March 16, 2013

Boot to the Head! or Why I'm playing 4e D&D again

I think I mentioned in a prior post that my Wednesday group was looking at playing Dragon Age, now that the general interest in Marvel Heroic RPG had subsided.

Well, that turned out not to be the case, and instead the majority of the group decided to head back over to d20 Land and break out the D&D books.  Thankfully, the vote wasn't for 3rd edition or Pathfinder, as I generally abhor the 3.X versions of d20; the closest I'll come to tolerating that system is Mongoose Publishing's Babylon 5 2nd edition RPG (still needs a couple tweaks though, such as implementing Pathfinder's skill system, which is about the only thing from Pathfinder I actually like).  So, after figuring I'd never be playing 4e again after my Saturday group pretty much decided they were sick to death of d20 games (which resulted in my Saga Edition AltU game coming to an abrupt end), I found myself having to face playing D&D yet again, a game system and setting that has become less and less relevant to my gaming interests as time wore on.  The last time I played was a D&DNext playtest that left me pretty cold.

Now the main reason I didn't bail was because if I had, I could probably forget ever gaming with these folks in the future, as I'd quickly be forgotten as a potential gamer or even GM for the group.  But also, because the DM wanted to run a Dark Sun campaign.  Now I never really got into Dark Sun during its hey-day under AD&D2e, but a post-apoc fantasy setting did sound interesting.

But the question was: what do I play?  From talking with the GM and the other players, half of them were going with Essentials Characters (Half-Elf Sentinel-Druid with Elemental Priest theme and Elf Hunter-Ranger with Wastland Nomad theme)  while the other half were going pre-Essentials (Human Sorcerer-King Pact Warlock w/ Templar theme and Dragonborn Wild Battlemind w/ Gladiator theme).  To keep with 4e's notion of roles, we've got a Leader (druid), Controller (ranger), a ranged Striker (warlock), and a Defender (battlemind), so the bases are covered.  Well, when in doubt, go for the damage.  To be honest, I'm of the playstyle that best fits a Striker, so the question was what Striker-class to play?  And it was very easily answered, in the form of the PHB3's Monk class.  I only got a few chances to play a 4e Monk before, and they were all fun, so I simply rebuilt the Human Monk I'd played before to fit with the GM's character build rules.

We used the standard 22 points to buy ability scores and built our PCs as usual for 1st level, having the option of either selecting a theme or getting a free 2nd level Skill Power.  So while everyone else went with selecting a theme, I opted to go the bonus ability route, mostly as none of the themes really fit the character notion I had in mind, that of a young traveling warrior-monk that had embarked on a journey to test his skills and inner character, I opted for the Skill Power, which aside from not having to take the Skill Power feat I otherwise had to qualify for.  Easy choice for me, Agile Recovery, permitting my character to stand up from prone as a minor action (something very useful for a high-mobility Striker).  Once that was done, we leveled up our heroes to 2nd level, and here was where things got a little different.

First, we only got one magic item, and additional money equal to one-quarter the value of a 1st level magic item.  For those that don't know, the DMG suggests when building characters above 1st level, they get three magic items (one of a level no higher than their current level, one of level no higher than their current level, and one of a level at least one level less than their current level) and gold equal to the value of a magic item that's one level less than their current.  We could still pick up to a 3rd level magic item, but it was the only magic item we'd be getting, and we only got 90 extra gold (compared to the 360 that a regular character built at 2nd level would get).  Being a Monk (who really didn't need a lot of extra money), that was no problem for me, but a few players were a bit upset at this, as they had to choose between a magic weapon, magic armor, a neck slot item, or something with a cool ability.  Me, I checked with the GM and he allowed me to take Moradin's Blessing of Iron as my one magic item, which may not be super-powerful but is quite handy since it cuts down on my Monk being pushed and grants me a free attack if I get pulled close to the enemy in question, as well as some emergency DR if needed.  Kind of fitting for a Stone Fist Monk I think.

The second change, which helped offset the lack of magic items, was that we're using the Inherent Bonuses option from DMG2, giving us boosts to attack, damage, and defenses based on our level, something useful as the GM plans to keep magic items rather rare in his game, since one of the themes of Dark Sun is the heroes having to survive on their own wits.  To borrow a phrase often applied to Star Wars Saga Edition, this is a game where your character is not about your gear, but rather what your character can do.  Personally, one of the things I've always disliked about D&D was the over-reliance on magic items, so this was right up my alley.

So next was backstory, which was kind of easy as I was using a pre-existing character. I'll admit to borrowing liberally from the backstory of Mortal Kombat's Liu Kang as well as a couple elements from Legend of the Five Rings.  And so, Keru, young Brother of the Order of the Nine Thunders was ready to set forth and boot some head.

And this past Wednesday, we played our inaugeral session, with the PCs having been taken as prisoners of a bandit chief with the intent to sell us into slavery.  Needless to say, it didn't go well, and by the end of the fight, we were free, the bandits had been decimated, and the bandit chief had quite a few footprints embedded in his head.  Oddly, Keru does not actually wear boots, though that didn't stop me from saying "Boot to the Head!" when using his Flurry of Blows power.  Both Agile Recovery and Blessing of Iron paid off, the latter as the the bandit's lieutenants had a power that let them push an enemy 2 squares away, while the bandit chief had an attack power that let him knock a foe prone.  Even managed to TKO the bandit chief's main enforcer in one action courtesy of a critical hit using Open the Gates of Battle combined with an mighty ki focus, nearly wiping out all of the enforcer's HP in one blow, and then polished him off with Flurry of Blows ("Boot to the head!")  Seriously, it got to the point the other players would declare "and a boot to the head!" as soon as I resolved my main attack each turn.  Granted, my Flurry of Blows doesn't do that much damage as I opted to split my points between Strength and Wisdom, but a few extra points of free damage is nothing to sneer at, and it could prove useful with popping minions should the opportunity present itself.  I also have to say that the Fallen Needle power from Psionic Power is damn useful against major threats, since it's high damage and inflicts a penalty to hit if they try to go after you, thus making a Striker not too reliant upon a Defender's mark ability to keep said major foe from squishing them, to say nothing of the free shift to get away should a particularly burly foe decide to get in close.

While most of the session was combat, there was some good character interaction, as the half-elf druid was not happy about the arcane-magic using warlock's presence, given how arcane magic has a nasty tendency to ruin the environment in this setting.  In her defense, the warlock at least used what's called the preserver method rather than defiling.  Keru seemed the odd man out (literally, as I once again am playing the token human in a group), but he's curious to see what paths lie ahead as he travels with this most unlikely of group of companions.  And honestly, so am I.

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