With Unit 27 and Lyra standing guard outside, Berylis and Rozzle searched the house.  Gibs appeared to be a hoarder, and had some minor valuables as well as some magic items (these turned out to be a Skull Mask, which Berylis took, Surefoot Boots for 27, Scale Armor of Resistance (Necrotic) which was somewhat useless since only 27 could use it and he already had +2 Magic Armor, and 2 Sunblades which nobody in the party could make good use of.  There was also a chest on the second floor with 2 keyholes, one of which contained no tumblers (so Rozzle couldn't pick it).  Upon searching further, Berylis found a key which fit into the hole without tumblers, and Rozzle was able to then pick the other keyhole.  In the chest was many papers (including the deed to the house, which Rozzle claimed), as well as a journal detailing Gibs' last trip to Viral's Tomb.  Apparently, you had to get their by paddling a canoe downriver, deep into the forest. 

When the elves rejoined Lyra and 27 outside, Berylis heard approaching footsteps.  Soon the party was surrounded by zombies, which were approaching from all sides.  This zombie apocalypse encounter ended up being really fun, as it featured 10 zombie minions, 3 regular zombies, and a Dread Zombie (the former Gibs) that could only be killed by radiant damage (and since the entire party failed their Knowledge checks it was essentially invincible as far as they could tell).  For the next 4 rounds a new wave appeared, and each wave had an additional regular zombie and 5 more minions.  In total, the party blew through 30 minions, 7 regular zombies, and they had to flee from the Gibs, who they had no apparent way of killing.  Rozzle became pretty beat up trying to repeatedly kill the Dread Zombie (especially since he spent much of the fight out of range of Healing Spirit), and Lyra was the undisputed MVP with Stinking Cloud and enlarged Winged Hordes.  One of the players commented that the wire outline that I used for the Cloud's zone might as well have been an eraser as I moved it around the battlefield.  Also notable was Berylis' nova round, which consisted of Spirit Hunt followed by Twin Panthers via an action point, resulting in 60 total damage which was higher than Rozzle's nova round.  A zombie walked around his spirit companion later that round to bring the round's total damage up to 78.  Oh yeah, Panther Shamans are definitely formidable.

On the River

After fleeing from Gibs the party eventually located his old canoe and paddled down the river.  It was pretty late by this point, so they paddled in shifts (Berylis and Unit 27 while Rozzle and Lyra rested).  A few hours in a ghost appeared on the river, holding out his hand.  Berylis brought the canoe to the bank to talk with him.  His name was Nero Wimsley, and he fully admitted that he had been somewhat of a douche in life.  He surmised that the party was headed toward Viral's Tomb, offering to provide them information seeing as this was where he died.  However, this information wouldn't come free.  Nero was unable to move on because his body still lay in the tomb.  He asked the party to place 2 coins in his mouth and bury him, so that he could pay the ferrymen.  Berylis agreed to this, while muttering under his breath what ridiculous superstitions humans had.  Nero then informed the party that Viral's tomb was guarded, but behind the ancient cemetary there was a tunnel through the tomb of a man named Midos that led into Viral's tomb.  He also mentioned that there was a shrine to Avandra along the river that the party could spend the night resting in.  He warned them not to camp in the forest, for it was very dangerous at night.  He also told the party to be wary of a blue door in the tomb. 

After departing, the party decided to press on straight for the tomb instead of stopping at the shrine.  Whether or not this was a good decision remains to be seen.  Rozzle had only 2 healing surges left, but everyone else was perfectly fine (this is why glass cannon strikers annoy me sometimes).  Everyone was good on APs, and everyone but 27 had blown a daily in the zombie encounter (so he had 2 left).  So press on we did.  Unfortunately, luck was not on our side (sorry Avandra), as we kept seeing fleeting glimpses of ghosts through the trees as we paddled downstream.  Eventually, a group of ghosts became openly aggressive and attacked.  Rozzle played conservatively and didn't take any damage that I can remember (though he didn't deal much, either), however, Berylis and Lyra both got focus fired pretty hard at various points in the encounter (the crits didn't help either), so they are now significantly down on surges as well (Berylis has 3 and Lyra 4).  Still, no one was knocked unconscious and the party focus fired efficiently.  It was at this point that we stopped the session.

Further Commentary

The DM has asked that we "grade" his performance, which I think is very valuable for a new DM.  I've thought a little about it, and so I figured I'd post my thoughts here.  For overall adventure structure I think he's fallen into the tendency to railroad, as most new DMs do.  The information as described often presents 1 obvious option, and when pursued the party discovers new information that leads them to another obvious option.  Also, the contrivance of "party finds and NPC's journal which tells them what they need to do and where they need to go" is very much overused.  It doesn't seem organic, and it doesn't offer much in the way of roleplaying opportunities.  It feels very much like the PCs are forced to follow a script, and the only say that they seem to get in the matter is the style with which they go through the motions.  It's worth noting that most published 4e adventures share this shortcoming as well.  This is admittedly a really difficult habit to break as a DM, or at least I think so.  I still tend to imagine a sequence of events in my head and design my adventures in such a way that everything leads to the events in the correct order.  I think it was a big shortcoming of my last adventure, and part of that is the format of switching DMs for episodic mini quests.  With just 1 level (about 3 sessions for us) to work with, it's tough to really create multiple strands of plot and a sandbox of unique options.  For my level 8 and 11 adventures I'm already planning on departing a little from the railroad-style adventure, and I'll link elements from level 5 with these adventures.  In fact, I've decided to take advantage of the interstitial period between these adventures to move things forward behind the scenes, which will allow me to present the party with a wide variety of challenges and link events in ways that might not be possible if the PCs were involved every step of the way.  At least that's my hope.  In any case, the take home message here is to move away from the obvious railroading, with an acknowledgement that it's a tough thing to do and probably won't happen all at once.  I'll give adventure structure a C, because this is pretty much what you can expect from most new DMs.

The other obvious element to grade is encounter design, and the DM has come a long way since his last foray into the world of DMing.  Despite the fact that some of these encounters were admitted to be filler encounters, none were pointless or boring.  Interesting terrain was provided in all cases (even the simplistic layout of the zombie encounter had multiple enemy "sources" and choke points).  The first encounter had a nice twist when the goblins turned out to be so desperate to avoid combat, and there was always a tension with Rozzle being alone with just the goblins on their side of the gully (even though the DM was adamant that the goblins didn't look like they wanted to appear threatening to the party).  The mix of deathjump spiders and spider swarms was a good one, and deathjump spiders happen to be one of my favorite monsters as well.  In any case, RPing the conversation with the goblins provided a sense of the frustration of the language barrier without being annoying, as well as set the ominous mood for the rest of the journey.  All told, for a self-described "random, filler encounter" this certainly didn't feel like a waste of time.  A solid B+.

The zombie apocalypse encounter struck a very good balance on multiple counts.  First, the balance between minions and regular monsters was spot-on, letting the strikers (I'm including Berylis in this description) as well as the controller shine.  There were enough minions to make it feel like the PCs were against an entire army, but enough standards to keep things tactically interesting.  The second point of balance was the number of waves.  An encounter like this can easily turn into a grindfest where there's so much of "the same" that it becomes boring.  On the other hand, too few zombies doesn't feel like an "apocalypse," and blowing through an encounter like that can feel really anti-climactic.  It ended up running a little over an hour, which I think was just about right.  The DM also openly stated that he accounted for the presence of Lyra, as he's seen her enlarged AoE's and what Stinking Cloud is capable of.  This is why I believe the balance that was struck was intentional (consider that in a striker-heavy, AoE-light party 30 minions plus 8 standards would have been a terrible idea).  The encounter was damn fun, highlighted how the town could have gotten to be in such bad shape, and provided a strong incentive for the PCs to hightail it away as fast as possible.  Indeed, I think this would have been a more appropriate incentive to leave town than Gibs' journal entry (and more tension could have been created if the journal had been discovered after this encounter, with the party desperate to find a clue about where to go).  As far as the encounter itself goes, this one is a solid A.

Finally, the ghosts.  According to the DM, he included this encounter as a specific consequence of the PCs neglecting to rest at the shrine.  Which is funny, because that was a last minute impulse by me to make things interesting.  I figured the shrine was added to prevent a random encounter while the party slept, and didn't think that one would be sprung on us while traveling the river.  In hindsight it should have been obvious, but oh well.  In any case, having the woods filled with ghosts was a nice touch.  As an experienced backpacker who has had several jobs that involved walking around the woods all day, I don't find forests the least bit frightening and I usually detest the "scary, sometimes dangerous forest" trope.  However, if there's a reason behind a specific forest being scary (haunted, in this case) then it paradoxically appeals to me.  I like that these woods are crawling with ghosts, and that some of them will lash out against the living.  As for the encounter itself, it was pretty straightforward.  Still, an abundance of trees and the dynamics of the canoe on the river kept the terrain interesting, especially since the ghosts had phasing and some hid inside of the larger trees.  Annoying, but realistic, and to have just a couple employing this tactic was a good balance.  Lurkers would have been really appropriate here, but to be fair the actual monsters used was an on-the-fly decision (I don't think the DM expected us to turn down a rest in the shrine!).  The one near-miss was that at first he had a level 12 monsters on the map because it was a quickly-designed encounter, and the experience added up.  I immediately explained that this was a bad idea and he added 2 lower level monsters in its place.  Just to reiterate, monsters that much higher-level than the party are far too difficult to hit, which results in a grindy, boring, frustrating combat.  Add in the complication that the monster will also have an absurdly large pool of HP for their level and the problem is exacerbated.  Going along with this problem, monster HP actually scales too fast at higher levels, and in the early levels of a tier in particular it's assumed that PCs have achieved their massive power-jump.  Basically, the difference between a 10th and 11th level PC is greater than that between a 9th and 10th level PC, and a level 12 monster assumes you're on the other side of the Heroic-Paragon boundary, with its increase in damage-boosting options.  Quite simply, the system is not designed for this kind of thing.  If you want to represent a tougher-than-average monster, that's what Elites and Solos are for.  This allows for monsters of varying strength while keeping the basic mathematical assumptions of hit rate, damage, etc. intact.  Ignoring that almost-mishap, the encounter was somewhat run-of-the-mill but had a good atmosphere, and was a tangible consequence for a decision that the PCs made.  Altogether probably a B-, which really isn't too bad at all. 

In short, encounters all had a narrative purpose and were an appropriate challenge.  This DM's previous adventure saw us through several trivially easy encounters followed by an absurdly difficult one that resulted in a TPK.  A big step forward.  What needs the most work is overall adventure structure, keeping in mind that paid game designers often don't do much better.  Still, improvement in this area is definitely something to aspire to.  Providing multiple meaningful choices that allow the PC's decisions to matter, having stuff going on in the background, and working on improvising are all good things.  One thing that I've found helpful is the actually plan less.  Draw up encounters, but don't provide a road map to them.  Let interactions with NPCs flow naturally in response to PC actions as opposed to being completely scripted.  Make sure that major events can play out in more than 1 way.  For example, say that the king has been getting death threats.  Don't assume that the party will accept an offer to protect him simply because that's what the DM planned.  Have the party learn about the point of view of a rival, such that the whole situation is muddled in shades of gray.  Maybe the party instead decides to help the rival and ignore the king's plight, or even to help the king's assassins.  In short, give the PCs enough "say" to be able to drive much of the story.  It makes DMing easier in a lot of ways if the players do so much of the work for you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Heroes of the Feywild Playtesting

I decided to playtest some of the new builds from HotF using the same encounter as my last playtest, which consisted of 3 Raven Roost Outlaw Veterans, 2 Raven Roost Sharpshooters, and 4 Human Thugs (minions).  This was a level 9 encounter for a group of 4 level 6 PCs.  This was the party:
  1. Keyleth Arwyl (I built her backstory using the last chapter of HotF): Elven Protector Druid (Predator).  Note that she has the Beastwalker Circle feat, so she can Wild Shape.  New powers from HotF include Magic Stones (at-will), Gust of Wind (E1), Wind Wall (E3), and Summon Natural Ally.  Other powers include Grasping Claws, Summon Giant Toad, Sudden Bite, and Camouflage Cloak.
  2. Fen Silverfang:  Longtooth Shifter Berserker (Temperate Lands).  I went with Run Down and Stalk and Strike for his at-wills, and thanks to heavy shield proficiency his AC is top notch while his aura is up (25).  His other powers are Batter Down (E1), Brutal Slam (E3), Sweeping Cut (D1), Rage of the Crimson Hurricane (D5), Savage Growl (U2), and Cull Weakness (U6).
  3. Bharash Kenkholtet:  Dragonborn Bravura Warlord (with Battlefront Leader).  I probably should have went with a Skald, but I've always wanted to try one of these guys and all of the great MBAs in the party were just too tempting.  He has Brash Assault (with Harlequin Style) and Intuitive Strike as his at-wills (enabling and attack buffing).   Encounters are Vengeance is Mine and Devastating Offense, Fearless Rescue and Staggering Spin for dailies, and utilities include Shake It Off and Inspiring Reaction.
  4. Albanon Izariel:  Eladrin Warlock (S-K) | Swordmage (Assault).  Eldritch Strike and Swordburst (no surprises there) at-will, Grasp of the Iron Tower (re-fluffed to Uel's Warding Curse) and Dimensional Vortex for encounters, Vanishing Blade and Emerald Shield for dailies, and Ethereal Stride and Armanthor's Step for utilities.  This guy's a teleport-spammer, and has Eladrin Swordmage Advance.  
Interestingly, Keyleth, Fen, and Albanon all have very similar DPR with their basic attacks.  Assuming CA Keyleth has 16.05 DPR, and she has the easiest time getting it thanks to Cunning Stalker.  At one point she had a Horned Helm which had her charging DPR at 20.1 (well into Striker territory), but I decided to trade it out for Hamanu's Terrible Roar to make Magic Stones more interesting.  With CA vs a cursed enemy Albanon has 16.375 DPR (14.425 without CA).  Even though he tends to have the most difficult getting CA, in theory his total damage is beefed up with extra attacks (Aegis of Assault and Eladrin Swordmage Advance).  Fen's DPR with CA is 13.075 (or 16.85 while in Fury)If he has CA and charges, his DPR is the highest (assuming Fury) at 21.85.  In any case, Bharash will do very well regardless of who he hands out free MBAs to.  It's funny, since I didn't plan this party around MBAs, it just sort of happened that way.

The Encounter

The fight ended up lasting 6 rounds, but the final 2 rounds were mop-up and involved chasing down the Sharpshooters who were perched up on very defensible ledges.   If I remember correctly the only attack that was made in round 5 was Keyleth's Pack Wolf (SNA), because everyone else had to take double moves (actually, Albanon was able to charge but missed).  In a game I probably would have had these guys surrender after round 4.  Two action points were burned (Keyleth to administer a Heal check on an unconscious Bharash without losing her attack, and Albanon for a nova round).  One daily was used (Summon Natural Ally to summon a Pack Wolf).  After the short rest everyone healed within a few HP of full, and surge expenditure was as follows:  Bharash 3, Fen 2, Albanon 2, Keyleth 1. 

Now, on the to good stuff.  Instead of offering a round by round commentary, I'll just hit the highlights, organized by PC.  In general, the encounter was somewhat swingy.  The bad guys got an early advantage by rolling well for Initiative (whereas the PCs rolled crappy, except for Keyleth).  In round 2 Fen and Bharash both dropped, but once they recovered the PCs cleaned house.

Bharash:  Dragon Breath was used to pop a minion, which means Inspiring Breath was useless.  Battlefront Shift was used to get Fen into position to somewhat compensate for the party's crappy initiative.  Fen took a huge beating in round 1 because of it, but he took it well.  Bharash was unable to use Vengeance Is Mine because the two hits that I remembered I had it were from a minion and an attack that dropped him.  I think there was 1 opportunity where I could have used it but forgot.  Overall I was impressed with his performance, and he definitely lived up to the Warlord hype (I hadn't played one since before MP).  His risky playstyle (especially Brash Assault!) was really fun.

Fen:  It's a good thing Berserkers get such high AC, because he got attacked by almost everyone in the first/second round and stood up to the punishment really well.  After getting nailed by both Sharpshooters, Keyleth protected him with both a Camouflage Cloak and a Wind Wall, but one of the Raven Roost Vets managed to get some lucky hits in despite the invisibility.  He ended up critting with Batter Down, which contributed to him dealing the most damage of any PC despite mostly staying in defender-mode.  I did probably Fury too late (round 4), as none of the THP from Berserk Vitality got touched.  It would have been beneficial to Fury in round 3 instead when there were still a couple of melee enemies present, since Brutal Slam would have kept him sticky for a turn anyways and Savage Growl could have been used after that.  It'll take a few encounters before I get used to pinpointing the optimal moment to Fury.  I ended up never using Stalk and Strike but there was 1 round when I wished I had Aggressive Lunge.  Still, I think most of the time S&S will be the better choice, so I'll keep that in mind as I do more playtesting.

Keyleth:  Wind Wall was VERY effective against the archers in this combat, and was also able to easily hit 3 targets.  Obviously your mileage will depend on how often ranged enemies show up, but in my group archers in particular tend to show up a lot.  Unfortunately, I completely forgot about Nature's Growth so I can't comment on how useful it would have been.  I do remember some enemies shifting, and obviously that could have been prevented depending on the zone's positioning.  Gust of Wind was also a worthwhile power.  I ended up popping a minion with it and pushing a RR Vet 2 squares and knocking it prone.  I then Wild Shaped bringing me 1 square away with the shift (Pouncing Beast Armor).  All of my allies were behind me, so all the Vet could do was stand up and charge.  I hit with Grasping Claws for my OA, stopping his movement instantly (since he'd moved 2 squares already).  A perfect showcase for how Druids can eke more action denial out of prone and daze than other controllers.  I ended up using Magic Stones once, but the archer that I tried to push off the ledge with it made his save (and I missed the other one entirely).  Still a useful power, and had there been more minions I'm sure I would have had fun killing them 3 at a time with it!  The Pack Wolf was largely irrelevant since I'd summoned it next to one of the sharpshooters early on.  Its damage wasn't impressive (since SNA lacks the implement keyword) and without an OA it didn't stop the archer from shooting even after standing up from prone.  Against melee enemies it would be useful to deny their actions (in hindsight I should have summoned the Giant Toad instead).

Albanon:  Not much to say, except that he had some major action economy problems.  I never even got to apply his Aegis.

As a final note I'd just like to mention that I tried something new while playtesting this time.  I transferred all of the important info from the character sheets onto index cards, making mini character sheets.  It really reduced the clutter while playtesting!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Heroes of the Feywild: Build Your Story

In my review of Heroes of the Feywild I mentioned that the final chapter of the book contains a choose-your-own-adventure style background generator, which can be used in place of an existing background.  Curious about how this process would actually play out, I decided to utilize it for a Protector Druid that I'm creating.  I'm not sure if I'll actually use this character in-game, but I am planning on running some playtests of the new builds, and I figure now's as good a time as any to give this backstory generator a try as well!  After making the basic choices presented in the book, I wrote up a more fleshed out story based on that.  Here's what I came up with. 

Overview of Choices

  • Foster Parents (kind) > Peasants (Elf) (Heal or Nature)
  • Shinaelestra > Studied Wilderness (Acrobatics, Endurance, Nature) > passed Wis check
  • Discovery > True Identity
  • Murkendraw > Found Murkroot Trade Moot (Goblin, Intimidate, Stealth) >Failed Int check, Goblins turned on you and sold you to slavery
  • Captured
  • Harrowhame > Enslaved (Dungeoneering or Nature) > passed Con check, escaped tunnels into Brokenstone Vale
  • Brokenstone Vale >Traded Goods, bartering with civilized lycanthropes (Bluff or Insight) > passed Wis check, Acclaimed (civilized location, activity, skill without making check)
  • Sent to Mithrendain > Broke into Citadel Arcanum (Bluff, Stealth, Thievery) > autopass from acclaimed
  • Maze of Fathaghn (chosen from Acclaimed) > Dealt with Dryad Queen (Diplomacy or Insight) > Passed Cha check (rolled 17), Made Powerful Ally (go to any location)
  • Fey Crossing Hamlet > Cross Into World
  • Trained skills chosen from backstory: Nature (Druid makes you anyways), Endurance, Insight, Stealth, and Goblin as a language.

    Once upon a time there was a young elven girl named Keyleth, who grew up with only the vaguest memories of her parents. Her foster parents, Theren and Adrie Celedor, were from a neighboring village, and had told her that during a Gnoll raid her parents were driven into the wild to make what living they could, constantly being harried by the ever-growing Gnoll population. They gave Keyleth up to the Celedors, who had relatives in the Feywild whom they were going to stay with to escape the Gnolls more or less permanently. It was Keyleth's best chance to lead as normal a life as possible.

    Unfortunately, the Celedors had no idea that life in Shinaelestra would be so tough. They worked as farmhands on one of the local vineyards, at least when the city wasn't under attack by the fomorians. Thanks to the city walls and the tireless efforts of Calenon Thray's rangers, it was at least a safer existence than Keyleth left behind. As she grew older she took to exploring the wilderness outside of the city during her free time, both in the Feywild and in the mortal realm after the nightly worldfall. She became adept at identifying plants, and eventually got hired to collect rare herbs for a wealthy ritualist/apothecary.

    One night while wandering a familiar path in the mortal world Keyleth happened upon an old half-elven traveler. She stopped to chat, and the old man's eyes lit up when Keyleth told him her name, as some long-lost memory resurfaced. He had lived in the village where she was born, and he informed her that her parents had been influential Druids in the Circle of Shelter, and that their true mission had been to confront Decius Derakh, a powerful necromancer who was responsible for mobilizing the Gnolls (to distract people from his dark business, it was rumored). With heavy hearts her foster parents confirmed the traveler's story, for they knew that she would now want to discover what fate befell her birth parents.

    After discussing the matter with her employer, Keyleth decided that her best lead was to travel to the Murkendraw and seek out the Murkroot Trade Moot. Their illicit wares were known to make it outside of the Feywild to the mortal world, and a powerful necromancer would have benefited greatly from such a resource. She spent several years on the outskirts of the Murkendraw seeking out the Moot, and eventually it paid off (sort of). A naïve newcomer is an easy target, and Keyleth was not cautious enough. Goblin traders took advantage of her inexperience and captured her. She was soon sold to King Bronnor and worked as a slave in the tunnels of Harrowhame. She toiled for months, but eventually she learned the tunnels well enough to make an escape, only to emerge in the lycanthrope-infested Brokenstone Vale.

    She was much more cautious now, and soon earned the respect of some of the more civilized lycanthropes. She collected herbs throughout the Vale and sold them to a werebear witch doctor. She soon became a welcome guest of their tribe, and after ensuring that she could trust them she explained her situation to the tribal elders. After much deliberating, they advised her against going back to the Moot. Perhaps she would have better luck in Mithrendain, as the Citadel Arcanum has some of the most extensive records around. It was worth a shot, anyways.

    After being denied entry into the Citadel, Keyleth wandered Mithrendain for weeks trying to come up with a solution. Though she kept trying to rationalize against it, in the end there was only one option: she would have to break in. She spent the next week and a half planning it, and then it was time. The records were not as heavily guarded as other portions of the Citadel, and she had enough time to not only find the relevant books, but give them a fairly thorough reading as well. She learned that about a decade after she was born Decius had entered the Feywild through a crossing in the Murkendraw and made his way to the Maze of Fathaghn. There he had planned on taking a branch from the Mother Tree to use in a dark ritual, but he had underestimated the Dryad Queen and was defeated. Details were scant, but it was the best lead she'd yet uncovered. Unfortunately, the guards soon discovered her. The Watchers of the Night were impressed with her skill, and did not detain her long. They saw that she meant no harm, and she was given a light sentence of 1 year's banishment from Mithrendain. No matter, as Keyleth had another destination in mind anyways.

    As she got closer to the Maze Keyleth began to hear soft voices whispering to her, and in a strange way they were actually comforting. The boundary between the mortal realm and the Feywild was thin here, and the Primal Spirits had a strong influence. Despite her goal, she lingered in this place and listened to what the air, the earth, and the water had to say. She soon found herself capable of producing minor magical effects as she became more attuned to the spirits. She first learned to call upon the spirits of the air, and once she mastered this the breeze whispered that it was time to go on. The vegetation grew more densely as she neared the edge of the Maze, and the forest more quiet. For all the dangers of that place she found herself able to pass through unmolested, though she could sense the presence of many eyes watching her the entire way. Time ceased to mean anything, and after many hours (or days, or weeks even?) she stopped in a clearing with a small spring-fed pool. Stooped beside the pool collecting water in a large pitcher was the most magnificent dryad she had ever laid eyes on. The air seemed to pulse with her power, and Keyleth became very frightened. As the Dryad Queen turned around she fixed her gaze onto Keyleth, studying the Elf for what felt like an eternity. When the queen finally spoke it was as if the air had come alive as an orchestra, and yet looking back Keyleth could not recall the exact sound of that music, for such is the Dryad Queen's magic.

    Their words were brief, and the queen was sympathetic. Druids from many circles had warned her ahead of time of Decius' plans, and he did not get very far into the Maze before she had found him. Though he considered himself powerful, he was as nothing compared to a great Queen of Faerie. She stripped him of much of his power, opened up a portal into the mortal world, and tossed him through. She gave Keyleth a general description of where she had banished him to, which Fey Crossing would get her there safely, and then conjured up a small wooden box. Within this box sat a tiny fire spirit that burned without need of fuel or air. In the smoke that emanated from the box was the image of a face; the face of Decius Derakh. At their parting the Dryad Queen cautioned Keyleth not to pursue him so single-mindedly, but that eventually they would meet. In the meantime though, there was other work to be done. Keyleth's ties to the mortal realm and its spirits were strong, and the queen advised her to seek out members of the Circle of Shelter. Not only would they help her to realize her potential, but if anyone had news of her parents, it was them. The queen then waved her hand, and Keyleth was transported to a small Fey Crossing Hamlet. After gathering what supplies she could in town, she crossed over into the mortal world, into strange lands where she'd never been.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Magic Item Bloat

I know, I know, this topic has been beaten to death (even if not necessarily by me).  The basic problem is that there have been way too many magic items published in 4e, and only a very small subset of them see any actual use.  I probably just skip over 85-90% of everything in the Adventurer's Vaults, as it's gotten to the point where most characters that I create have the same go-to items.  For example, what character doesn't automatically go after Item bonuses to damage?  Anyone with melee attacks will probably pick up Iron Armbands of Power, and the vast majority of spellcasters gravitate to the Staff of Ruin (to the point where some specifically multiclass to gain proficiency with Staffs).  We've recently adopted a house rule in our Red Frogs campaign that fixes this (well, "recently" is an exaggeration, as for personal reasons we haven't played in over a month).  It was inspired by the inherent bonuses system, and it basically gives you an inherent bonus to damage that doesn't stack with item bonuses.  This virtually obsoletes certain auto-pick items, but as a consequence it allows players to branch out and pick up magic items with other neat effects that simply weren't worth losing out on damage before.  It also gives the DM more freedom to include such items as treasure, whereas before players would get resentful because the item interfered with their damage bonus (or they just sold it for reduced cost).  Perhaps most importantly, it evens the playing field for PCs who for whatever reason couldn't get that item bonus to damage (Shamans come to mind off the top of my head). 

Here's the progression: 

+1 at levels 1-5
+2 at levels 6-10
+3 at levels 11-15
+4 at levels 16-20
+5 at levels 21-25
+6 at levels 26-30

An alternative system would be to simply double the enhancement bonus of your weapon/implement when calculating your damage modifier (whether or not that bonus comes from the weapon/implement itself, or through the existing inherent bonus rules).  In any case, in my opinion any attempt to make PCs as independent of items as possible is a worthwhile endeavor.

On a semi-related note, I'd like to mention that Heroes of the Feywild (which I reviewed in a previous post) seems to indicate that this trend might be ending, or at the very least active contribution to the problem is dwindling.  The vast majority of gear in the book is flavorful out of combat stuff as opposed to a bunch of combat-relevant magic items with huge discrepancies in power between them.  The combat-items that are present are 3 new magic totems, all of which are pretty useful.  Besides, totems  have gotten notoriously sparse support, and this helps to alleviate that.  Case in point, with my inherent damage bonus house rule in place I'm most likely going to be using the new Shepherd's Totem when I roll up my first Protector Druid. 

The Fey Magic gifts in particular are things that I can see myself giving out as a DM, even if not necessarily in place of an actual magic item.  These all have mundane applications, but players immersed in their characters will appreciate such minor abilities.  Some examples include being able to pick up flames without needing fuel and without getting burned, sniffing out gold, silver, and gems, gaining the ability to talk with animals, and increasing the volume of your voice (which also grants a bonus to Intimidate checks).  There's plenty of roleplaying potential here, and it's also a good way to make a character seem a bit more magical or otherworldly.  After all, nobody comes back from the Feywild unchanged...