Removing Non From NPC

During the past two sessions, the brave adventurers traveling through The Shadowfell have been without their devote Cleric of Pelor as he is on vacation worshipping the Sun in some foreign land. How typically Pelorian of him! The remaining party members are a Barbarian, Ranger, Fighter and Rogue; healers, they are not. A solution was needed to fill the gap because continuing the adventure without allowing the party access to a healer would have been a death sentence. A variety of options were available.

One option was to allow another member of the party to also play the missing player’s character. I have allowed this in the past, but it presents a few problems. First, while the missing character is still being used, his or her character cannot contribute to the story. Second, the player executing decisions for the missing character is bound to be more distracted from playing their own character, which is not ideal. And finally, it can get quite complicated if the missing player’s character is killed or suffers nasty consequences while they are absent. For those reasons, I wanted to avoid another player taking on the role of the missing Cleric.

Olevex, Shadar-kai Cleric

I decided to create a NPC that would join the party as part of the storyline in the campaign while our Cleric was missing. The NPC did an admirable job of serving as the healer for the party, but she also served a number of unexpected purposes during the sessions. She increased the amount of roleplaying during a combat-heavy portion of the adventure, and she increased my level of enjoyment because I was also playing a character.

The following column is a description of how I replaced our missing Cleric in two consecutive sessions with a Non-Playable Character (NPC) who fulfilled the Healer role in our Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. Below I present how I inserted the NPC into the party and the variety of functions she served during the sessions when our Cleric was out of town.

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Curse With Purpose

I have been hesitant to give out Artifacts and Cursed Items to players in my Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. Artifacts have intimidated me to a certain degree since it is one more facet of the game the players and I would need to track. I did not want to add another complication to the plot of the adventure, which has admittedly gotten away from me at times during the campaign. I could also never figure out how to adequately roleplay an Artifact, although experiencing the Narrator from Bastion gave me a fantastic template to bring an Artifact to life. I did give the party an Artifact in recent months, but they have ignored it for the most part (another article for another day).

“You have my axe . . . no, really, please take the bloody thing before it kills me!”

As for Cursed Items, I have been intrigued by them since reading through examples of items curses in Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium (p. 111-115). I am hesitant to punish players, and giving a player a cursed item certainly imposes a penalty on the player receiving the item and the party because the player with the item is now less effective. In a recent interview Monte Cook discussed the dangers of avoiding all forms of punishment as a game designer and DM. In recent sessions, several factors came together to grant me to opportunity to introduce a cursed item into the campaign.

Below I detail the circumstances that led to me giving out a cursed item to the players. I discuss how I provided clues to the players that the item was not all it appeared to be and emphasis how the item  fit into the story of the campaign. I discuss how the players have handled the discovery of the cursed item and conclude with alternatives to the specific Removing An Item Curse rules listed in Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium (p. 111), which seem quite anticlimactic.

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The Agony of Defeat

Approximately 60 hours before I learned that my blog won the RPG Site of The Year from Stuffer Shack this week, I presided over arguably the worst D&D session I have ever run. The session started out well enough, but the last two hours were a complete debacle featuring players that were either frustrated, annoyed, checked-out or a combination of the three. As for my own response to the session, I was at first confused then disappointed. I started writing about the session earlier in the week but the news of the award lifted my spirits and put my reflections of the discombobulated session on hold.

Anyone under the age of 30 probably has no idea what I’m referring to here.

With a few more days to process the events leading up to disastrous session, I’ve been able to analyze why the session went so poorly and list what can be learned to prevent similar problems. While my confidence was certainly shaken by the events, this post is not intended to make anyone feel sorry for me! And it is also not my intention to bash the players in my campaign. They have actually responded wonderfully in the wake of last weekend’s session and we’re in the process of getting back on track. Below, I present the details of the ill-fated session in gruesome detail and discuss lessons learned. Hopefully this brutal self-disclosure helps someone else out there prevent a similar episode from happening in her or his campaign.

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No Assembly Required: Kemah Timmonen

The April edition of my monthly monster-building column, No Assembly Required, is now posted at This Is My Game.

The column, No Assembly Required, features a monster that can be inserted into a Dungeon & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. Each monster in the series includes comprehensive information including Origin, Lore, Combat Tactics, Power Descriptions and Stat Block. Visit This Is My Game to review this month’s monster, Kemah Timmonen. Kemah is an Paragon-Tier female shadar-kai that will feel right at home in any campaign, but certainly an adventure in The Shadowfell.

My goal with Kemah was to create a ruthless villain to go along with the uneasy and violent themes of The Shadowfell. I wanted her to enhance her abilities as a Controller and crafted powers to fit into this theme. I modified what it means to be Dominated and created a new status effect, Conflicted.

And I also wanted her to have orange and black in her color schedule because it’s playoff hockey time and I’m a huge Philadelphia Flyers fan. The Flyers are currently battling in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs – so Let’s Go Flyers!

Visit This is My Game for the full description of Kemah Timmonen, and check out previous entries in the series!

Many thanks to Grant Gould who provided the fantastic design and illustration for Kemah.

Discount Fares to Shattered Isles

I previously detailed a skill challenge that featured the party chasing their prey along the rooftops of Gloomwrought. Once the party finally corners their prey – in this case, traitors of Ghost Talon – the unstable building in the Shattered Isles collapses. The challenge I faced was bringing the Shattered Isles to life for the ensuing encounter. The Shattered Isles are described as a series of five island jutting out of the water. A bit of the flavor text provided in the Shadowfell boxset (p. 58) is below:

Some parts of [the Isles] are eternally on the verge of collapse . . . Parapets droop at extreme angles, black stone seeming to flow down their faces like wax running down a candle. Cracked edifices lean together over narrow cobbled streets and end abruptly at the shore . . . Monsters of many sorts lurk among the ruins, and these creatures can snatch even the canny folk who live near such threats and know of them. The thick, black fluid known as necrotic seepage sometimes boils up from the polluted earth, and islanders who know enough to stay away from it can avoid contracting the disease it carries.

I could have drawn a map, which would have made my life significantly easier, but I imagined something else entirely. The images conjured from the flavor text seemed to need something more than a two-dimensional hand drawn map, and this is what I created.

Behold the Shattered Isle!

Below, I present my low-cost solution to bringing the Shattered Isles to life.

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Gloomwrought’s Final Destination

One of the fun challenges of running a session in the Shadowfell is trying to convey the magnitude of wickedness, gloom, despair and violence. The DM can hit the five senses quickly through flavor text, but the Shadowfell seems to call for even more attention to detail in terms of convincing the players that they should be in a constant state of fear.  It is a challenge I continue to face each week as my players continue to adventure in Gloomwrought (and Beyond).

Weep now and despair!

A tool provided in the Shadowfell boxset is the Despair Deck, which is a nifty tool to layer additional mechanics into the game to demonstrate the negative effects of simply spending time in the bleak realm. The suggestions are to use the Despair Deck any time a character takes an extended rest while in the Shadowfell or if they witness a rather nasty scene such as “a lair where ghouls have been feeding off townspeople.” I tweaked this second approach over the weekend when the party arrived at an enormous pile of rotting corpses. The party decided to search through the pile in the hopes of finding gold or other valuables. At this point, I asked everyone who was searching to roll a saving throw; those that failed were required to draw a card from the Despair Deck.

The Save vs. Despair option seemed appropriate to the story, and I believe it’s a good tool for any DM to utilize. A fellow gamer suggested the DM should consider the character’s Race with Despair effects. For example, perhaps characters with the Shadow origin are not affected; also, there is now a Warforged in my adventuring party and I probably should have skipped him saving against Despair (his roll was successful anyway, so it turned out to be moot). Even without the Despair Deck, the DM can create potential “Save vs. X” effects based on the story and encounters in the campaign.  This is another interesting way to navigate the Save vs. Death issue.

There are many other ways for a DM to convey the required emotions the Shadowfell outside of the Despair Deck. Below, I talk about additions I made to one of the published skill challenges in the Shadowfell Encounter Book to increase the level of horror in the adventure.

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