Friday, April 20, 2012

Star Wars RPG Options

For some random reason I've recently become somewhat obsessed with researching options for which system to run a Star Wars game in.  The old West End Games (WEG) Star Wars game (the D6 system) and Star Wars Saga Edition (SWSE; a D20 system) were obvious choices.  Another contender that I randomly stumbled upon was a Star Wars mod of Savage Worlds, a system that I'm not very familiar with at all.

Star Wars D6

I ruled out this option for the most part.  Basically the system works by rolling a variable amount of D6s based on your rank in a given area (ability or skill).  With Force Points the "handful of dice" issue is likely to be annoying, and in general I really don't like the way that the force system is handled.  I've heard that characters in general are underpowered at first, but that Jedi soon end up overshadowing everyone else.


I keep going back and forth on this one.  On the one hand, it's supposedly the most "balanced" official option, with Jedi being more combat-capable than the other classes (though some Soldiers can certainly give them a run for their money, from what I hear) but not by very much.  Unfortunately, it's also very rules-heavy as can be expected from a game that somewhat resembles 3rd edition D&D (with some of 4E's refinements, but not its streamlining).  Like D&D 3E the feat system (from what I've seen) is pretty terrible.  One specific problem brought up was that whereas one of the other systems (I forget which one) has disarming via a ranged weapon as an option in the general disarm rules (which are quite simple), SWSE "has a feat for that."  Feats are just a huge personal turnoff for me.  The condition track is also problematic, and it's actually something that I read a lot of people complaining about a while back on the WotC forums (regarding D&D, and whether or not a condition track system would be appropriate for that game).  By and large I can definitely see the ever-increasing penalties leading to a "death spiral" functionally reminiscent to the problematic SoD/SoS (save or die/save or suck) spells of pre-4E D&D.  Finally, there's a "fire and forget" mechanic for using force powers, which I think is a terrible idea.  Fortunately it doesn't sound quite as bad as Vancian casting in D&D (force points recharge per encounter), but there's still a disconnect in terms of flavor.  Jedi shouldn't have to "prepare" multiple uses of a single force power, they should get to spontaneously "cast" anything from their known list.  Perhaps this can be houseruled, though.

The talent trees sound pretty cool, as does the dark side system.  The skill system is also based on training (like D&D 4E) as opposed to skill ranks, which helps with micromanaging.  Still, the rules-heaviness of the system and the need for system-mastery (thanks to the plethora of overly-specific abilities) makes the system sound a bit "clunky."  Star Wars should be fast-paced.  Oh, and not insignificantly the books are really expensive as they're out of print (I think the core book goes for like $75 on Amazon).

Savage Worlds

At this point this seems like the most promising option.  The big selling point is that it's a fast-paced, rules-light system without a lot of specific rules to get in the way.  Unfortunately, I know very little about the system, though it seems easy enough to modify.  Skills and abilities are given a "dice rank," though unlike a game like TOR or WEG Star Wars increasing your skill does not give you additional dice, but rather a bigger die.  For example, at character creation your abilities begin at D4, and you have a certain amount of points that you can spend to upgrade that to a D6, D8, D10, and up to a D12.  You also always roll a "wild die" which is a D6 that can replace a roll on your other die (or dice), though I'm not clear on exactly how this works.  It sounds like TNs stay fairly low (I think 4 is moderate?), and modifiers seem easy enough to adjudicate (and much looser than the various modifiers that seem to be tacked onto specific actions and rules in D20 games).  Basically, it boils down to the bigger your die, the better your chance of success as opposed to an every-increasing modifier that you add onto a consistent die roll.  It's an interesting twist.  The system of Edges and Hindrances seems to be a fairly flexible advantage/disadvantage system.  It's designed to be a universal system that can accommodate a wide variety of different settings, so tacking Star Wars onto it isn't much of a stretch.  The Force fits pretty neatly into the "magic system" as an Edge, ensuring that Jedi will be no more unbalanced than a Mage in a fantasy setting for Savage Worlds.  Since I'm unfamiliar with the system, I have no idea how balanced (or unbalanced) that is, but at least there's an established baseline.  I don't really like the dark side system that the mod I found uses, but it seems easy enough to port SWSE's system into Savage Worlds without much problem.

Here is an overview of the system.  

The Goal?

I have no idea.  I won't be running any new games any time soon.  Even when I have time again (in late summer), I'm pretty committed to TOR, and by that time the public playtests for D&D Next should be well underway.  In other words, I doubt I'll have an opportunity to run a Star Wars game for either of my groups, at least not in the foreseeable future.  Still, it's a setting that I've always wanted to run (and eventually play in!) so it'll be nice to have a rough "game plan" for when the opportunity does arise.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How Hard Should It Be?*

Another excellent article by Chris Perkins.  This week he tackles encounter balance, and specifically the question of whether a DM should throw over (or under) leveled encounters at his players.  For most of 4E's life I've adhered to the encounter-building guidelines in the DMG, and I'm starting to question the wisdom of that.  In my TOR game Grimwine's player has consistently refused to run away from combat (incidentally he's the only one who has almost died twice), and it's been bringing to mind the philosophy of "oh, the DM wouldn't put it here if we couldn't beat it."  Ultimately, I think that breaks immersion because the characters would be completely unaware of any encounter-balancing mechanics, and should behave with their own survival in mind, without constantly being the most powerful presences around.  Obviously with "all balanced encounters" being the norm a DM needs to be explicit up front about his intentions to populate the world with all manner of threats, some of which the PC's cannot reasonably expect to defeat.  It's also important that the DM always keep in mind alternative "outs," whether those be escape routes or motivations for the over-leveled threats that makes the PCs more valuable alive (captured) than dead.

Another interesting anecdote is that while all of the published 4E stuff is balanced for the party's level, there have been several combats in the published TOR adventures that assume the players will run away.

*That's what she said.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Session Summary: The Old Forest Road

We finally got to play again two weeks after our big cliffhanger (sort of) during the last session.  I should note that this summary will contain some spoilers from Tales From Wilderland, so if your group is planning on playing through the adventures in that book then avoid reading the sections marked as spoilers.  Essentially what I've done is taken some elements from the first adventure, which is a journey down the Elf-path, and transplanted them onto the Old Forest Road.  Again, such spoilers will be clearly marked.

The Nazgul has been chased off, but the party is now on their own, without the talents of a Wizard to fall back on.  Lowthesis being the only member of the company to resist falling into a swoon from the Black Breath, he watched over everyone else around a small campfire until they recovered.  Even after regaining consciousness they were quite drained, and so decided to remain at this camp to recuperate a bit.  Two lookouts were now posted while the others rested.
The company was plagued by nightmares while they slept.  The details are as follows:
Grimwine: Two bears, one of average size and one extremely large walk along the bank of a swiftly-flowing river under a clear night sky. A light frost crunches underfoot. At a fork in the path ahead the smaller bear without thinking about it heads down the path ahead toward a towering mountain. Upset, the larger bear cuffs him and turns down the other fork, to the left. When the smaller bear doesn't follow, the larger runs back and fights more violently with the smaller bear. Before the conflict is resolved the scene fades to darker thoughts of trees and spiders, and one nightmare after another bleeds into the next.
Ranulf: King Bard sits alone on his throne, a look of despair on his face. You call out his name but he doesn't answer. Hearing a clamor of angry voices outside you slowly walk over to an open window, when all of the sudden the shaft of sunlight disappears as the day turns instantly to night. South of the Royal Palace you see that some of Dale's buildings appear to be on fire, and Elves and Dwarves fight openly with each other in the streets while Bardings barricade themselves in the intact buildings. Your remaining dreams are dominated by frantic searching, though you cannot remember where.
Lowthesis: You can feel the oars you hold cut across the still water of Esgaroth, the Long Lake, and you admire your home, the Lonely Mountain, in the distance. You soon find your self inexplicably deep in the Mountain's winding halls, focused intently on the burning forge before you. This is a joy you've long been deprived of, but it's soon cut short. Your thoughts turn to a great jewel, skillfully carved, and you hear muffled shouts, curses, and threats. As the shouts become clearer your vision of the jewel becomes more and more blurred. You suddenly find yourself startled awake as the jewel fades to nothingness. Ranulf and Grimwine twitch uneasily in their sleep nearby. On the other side of the fire you can hear the four Dwarves all awake, softly arguing in the Dwarven tongue. The mood is tense and secretive.

Lowthesis decides to join the other Dwarves, not bothering to wake his human companions.  This sounds like Dwarven business, after all.  As he approaches he learns that Balin is eager to press on and search for the pony.  They still have a mission to accomplish, after all, and he doesn't want to return to his king as a coward.  Dwalin and Oin are both less sure of the wisdom of continuing onward, as they'd planned on having Gandalf's assistance and they've already encountered a Nazgul; who knows what other evil creatures lurk amongst these trees?  Ori is quiet, and seemingly undecided.  Lowthesis is eager to press on as well, not being one to back out of a challenge (Bold), and tries to Inspire the others.  He convinces Ori that Balin's is the better course of action, and while Dwalin and Oin still have their doubts, they will accept the majority vote and follow their leader.

Mirkwood's Western Eaves

The argument resumes in the morning when Ranulf and Grimwine wake up.  Grimwine is ready to go, but Ranulf voices his doubts and advocates strongly that they turn back.  Lowthesis ends the discussion by reminding him that this has already been decided last night, and that he can go back by himself if he so desires.  Ranulf grudgingly follows.

Ori and Grimwine scout out ahead to look for the pony.  After following his tracks to a point where the stop, with signs of a scuffle, Grimwine determines that the pony was eaten and that they should turn back and tell the others.  [LM note:  the pony was captured, yes, but was still alive wrapped up in a web nearby.  I never described any blood splatters or anything, and honestly I expected Grimwine to try a little harder.  Oh well, that's just fewer supplies that they have now, and they're suffering more Fatigue because of it].  The remaining week in the western eaves of Mirkwood are relatively uneventful, though several ruins are discovered and explored.  Low on water, the party is quite thrilled to discover and old well, though after lowering down a bucket it's obvious that something metallic is down there.  Ranulf lowers himself down to investigate, and finds an old skeleton covered in spider webs.  An elven dagger lies on the corpse's lap, with no webs around the dagger's perimeter.  Ranulf finds that the dagger cuts webs like butter, and cuts off a broach with an unfamiliar family crest from the tattered remains of clothing.  [LM note: There were some other goodies in this area, but nobody found them].  A larger ruin of a small village was discovered a few days later, and it appeared to be some kind of trade center based on the numbers of different coins present.  Some representatives included old Elven and Dwarven coins, as well as unfamiliar old coins with Dalish runes, and coins with horses on them.  More treasure points were acquired.  The first treasure found was a chest located by Ranulf, though he couldn't unlock it and called Lowthesis in to assist him.  Lowthesis easily opened the chest, but claimed all of the treasure inside for himself (earning a Shadow point since a cut of that loot was rightfully Ranulf's; he's definitely living up to his "Grasping" flaw).  The final ruins encountered was the wall of a large waystation, and atop it was a large boulder carved in the likeness of the Eye of Sauron.  Lowthesis and Grimwine devised a lever that they used to topple the abominable carving (incurring Shadow points for approaching it), and by doing so allowed everyone else to pass by without making Corruption tests.  Lowthesis may be greedy, but that doesn't mean he can't also be heroic.

The Mountains of Mirkwood
The players seemed to go out of their way to surprise me here.  As the elevation increased and the terrain became more rocky, the forest soon became dominated by dark, twisted fir trees.  Early on this leg of the journey a gorge was encountered with a 40 foot span, and a raging river 200 ft. below.  A ruined bridge crossed over the gorge along the road, but about halfway across a large chunk had fallen off so that by the far end it narrowed to only 3 feet wide.  [LM note:  I fully intended for the party to head upstream to find a way around this gorge].  Lowthesis wanted to make a rope bridge across the chasm, but it meant that someone had to cross on the bridge first (at least to test its stability).  The Adventurous Ranulf volunteered, and roped off though he was it was obvious that the bridge was unstable, and an unsuccessful Stealth roll made it obvious that he wasn't able to cross it.  Thinking he could do better, Grimwine roped himself up and got an extraordinary success on his Stealth roll (easily an AP thanks to his Bold trait).  I had him get nearly to the end, and then said that the only way further was to attempt a jump to the other side; I was quite clear that this was a one-shot deal, that a great roll was needed, and that a failure would most likely result in death.  [LM note: this is usually a good way of telling your players "I'm not going to stop you, but this isn't a very good idea.]  I think he had to blow a point of hope, but he ended up passing the daunting difficulty and made it safely to the other side, collapsing the ruined section of the bridge in the process. 
A few days after the incident at the bridge I had Balin go down to a stream to fetch water as the company was making camp.  They all heard a "yelp!" and Ranulf and Grimwine rushed down to see what happened (one of the two, I think Grimwine, noticed that Balin had left his axe at camp).  They found muddy Dwarf tracks followed by a set of spider tracks, both of which led to two trees with broken strands of webbing between them.  Grimwine shouted for everyone to follow him, and he proceeded to track for several hours in the dark.  Finally they came to a moonlit clearing, in the middle of which stood a ruined castle covered with spider webs.  The defensive walls and outbuildings had long since crumbled to the ground, but a single tower still stood, as well as two sections of the keep's wall which formed an L-shape, above which was suspended a wriggling mass of webbing (Balin).  Ranulf used his dagger to cut some webs off of the wall, noticing that the blade was glowing blue.  When he climbed higher to continue cutting webs, he failed his roll and fell to the ground, sustaining some endurance damage and cracking a rib (failed protection test resulted in a wound).  Grimwine tried next, but luck was against him and he too fell and was wounded.  Ranulf then proceeded to tie a large knot in the end of his rope and toss it up the wall to stick onto the webbing.  The impact caused the webs to vibrate, and Ranulf's dagger to glow brighter blue.  First one spider jumped down amongst them, though it was easily dispatched by Grimwine in one hit.  One of the players asked "do you think there'll be more of them?" to which Oin replied "there's always more."  Using the general guidelines in Tales from Wilderland I had an increasing number of spiders appear each round, though in rounds 4 and 5 I substituted an attercop for a great spider.  Several companions and Dwarves (I had each player running one of the Dwarves in combat) ended up ensnared by spider webs.  My misinterpretation of the poisoning rules almost resulted in an insta-death for Grimwine, until I went back through the rules and realized that a player needs to roll an Eye to trigger a called shot (I had the called shot trigger off of the monster's Eye roll).  The stalwart Beorning was still on the ground dying, even if he wasn't dead-dead, and Ori did get poisoned.  Again this group demonstrated its reluctance to back down from a fight, so after both great spiders were killed (even despite Holding Spells on Grimwine, which was moot now, and Lowthesis) I had the remaining attercops flee.  By the end of the fight 11 attercops and the 2 great spiders were dead, so I just had one of the survivors hiss "dinner isn't worth this!"  Aside from opening volleys Ranulf didn't really get a single attack in, spending all of his actions to either cut allies loose from the webbing with his spiffy new dagger, or singing his battle chants to restore their endurance.  The company quickly rescued Balin (and Ori, who had been dragged up the wall after succumbing to the poison's paralysis), constructed a quick stretcher for Grimwine, and then booked it out of there.

Two days after this a torrential thunderstorm appeared out of nowhere, and Ranulf after heading out to find shelter encountered a hollowed-out tree with a plume of smoke coming from it.  He called everyone else there, and after squeezing inside it became obvious that someone was living in here.  Grimwine took some pheasant meat (he'd bagged them the previous day) and started cooking it on the fire, and soon they heard a scratching outside and a head poked in.  The hermit was extremely surprised, and couldn't be quelled by Ranulf's botched attempt to courteously calm him down (too bad the Tolerance was only 1 here).  Refusing to listen to reason and shouting about how he wouldn't be taken back he started stabbing his spear at Grimwine.  Grimwine was starting to grow extremely angry, but a lucky hit (coupled with Grimwine's extremely low Endurance) knocked him out.  Lowthesis was the next target of the Hermit's ire, having previously tried to wrench the spear from his grasp, but it was ultimately Ranulf who was able to restrain him.  The hermit flung insults at Lowthesis, betraying his contempt for Dwarves by comparing them with orcs (though my personal favorite improvised insult was "may your beard become infested with insects!").  Lowthesis tried to offer him some treasure in exchange for letting them stay here, but he shouted about how the Shadow lives in things and would consume them all.  Finally the hermit was placated by a promise to leave his "house" if he didn't attack them when they untied him.  Grimwine's player admitted that if he'd been conscious he would have killed the hermit, Shadow be damned.  
END OF SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!
The rain continued on for several days, and soon the company came upon a roaring stream, flooded by the recent downpours.  Ranulf constructed a boat (Boating and Woodright), but as he came close to the water he began to feel drowsy as the spray hit his skin.  The Dwarves warned the company to avoid the water, because they didn't want to carry anyone around like they had to for Bombur!  After plans to swing Tarzan-style across with rope didn't pan out (partially due to the extreme reluctance of Lowthesis to attempt such an insane maneuver), Grimwine concentrated on felling trees to make a bridge across.  He got some high enough to avoid the spray, but when Ranulf attempt the crossing he failed (despite help from a rope handrail), falling into the stream (as well as a deep, deep sleep).  Ultimately Grimwine conceded to go along with the plan that Lowthesis had advocated all along; to simply wait until the water levels went down.  After 4 days (2D6) they were able to boat across, and Ranulf woke up shortly afterwards.
The next few days were some of the worst of their entire journey.  I didn't go into specific detail, instead simply reading this short description:  
It's a dark section of the wood surrounded by knife-edged rocky ridges. The talus from these cliffs has carpeted the ground in razor-edged shards and gravel, and a slight thinning of the tree canopy has encouraged the growth of stiff shrubs covered in 3-inch thorns. The howling of wargs has become a regular occurrence, and the occasional giant spiderweb or troll track across the path has you on edge. Though you see no signs of orcs, their refuse is everywhere. Everything from grotesque stone carvings, to vast burnings and garbage piles, to the skeletons that betray their propensity for conflict. From the rare trickle of a stream you detect a faint tang of oil in the air. If the Forest Road is ever to be re-claimed, it will take a great cleansing to restore this section.

Nobody triggered any hazards so I simply left it at that, except for the 2 Fatigue tests at TN 20 and the 6 Corruption tests (only Ranulf passed some of these, and only 2).  So now everyone is good and miserable (as they should be after trekking across the Mountains of Mirkwood).  The players objected strongly to this many corruption tests, so I revealed that I was going easy on them, and that by the original (un-clarified) version of RAW (rules as written), a journey across Mirkwood would take 40 or 50 something corruption tests.  The Shadow's been banished (for now), so while there are still some strongly blighted places in the forest I figured the Road is as safe as it'll ever be until after the end of the War of the Ring.
And this is where we left off for now.  The company has made it through the worst of what Mirkwood has to offer, but the northeastern edge of the Heart of Mirkwood still remains, as well as the Long Marshes (where they're scheduled to meet Oin's nephew, Gimli).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

13th Age

Apparently this new game was just recently announced publicly.  See also the publisher's website.  I liked Heinsoo's work with D&D 4th Edition, so I'll be interested in seeing what kind of game he comes up with independent of the brand (and WotC).  An old-school D&D aesthetic with elements from modern story games (which I haven't played and I'm cautiously intrigued by) certainly sounds interesting.  Not sure how directly it will compete with 5E/D&DNext, but if nothing else it's good to have an "alternative" to check out. 

Not much else to say without more details, but I'll be watching to see how this develops.

Monday, April 9, 2012

PAX East

A video of the panel "The Future of D&D" is up.  Interesting stuff, despite a few blunders made my Mearls that make me a little nervous (at 7:50 he seems to subscribe to the notion that bad rules can be excused because a "good DM" should be good at patching them, and at 16:40 he indicates an obvious bias by stating that Fireball type spells should be the obvious best choice.  Intentional imbalance is NOT good design).  Overall though it sounds like the playtest process will have a pretty major impact on the final product so I'm looking forward to its eventual release (which should be soon), and picking things apart. 

Those who haven't already (and are interested) should definitely sign up for the Open Playtest.  I imagine I'll be using this blog to share my impressions of the new system, and hopefully feedback is still being collected after I return this summer (working out of state, away from my normal groups) so that I can post some actual-play session summaries.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Investigation: The Horseshoe Isle Settlement (Session 4)

Cast of Characters

Keyleth Arwyl:  Elven Protector Druid (Circle of Shelter, Beastwalker Circle)
Fen Silverfang:  Longtooth Shifter Berserker (Temperate Lands)
Sophia Vermillion:  Half-Elven Valorous Bard
Miyako "Mia" Sotoko:  Human Centered Breath Monk
Zeus:  Dwarven Wrathful Invoker


Wow, we finally finished this adventure after over 2 months of not playing!  Though it wasn't necessarily avoidable, this session felt really rushed.  The DM is leaving for Paraguay in a few days, and shortly after he gets back I'm moving out of state until around August for work.  So this was definitely destined to be our last session for quite some time, which meant that it had to be concluded.  The DM cut some stuff, but we still ended up cutting it really close, and we didn't even get a proper denouement. 

At the end of the last session the heroes were ambushed during their extended rest, and they decided to rest again after the fight to refresh all of their resources.  They saw smoke above the mountain the previous day, and so they headed in that direction.  Due to a miscommunication I was picturing a very different geography than the DM.  In my mind's eye, we were on an island of at least 50ish square miles with a relatively large volcanic peak that rose at least a thousand feet up, if not a bit more.  In truth the island was probably closer to 10ish square miles with a roughly 100 foot tall cliff "ridge" that ran down the middle of the island, and was probably only a few hundred meters wide at most.  Oops. 

Anyways, the party made their way up toward where the smoke was coming from, Mia and Keyleth stealthily scouting ahead.  They came to the cliff face and found a gate flanked by 2 trolls (chained up nearby) and 2 archers in protected battlements just above the gate.  Though their movement in the brush was spotted, Keyleth ran into the open as a wild boar, and then pretended to flee back in the direction they came when she saw the trolls.  Basically, the idea was to put the guards at ease, thinking the rustling was just wild animals.  Mia snuck further around, while Keyleth went back to the others.  She sent Fen to find Mia so the two of them could climb the cliff in secret beyond the line of sight of the guards.  They were to come at the gate from above.  They began by rolling large boulders over the edge on top of the unwitting trolls, but soon ran short on available rocks (and time).  As soon as they secured their rope and started rappelling down the ranged guys revealed their position by attacking.  One of the trolls was incredibly tough for a level 7 party (a level 12 Battle Troll from MV...I hate high-level soldiers).  Halfway through the battle I was convinced we'd have to flee from him even after defeating everyone else, but we prevailed in the end.  It was a long slog thanks to the fact that we only had 1 fire power at our disposal, and it was an encounter power (Sophie picked Burning Spray as her Dilettante!).  We decided the best course of action was to wait until any trolls in a given battle were all dropped, and then "finish them" with Burning Spray as a coup-de-grace.  So the troll's consistent regen was pretty annoying.

Zeus ended up taking quite a bit of damage (being bloodied 3 times!).  Though the plan was for Fen and Mia to take out the archers first, Fen ended up simply dropping off of the rope  and eating some minor falling damage (thanks to Acrobat Boots he was still able to move + charge next turn) because the trolls ended up being far more dangerous than expected.  This was because Keyleth and Zeus rolled horribly at the beginning of the encounter, making our attempts to control the trolls futile.  I'm convinced that a few lucky (big!) hits from Fen and consistent Vicious Mockery damage/debuff from Sophie (including 1 crit) were the only reasons we fared so well against the Battle Troll. 

In any case, the party triumphed and then Mia crit-picked the lock to the gate.  She then rolled a 1 to pick the lock of the next door inside, which was built into a cave-in.  The door shifted when Fen broke it open, but Zeus determined that the stones were stable enough for them to safely pass (from a metagame perspective, we were pretty nervous about this since we knew that his Dungeoneering role wasn't all that high).  The party was soon in a room filled with stacked crates, that led to a staircase outside of a rock ledge (we'd made it through the "mountain").  The stairs led to a lagoon where Fen saw 2 trolls and several pirates loading things onto schooners when he peeked around the corner.  There was also a child manacled to the wall of the cave, whom we freed and told to hide (though he was convinced that we were all pirates playing a cruel joke on him, and when he saw Keyleth use Wild Shape he accused her of being a demon). 

We were off to a great start in this battle, with Keyleth nonchalantly flying onto the roof of a building and off the other side in dodo-form to get to an advantageous position.  Mia then used Crane's Wings to jump off the rock ledge, over the staircase, and through the window of the building (to find herself surrounded by 5 thugs who ended up being minions).  Fen set himself up at a bottleneck at the bottom of the stairs, and Keyleth opened the battle with Vine Serpents, successfully hitting both trolls.  One troll would remain restrained for the entire combat, never making a single attack (very unlucky with the saves!), while the other was immediately barraged with other control attacks after making his second save (the first being Charm Beast, forcing him to attack the other troll).  Sophie and Zeus pretty much sniped from the rock ledge the entire time (at least until Sophie needed to come down to dish out some heals).  Because he tended not to get to use Longtooth Shifting very often, Fen elected not to heal himself after reaching just above his bloodied value from the racial power's regen in the previous encounter.  Starting the encounter almost bloodied, it would take only one hit before he could activate Longtooth Shifting again.  His high defenses actually prevented him from being hit for quite a while.  Perhaps my favorite "Fen moment," however, was when Mia was badly injured and way out of Sophie's healing range.  Fen instructed her to jump aboard the schooner that he was fighting pirates on (with his aura still up) and park herself next to him.  She soon went down, but he was able to bring her right back up with Swift Recovery.  Soooo glad I picked that skill power for him at level 6!  The defense bonus from having used her second wind also saved her butt during the next round of archer attacks.  Overall the battle was won fairly easily, in no small part thanks to Keyleth's luck with Vine Serpents.  That has been so effective at wrecking encounters that it's probably my favorite daily power now.

Further Comments

As I said before, this session was very rushed.  We called it immediately after this battle (during which there were a lot of distractions so it took longer than it probably had to), with the DM basically saying "congratulations, you have 2 schooners so you can get back now."  No roleplaying to find out who the kid was, no closure after dragging our pirate prisoner around for this whole adventure, nothing to resolve the fact that we destroyed Captain Jack's ship (or what we would do with our new surplus of ships), and perhaps most disappointing, no resolution for Sophie's case of herpes.  Keyleth had been collecting herbs for use as ritual components to reduce the cost of the Remove Affliction ritual, and we also never investigated that possibly corrupt Cleric in the next town over.  The DM had admitted that he's not great at improvising, but I still would have preferred going through with that little side quest (after all, improvisation is an absolutely critical skill for any GM, and the only way to become comfortable with it is to actually do it). 

I may follow this up with a longer post later, but lately I've been thinking about the weaknesses of 4E and tonight really highlighted some of those.  I like how free-form and flexible the system is out of combat, but combat lies on the complete opposite end of that spectrum which can create a bit of a disconnect.  It almost feels like you're playing 2 different games at times, with OoC being a sleek, streamlined RPG and combat being a highly involved tactical miniatures game.  The length of combat also tends to remove you from the main narrative for long periods of time.  I also dislike the way that the system scales with level, and despise the magic item and treasure system (which we've thankfully been largely ignoring in this campaign).  I really think that combat can be simplified and made more efficient while preserving most of the tactical depth, but it would be a tough thing to accomplish.  Finally, there's just something "off" about efficient use of resources (a combination of recovering everything after an extended rest, no long-term effects in general, and a lack of momentum-building mechanics that restrict flexibility in designing variable-length adventuring days). 

I think a lot of these thoughts are a direct result of having played The One Ring several times now.  Though it's a very different system than D&D 4E and I wouldn't want one to turn into the other, so to speak, I think I'm starting to prefer a lot of elements in a game like TOR.  I'm finding myself looking more and more forward to what the designers have in store for us with 5E/D&DN, hoping for something that plays a bit like 1E D&D but with the "polish" and some modern elements of 4E.  I'd like quick, exciting combats with an easily-accessible option for tactical depth on a system that above-all emphasizes narrative elements.  I'd like to avoid the restrictive, simulationist rules of 3E (particularly for OoC stuff) in favor of something streamlined and easy-to-use like some elements of 4E (replicating the "feel" of TOR with decidedly D&D mechanics).  Ultimately if the new game doesn't deliver I'm starting to feel confident that I'd be able to create a "hybrid" system that does more or less exactly what I want it to (especially since such modularity is one of the major design goals of D&DN anyways).

Stupid Monsters

This article is long, but worth it.  And it's mostly pictures so I don't want to hear any complaining.  Stupid Monsters Part 3.  Ah, what little gems can be found in a D&D Monster Manual.  I kinda want to use some of these, but I can't decide between the Grain Nymph, the Nilbog, the Calzone Golem, or the GELATINOUS BEAR!  Too bad I'm not running Dark Sun, or I'd be all over that Athasian Dolphin (which is a lot funnier if you know that Athas is all desert with no oceans)

Anyways, enjoy.