Brainstorming Solo Monsters: Bayonetta

“I’ve got a fever, and the only cure is more dead angels!”

Solo monsters and the way they play in D&D 4e have been on my mind lately. First, I ran a small set of encounters that culminated in the party coming face-to-face with an Orium Dragon. Second, I was throwing ideas back and forth with David Flor about the notion that solo monsters could possible be given more standard actions to make them more epic foes. Third, I’ve played through the first third of the videogame, Bayonetta. Trust me, the last point will tie into my thoughts on solo monsters!

First, the battle with the Orium Dragon was meant to be a challenge for the party, and it turned out well enough, but the dragon did not seem cool enough. Part of the issue was we only had four players that night, so I had to scale down the creature a bit. But overall, the dragon seemed to be limited to the breath weapon and the Draconic Fury, which basically gives the dragon three Standard Actions (2 Claw, 1 Gore attacks). Draconic Fury is a nice attack the first round or two, but the dragon does not have many other options if it’s breath is spent. PCs attack, dragon attacks with Draconic Fury, rinse and repeat. At least for me, the battle felt stale after a couple of rounds. There was likely more drama for the players because several PCs were dying at various points in the battle, but in terms of playing the dragon, it wasn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be.

After that, I was thinking about the next time my group runs into a solo creature and how I could make it more entertaining for them and for me. Between getting Monster Manual 3 in the mail and having some discussions online, I started to think about solos in a new way. Yes, they are a big, bad monster, but they should feel different from the monsters I play as a DM each week. Besides the extra hit points and high-damage attacks, playing a solo should just feel different. I thought about granting solo monsters more standard actions, and that idea seems to have merit. Around this time, I started to play Bayonetta – and strangely enough – that is when something clicked in my brain.

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Ride The Rails Like A Rockstar

The question of whether a DM should force the party along rails or allow them to stomp around in a sandbox continues to be addressed. The topic was discussed heavily in a blog carnival last year, and most recently this week at Critical Hits. It is not a new concern for DMs, and there are numerous suggestions for how to effectively run a sandbox style game for your PCs. My approach to the campaign I run has been slightly different, and I think other DMs may benefit from the structure I use to balance PC flexibility with central story arcs. The following post is my attempt to describe my structure for running the world and handling the railroad/sandbox situation.

Before 2009, I did not play D&D for over 15 years. I filled in that time with countless hours playing computer and console games – mostly action, RPG and sports titles. It is a major influence in how my brain functions to prepare adventures for my D&D campaign. When I received the opportunity to DM once again, I decided to create my own world for the PCs to inhabit. I leaned on the structure of certain videogame titles to keep my sanity and not have the process of “building a world” become too overwhelming.

Red Dead Redemption
Don't fear the rails. Own them.

Specifically, I relied on a model used by Rockstar Games for titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. Both of these games offer expansive worlds for the players to explore while participating in a wide variety of activities. However, there is also a primary storyline the player can complete at their leisure. Recently, I took a break from Dragon Age Origins (80+ hours in and still haven’t finished it!?) to play Red Dead Redemption. The game is phenomenal, and I got wrapped up in that for a few weeks while completing the game’s primary storyline. There are several interesting components to the Rockstar titles that translate well into building a D&D campaign.

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