D&D - The Chromatic Ghost and the Blind Swordsman

November 09, 2011

So my players were in the middle of a dungeon where they were fighting guardians of a tomb to collect plaques and solve a puzzle that would lead them deeper into their adventure. It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to start blog entries on such a middle point, but it's better than not starting at all, so here we go. (The three encounters before these that comprised the rest of the dungeon are well documented in my notes and I'll probably talk about them pretty soon - at least the two that weren't pulled straight out of the Monsters Manual.)

The first encounter of the day was the final guardian of the tomb - a teleporting, color-changing ghost that I devised entirely on my own. Here is the basic map (pretty mundane):
The basic idea was that the ghost would spend two rounds as an initial random color, first either attacking with a basic ranged or melee attack. Then the second round he used a more powerful area attack spell and then teleported to another random spot on the map and changed to a different random color. Each color was tied to a specific element: blue-cold, red-fire, purple-sonic, green-poison, orange-earth, yellow-lightning. And the clincher was that each of his attacks - both the basic attacks and his more powerful spells - would cause the air to be "charged" with whatever element he was using, and if another attack (from the ghost or the playerss) had an element as a keyword, the charge in the air would react to the attack and augment it in some way and partially dissipate the charge. I decided that 2 reactions would fully dissipate a specific charge. In addition, if his powerful spell reacted with a charge of the same element (which could easily happen because he charged the air the round before with his basic attack), it became particularly devastating.

By the way, this idea of elemental charges in the air reacting to certain attacks and augmenting them will play a major role in the combat system of Gathering Storm. I've never seen anything like it in any other RPG I've played so I'm excited to see how it will turn out.

The basic augments to any elemental spell were as follows: cold - target slowed (save ends), fire - 1/4 the initial damage of the attack is taken again at the start of the targets next turn as burning damage, sonic - +3 to attack, poison - 5 ongoing poison damage (save ends), earth - +4 damage, lightning - 1-in-4 chance to stun target for 1 round. In addition the augments added the keyword of the augment type, which was resisted by the ghost if he was the same element, so dissipating the charges in the air to stop the devastating attack came at the cost of reduced damage.

The ghost was a level 8 solo. 175hp and insubstantial. 21 AC, 16 Ref., 18 Fort., 19 Will. His basic attacks were a melee strike, +11 v. AC for 1d10+5 and a range 20 bolt, +11 v. AC for 1d8+4.

And the following area spells:
Cold - Flash Freeze, close burst 10, +8 v. Fort, 2d4+2 and creates rough terrain in affected area that lasts until area is charged with fire. If augmented by ice, then the rough terrian zone created also deals 1d4 damage to enemies who start their turn in it.
Fire - Ring of Fire, close burst 1 (2 augmented), +8 v. Ref., 2d6+2. The close burst zone (not including the origin square) persists as a wall of fire and its inner and outer radius increase by 1 at the start of the ghosts turn. Players who start their turn in the fire or move through any square of the fire take 1d4+2.
Sonic - Sonic Boom, close burst 5, +8 v. Fort, 5d4 and deafened, damage decreases by 1d4 for each square away from the ghost the player is after the first square (so if someone is on the edge of the burst, they only take 1d4). If augmented, the damage doesn't decrease with range.
Poison - Poison Cloud, blast 2 (3 augmented), +8 v. Fort, 2d4+2 plus 4 ongoing. The zone persists and does 1d4+1 to anyone who starts their turn in it or moves through it. If augmented, the initial attack also makes a secondary attack +7 v. Fort that slows (save ends) on hit.
Earth - Quake, close burst 10, +7 v. Fort, knocked prone (augmented it also dazes and causes 1d10). At the start of the ghost's following turn, he makes another attack as a free action - Falling Rocks, same area as burst, +8 v. Ref., 1d10+4.
Lightning - Chain Lightning, melee or range 20, attack chains through 3 (4 augmented) targets if the targets are within 2 squares of each other, +8 v. Ref., 1d6+2 per chain and stunned 1 round. So the attack deals 1d6+2 to the first target, 2d6+4 to the second, 3d6+6 to the third, etc.

The encounter went fairly well. Despite various hints, the players didn't seem to find it that imperative to dissipate the charges before the area attack, so they always got the augmented kind, which was really the only good source of damage the entire fight, and even then, it wasn't enough to make it all that challenging. If I were to run it again, I would probably have the ghost choose where he teleported to instead of making it random. That way I could have gotten farther away from the melee and gotten in more attacks. I mean, the only way a solo is gonna have any chance against 4 melee and 2 ranged is if he's got crazy teleporting powers. Otherwise the melee will just shut him down.

Once the players had made it through the final guardian, they had all 4 pieces to the puzzle and were ready to solve a riddle. I am actually pretty proud of this riddle, which I just randomly came up with one day. I mean, my players are some of the smartest people I know and it still took them three tries to get it right. In defense of my best friend in California, solving a riddle over Skype does add a lot more difficulty.

First of all here's the map for the next battle:
Those 4 black squares in the square pattern in the middle were columns. The 2-square dark spot on the lower edge of that square pattern was a dias with some righting introducing the riddle, basically outlining that there were 2 murderers and their 2 victims entombed in the crypt and it was the players job to figure out the order in which the 4 were killed and how that order translated into putting their symbols into the proper columns. So after fighting each guardian, they got a plaque with a symbol - that of a Dragon Warrior, a Chromomancer, a Dwarven Machinist and a Medic - and a clue. The clues were as follows:

1. We must honor the victims foremost, with the first victim lying at our left hand.
2. We must not place the murderers next to their victims, so the dwarf and the mage will have to sort out their differences in the afterlife.
3. The dwarf was not the first victim, but the reciprocity of his metal creations ensured that his murderer was the first brought to justice.
4. The medic's atrocities were slow to come to light. His true nature as a killer was not realized until the evil in his blood had fully encompassed his blackened heart.

Anyway, they eventually solved it (losing a healing surge every time they got it wrong), and released a blind swordsman corrupted by wielding and evil blade. The blind swordsman was modeled heavily after a raid boss battle in WoW Cataclysm. I stopped playing WoW after the Burning Crusade, but just seemed like a neat idea. Basically, the swordsman couldn't see the players and just had a lot of burst attacks and sent out homing blades and tornadoes and such, and when enough of his attacks hit a specific target, he would pinpoint their location, teleport to them and unleash a devastating sword attack.

So the red dot in the center of the map is the swordsman; the big red circle at the top is a tornado he summons at the beginning of the battle. Level 8 solo, 345 hp, 23 AC, 20 Fort., 19 Ref., 18 Will. His attacks were:

Sonar Blast, close burst 2, +8 v. Fort, 1d10+1 and dazed for 1 round. Adds 1 "sound."
Focus Sonar, hits a column of squares directed out from him that is 3 squares wide, +8 v. Will, 1d4+1 and deafened. Adds 2 "sound."
The whirlwind moved counterclockwise around the edge of the map at a speed of 4 on the swordsman's turn. If a player came in contact with it, +9 v. Fort, 2d6+4 and knocked prone. Adds 1 "sound."
The swordsman also spawned 1 sonic blade in a space adjacent to him every round (2 when bloodied). These blades also had a speed of 4 and homed in on the nearest ranged. When they came in contact with a player, they would make the following attack and then disappear: +9 v. Ref., 1d8+3 and adds 1 "sound."
When a player reached 5 sound, the swordsman would get the following attack as a free action: teleport to target, +12 v. AC, 4d8+4, removes all sound.

My main mistake was making the threshold 5 sound, which made it so he didn't start using his big attack until the final round he was alive. The threshold should have been 3 or 4. And even then, it needed to be like a daily where he missed for half damage or something. Maybe multiple attacks instead of one big attack. Basically what happened is that I was able to attack with it twice due to action points, and both times it just missed, making the whole mechanic utterly trivial. Also his tornado did jack shit, as it moved too slow to be any kind of threat. Maybe if it had a speed of 6 at least. Basically this fight had a lot of potential, but instead it turned out to be kind of a joke. The final boss of the dungeon just got massacred.

Next up with D&D I'll talk about my next 2 encounters, one of which gives the monsters nothing but passive attacks, which could go well or terribly, and the other which is modeled somewhat on another WoW raid boss.

Also an update: it turns out my fears of jumping back into SpaceChem after many month of inactivity, where I would be paralyzed by systems too complex to comprehend, were unfounded. It appears I am still smart and Sigma-Ethylene ain't got nothing on me.

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