Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Marked Confusion

I am taking a brief break from Horror Month to talk about marking.  Fourth Edition D&D has simplified a lot of rules. However, one subject that has caused a lot of confusion in our group recently is the concept of marking. It’s not that marking is an especially hard concept, but every class that uses marking uses it slightly differently. I am hoping that in this post I can clear up the confusion surrounding the situation.

The first (and easiest) thing to get out of the way is what it means to be marked. Quite simply, the only effect of being marked is:

“You take a –2 penalty to attack rolls for any attack that doesn’t target the creature that marked you.”

The other constant of marking is that a creature can be subject to only one mark at a time. A new mark supersedes a mark that was already in place.

Seriously, these are the only consistent effects of marking. How you mark and what someone can do with a mark vary greatly by class. So let’s take a look at how the different classes mark their targets and what they can do to them once they are marked.

Clerics

As leaders, clerics are more likely to buff or heal than mark. However they do have a few methods to do so.

How do they mark?

Clerics can mark with a power. In the Player’s Handbook, the only power that marks is Healing Strike. Healing Strike marks until the end of the cleric’s next turn.

Warpriest Challenge allows clerics of that paragon path to mark when they hit an enemy with an at-will melee attack. They remain marked until the end of the encounter or until the Warpriest marks another enemy with their Warpriest Challenge.

What can they do with a mark?

Normally clerics only get the standard benefit of marking listed above.

Warpriests are able to gain extra advantage against enemies who are marked with their Warpriest Challenge. The next time that enemy shifts or attacks a creature other than the Warpriest, he or she can make an opportunity attack against that enemy.

Fighters

The poster child for marking, fighters can mark easily and get a number of advantages for doing so.

How do they mark?

Because of their Combat Challenge class feature, every time a fighter attacks an enemy, whether the attack hits or misses, they can choose to mark that target. The mark lasts until the end of his or her next turn.

Fighters also have a few powers that mark. In the Player’s Handbook these include Warrior’s Challenge, Reign of Terror, and Indomitable Battle Strike. All of these only last until the end of the fighter’s next turn but generally mark a large number of enemies.

Swordmasters can also mark with the power Fantastic Flourish. This marks one opponent other than the one they just hit, and lasts until the end of the swordmaster’s next turn.

What can they do with a mark?

Because of their Combat Challenge class feature, fighters get a number of advantages over marked opponents. Whenever a marked enemy that is adjacent to the fighter shifts or makes an attack that does not include the fighter, he or she can make a melee basic attack against that enemy as an immediate interrupt.

Paladins

Like any good defender, the paladin makes frequent use of the ability to mark their enemies.

How do they mark?

Paladins primarily mark by using the Divine Challenge power. Divine Challenge is an At-Will power that requires a Minor Action to use. It can be used against one creature in a close burst 5. Divine Challenge may only be used once per turn. Divine Challenge cannot be used on a creature already subjected to the paladin’s or another paladin’s divine challenge.

On the paladin’s turn, the paladin must engage the target he or she challenged or challenge a different target. To engage the target, the paladin must either attack it or end your turn adjacent to it.

If none of these events occur by the end of your turn, the marked condition ends and the paladin can’t use divine challenge on his or her next turn.

In addition to Divine Challenge, several paladin powers mark. In the Player’s Handbook, these include Piercing Smite, Arcing Smite, Thunder Smite, Radiant Charge, Whirlwind Smite, Hand of the Gods, To the Nine Hells with You, and Restricting Smite. Unlike Divine Challenge, these only mark the enemy until the end of the paladin’s next turn.

The Astral Judgment class feature of Astral Weapon paragon path makes enemies currently marked by the Astral Weapon that attack his or her allies without attacking the Astral Weapon take a –2 penalty to all defenses until they are no longer marked by the Astral Weapon.

The Challenge the Unjust justicar paragon path power grants the ability to mark on a hit or a miss. The target is marked until the end of the justicar’s next turn.

What can they do with a mark?

In addition to standard marking benefits, a creature marked by a paladin’s Divine Challenge takes radiant damage equal to 3 + the paladin’s Charisma modifier the first time it makes an attack that doesn’t include the paladin as a target before the start of the paladin’s next turn. The damage increases to 6 + your Charisma modifier at 11th level, and to 9 + your Charisma modifier at 21st level.

The Paladin At-Will powers Enfeebling Strike and Holy Strike also have additional effects against targets marked by the paladin.

The Certain Judgment, Warding Blow, and Just Radiance paragon path powers all have extra effects when used against marked enemies.

Rangers

As strikers, you would think Rangers would never want to mark. But some can!

How do they mark?

The Slasher’s Mark power of the Pathfinder Paragon Path will mark both the primary and secondary targets on a hit or a miss. The target remains marked until the end of the encounter.

What can they do with a mark?

A ranger only gets the standard benefits of a mark.

Swordmage

Arcane defenders like to mark as much as their martial and divine counterparts.

How do they mark?

Swordmages mark using the Aegis of Assault or the Aegis of Shielding powers. The Aegis powers affect one creature within a burst 2. Using them is a minor action. The target remains marked until you use this power against another target. If you mark other creatures using other powers, the target is still marked.

What can they do with a mark?

A Swordmage gets the standard benefits of a mark.

If a target marked with Aegis of Assault makes an attack that does not include the Swordmage and if that attack hits while the marked target is within 10 squares of the Swordmage, he or she can use an immediate reaction to teleport to a square adjacent to the target and make a melee basic attack against it. If no unoccupied space exists adjacent to the target, you can’t use this immediate reaction.

If a target is marked with Aegis of Defense makes an attack that does not include the Swordmage and if that attack hits while the marked target is within 10 squares of the Swordmage, he or she can use an immediate interrupt to reduce the damage dealt by that attack to any one creature by an amount equal to 5 + the Swordmage’s Constitution modifier. At 11th level, reduce the damage dealt by 10 + the Swordmage’s Constitution modifier. At 21st level, reduce the damage dealt by 15 + the Swordmage’s Constitution modifier.

The Thunder Riposte power grants extra benefits when used against enemies marked by the Aegis of Defense power.

Warlords

Warlords have a couple of methods to mark their opponents.

How do they mark?

The Break Their Nerve and Control the Field paragon path powers of the Knight Commander can be used to mark. This both of these marks last until the end of the Knight Commander’s next turn.

What can they do with a mark?

A Warlord only gets the standard benefits of a mark. A warlord who marks using the Control the Field power causes ongoing Charisma damage to their enemies while the mark lasts.

Student of the Sword (Fighter Multiclass Feat)

How do they mark?

Once per encounter as a free action they can choose to mark with an attack. They mark on either a hit or a miss. The mark lasts until the end of their next turn.

What can the do with this mark?

A Student of the Sword only gets the standard benefits of a mark.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Horror Hooks for the Fey

I suppose I could start this feature out with Horror Hooks for the Undead, but it seemed just a bit too pedestrian.  So instead I decided to start with another paragon of horror: the Fey!

Traditional fey actually work very well in a horror game.  Immortal and amoral, fey represent a force to be reckoned with.  They have a truly alien sense of morality, and can take mortal offense at the slightest unintentional slights.  While they will honor oaths extracted from them, they feel the need only to honor the wording and not the intent.

So without further ado, here are a couple of suggestions for using the fey to spice up your horror game:

The Miller

The party comes across a caravan with a number of enslaved townsfolk being being transported by a group of brigands (or an appropriate mix of monsters who might be interested in making money from human trafficking).  Upon further investigation they find out that the wagons contain grain and other innocuous items.  The slaves are confused and terrified, except for one insane elderly woman who cackles about "The Miller". 

The Miller is actually a Formorian Painbringer outcast who has established a stronghold for himself in an abandoned mill.  He has a group of evil fey, including Formorian Warriors and Quickling Zephyrs, who serve him.  He habitually buys humans from local slavers.  These humans are sacrificed to his dark appetites as he uses their bones for grist in his mill, their blood to spice his wines, and devours their flesh.

For a bit of added effect, the group can find out that many of the leaders of the local towns have secretly struck bargains with the miller, sacrificing the occasional local townsfolk in exchange for fairy trinkets.  Another possibility is that the Miller might also keep his own "livestock", breeding them to keep himself somewhat protected from the vagaries of supply and demand.

Child's Play:

For the last two months, a small hamlet has been terrorized by a recent spat of gruesome murders.  All of the murders were children, and the local mayor is desperate for the adventurers to get to the bottom of this tragedy.

The mystery should include several red herrings, but ultimately the party should find some convincing evidence that a local farmer is responsible.  In reality, it is the farmer's young daughter who is a changeling, left in place of his real child by a local bog hag.  The family is aware that their daughter is the killer, but has been covering it up because they are unaware of her true nature. 

The child seemed normal at first, but has been becoming increasingly depraved as she has gotten older.  If subjected to a lot of stress, such as intense questioning from the player characters or being attacked, she will transform into a full-fledged bog hag and attack.

If the DM wants to take the adventure further, the could try to find the fate of the original child.  This could lead to the discovery of the original hag (possibly with Shambling Mound or Troll allies).  A good capper for this may be the revelation that there are other changelings in the town, and that their true nature could emerge at any time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Is 4th Edition D&D the best edition for horror so far?

Horror has always been a tough sell in D&D.  To truly bring a sense of horror, especially classic gothic horror, you need to instill a sense of helplessness in the face of the supernatural.  D&D is designed as heroic fantasy, where the player characters are expected to kick evil in the face several times before breakfast.  Obviously, this can be a problem.

4th Edition D&D is also designed as heroic fantasy, so it does require a resetting of expectations before starting a horror game.  Toning down certain aspects of 4th Edition play, such as the ability to spend unlimited healing surges between encounters, may be required.  However, there are many aspects of 4th Edition D&D that make it well-suited for the conventions of the horror "out of the box".

The lack of high-powered divinations in 4th Edition D&D is key.  Knowledge is power, and the high-powered divinations of previous editions could easily derail a good horror story.  An evil duke who could be found out by a simple Detect Evil.  The mystery of livestock being found mutilated in the night being solved by a scrying.  Don't get me started with what spells like Commune or Find the Path could do!

Granted, many of these spells exist in some form as Rituals in 4th Edition D&D.  Nevertheless, their potency is greatly diminished.  Many of these rituals now require skill checks, making them less reliable and adding an element of doubt.  All of this is useful when planning a successful horror game.

Another aspect of 4th Edition is that curing disease is a much less certain thing than in previous editions of the game.  Disease can be a potent tool in horror.  It represents a violation of self that can be played to great effect.  This is especially true in the case of a "disease" like Chaos Phage, which is used to represent a young Slaad gestating inside of the character.

In earlier editions of the game, Remove Disease was simply too effective.  It also had a bit too much certainty.  If you were capable of removing the disease, you always removed the disease without further consequence.  In 4th Edition, the cure can be as bad as the disease.  A poor roll against a potent contagion can kill the character you intend to save.  At the very least, it encourages characters to ensure they are well rested and at full HP when the cure is attempted.

Admittedly, limiting divinations or the ability to cure disease are not all you need for a good horror game.  It is up to the DM to set the proper mood.  Nevertheless, there is a reason why the old Ravenloft campaign setting limited these abilities.  Having them simply made it too easy to regain the sense of control that is anathema to a good horror game.

So I highly recommend injecting an element of horror into your 4th Edition D&D games this month.  You might be pleasantly surprised at how well it goes!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Horror Month at "A Hero Twice A Month"

Wasn't this the coolest module cover ever?

In honor of Halloween, Strahd Von Zarovich and I would like to welcome you to Horror Month here at A Hero Twice A Month.  This month will be devoted to incorporating an element of the macabre into your 4th Edition D&D games. 

Because really, who doesn't like a good scare every once and awhile?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A fond farewell to the man in red and blue.

With issue twelve, Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly's All Star Superman has come to an end.  The comic book world is a little smaller without it.

Only someone invunerable can be that relaxed! It's funny, because I am not normally a big fan of Superman.  I tend to prefer my superheroes to be a little more down to earth.  I think most writers do too.  It seems like a lot of them have issues finding decent challenges for a hero who, at least in his heyday, couldn literally move planets.

This wasn't a problem for Grant Morrison.  Freed from the constraints of working within mainstream DC Universe, Grant was able to resurrect all of the joyful madness of the silver age that made Superman fun, yet somehow infused them with a modern sensibility.

He allowed Lois to become a "Superwoman for a day".  He gave Superman a mad scientist friend.  He allowed Jimmy Olsen to add to his plethora of odd superpowers by temporarily transforming himself into a "Doomsday".  Nothing that hadn't been done before, but somehow he made it seem brand new.

If that was all he had done, it would have been a great comic book run.  But Morrison went further than that.  When you read issue twelve it becomes obvious that he is telling his version of the last Superman story.  The reason he gave us the tour through the silver age is not just nostalgia.  It was to remind us about everything that was good about Superman before bringing us to the end.

Damn I will miss this comic.

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