Archives for the month of: October, 2013

Welcome to my first article in a category I would like to call Tips and Tools. Here I want to talk about some things that could make your (solo) rpg-gamer life a little easier. As I wrote here

http://solonexus.blogspot.de/2012/05/carstens-d-4th-edition-solo-tips-part-2.html

I don’t really like being drawn out of a good story because I have to look for maps and search for miniatures, so I like to keep it generic, using an erasable grid and wooden game pawns.

However, sometimes I want something nice to look at, so I was looking for some sort of compromise. I needed something that was quick to get out, could be stored easily and didn’t take up to much precious table space but still looked nice.

So I created my quick instant encounter areas. They look like this:

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What do you need:

One or more set of dungeon tiles (I got the Dungeon Tile Master Sets Dungeon, Wilderness and City).

Clear plastic document protection sheets (living in Europe mine are A4 sized).

A pair of scissors.

A color printer with copy function or a color photocopy machine (I have a Cannon Pixma color inkjet printer with copy function and am pretty happy with it).

What do you do?

First, you make a color copy of the tiles you want to use or need and cut them out with scissors. Now you have paper thin tiles.

Second, you arrange the tiles inside the clear plastic document protection sheet. You arrange them in different layers. Start with the biggest tile, usually the floor, and add details like pillars, debris, bushes etc. Because of the static of the plastic protection sheet the tiles will stay in place (if you are careful).

Third, you carefully put your custom encounter area on the copy machine and make a color copy, so that you have a fixed one sheet map.

You slip the map into the protection sheet and put it in a folder and that is all there is to it.

Now you have an erasable small little encounter area that is easy to story and looks nice. You can (and actually, that is what I did) create several different ones and put a little number in a corner. I made twelve dungeon areas. Whenever I need a random dungeon room for a battle or in a random dungeon I just roll 1d12 and get out the corresponding map.

Here is the folder I have, with all my created areas and also some blank grids.

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If you have the old Dungeons & Dragons Miniature Game starter set which used map tiles instead of poster maps, it is very easy to create quick dungeon rooms. Just put two tiles adjacent to each other on the copy machine. It will come out like this…

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So that is just one quick way to create visually appealing, easy to store erasable battlegrids that don’t take up much space.

I also created my own large erasable battlemat: I got a clear plastic desktop writing pad and a pad of squard flipchart paper with one inch squares. I just folded one sheet in half and put it underneath the writing pad. Very smooth surface, very easy to clean, almost no stain and the best part, you can also put a professional poster map underneath instead of a blank sheet.

So if any of you has some tips and tools to share I would be happy to hear from you.

Get ready for the next installment of Keira’s adventures with Q6 of the 9Qs…

6. How can the adverse results from Questions 4 and 5 be further intensified, forcing the heroes to commit to a do-or-die course of action in accordance with the heroic motivation? Be the GM first: Use the random idea generator to inspire a worsening of the threats beyond anything that had been conceived before and then roll a d6 twice for an encounter featuring (1-2) intrigue, (3-4) pursuit, and/or (5-6) combat. Be the player next: Use the heroes’ abilities to most effectively respond to the severity of the situation as per their heroic motivation and the RPG’s rules.

Be the GM once more: Close the encounter by resolving NPC reactions to the heroes.

Symbol rolled: cactus

Interpretation: Something with spikes…but somehow adding spikes to the snake demon creature doesn’t feel right and is not really fitting. But the cactus also looks like a figure with arms so it will be…..an elite drow warrior wearing spiked armor and fighting with a spiked chain who Keira encounters as she wants to leave.

Encounter type: combat (rolled twice)

Keira has seen enough. So Vecna followes have aligned with Drow to practice dark ritual magic and summon some kind of snake demon for whatever purpose while at the same time somehow managed to infiltrate her arcane society. That’s all she needs to know at the moment since she figures there is not much she could do about it here and now on her own. Seldrin is probably as well trained as she but he also has the support of a priestess and Keira has not forgotten how close her encounter with a priestess just outside Fallcrest was. And that is not counting the four cultists and the snake creature. It was time to leave. Better live to fight another day as to die in vain in a foolish attempt of heroics. She needed to get back to Desmond. Maybe together and with help from the outside they could do something about it.

Quickly Keira climbs up the stairs, taking two steps at a time with large strides. She reaches the surface and looks around.

Is the warrior already at the stairway? (50/50) 69, No.

Thank the godess, nobody was there. Keira quickly takes the trail back to the campsite.

Perception vs. DC 15, roll 14+0, failure.

Suddenly she feels pain as a spiked chain wraps around her ankle from behind. She tries to catch her balance but falls forward as somebody or something pulls the chain back with force. However, she manages to turn around and lands on her back, staff in front of her she faces her assailant.

Out from behind a bush steps a slender male Drow with long white hair and a well toned body. He wears form-fitting black leather armor that is donned with metal spikes at the shoulder pads, shinbone protectors and forearm pads. He smiles viciously.

“Prepare to face death.”

Now I am in a dillema: I know the warrior should be a tough enemy but I also know, that if I make him even one level higher than Keira it will be a very tough encounter, since Keira is not at full resources (Action Point and Daily Power is missing). However, storywise it would make sense that this guy is level 2-3 as maybe an elite bodyguard of the priestess. So as always I will let the dice decide: 1-3 = level 2, 4-6 = level 3. Of course I roll a 6 so he is level 3. Great.

Using the “Monster Manual 3 on a business card” ( http://blogofholding.com/?p=512) I come up with the following stats:

Elite Drow Warrior, Level 3 skirmisher, medium natural humanoid

Initiative +6, HP 48, AC 17, Reflex 17, Fortitude 15, Will 13, Speed 6

Spiked Chain (standard action, melee, reach 2): +8 vs. AC, 1d8 + 5 damage

Combat Sidestep (move action): shift 3 squares

Just looking at the numbers I know that I will almost definitely lose this fight. However, that must not necessarily mean death. I will let the dice decide. Here is the starting set-up. Roll Initiative!

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“Go to hell!”

With one quick jump Keira is back on her feet, staff at the ready. The Drow was startled for a split second as he hasn’t expected such resolve. That split second is the time Keira needed.

“UUS JUX!” With one small gesture she hurls a colorful whirling orb of force at the Drow but he manages to dodge the orb at the last second. Keira curses and assumes a defensive stance, trying to gain some distance. Now the full battle is on…Keira is dodging the wicked spiked chain of the Drow, always mindful of her surroundings. There! An opening in his defenses, the Drow stumbles.

“KAL VAS FLAM!” A wall of arcane fire washes over the Drow, he screams out in pain but pushes on. Keira is hurting, pressing one hand against a bleeding deep wound from a vicious slash with the chain.

“IN POR YLEM!” Multiple bolts or force strike the warrior, who gracefully jumps over bushes and rocks, closing the distance to Keira quickly. Keira is sweating, blood is running from her forehead into her eyes.

If only she could hold out a little more….just one more spell…

The Drow warrior grittes his teeth. He will not be defeated by such an infidel worm. With all his resolve he slashes at Keira with his chain. Keira miscalculated the distance, jumps back but just to short…the end of the chain hits her square in the jaw. She feels her jawbone break and some teeth crumble…then she slips away into darkness…

This encounter was a very close call. Even though I expected defeat I was positively surprised how good Keira did. If she had been at full resources with action point and daily power I would have won.

So it came down to the final round with Keira at 1 hp and the Drow at 6 hp. The Drow was up. If he had missed he would have been killed by Keiras auto-hitting magic missile which deals 7 damage. But he hit with a 19. Even with Keiras immediate Staff of Defense power I would have had 19 AC so he would have hit anyways. So he reduced Keira to -6 hp but because it was such a close call I don’t fell bad about it. Let’s see if I get a chance to continue.

Does the Drow kill Keira? I don’t want to die and I would assume that Seldrin and the priestess want Keira alive, but does the warrior know? Also, he is very enraged, having been almost killed by a human infidel wizard. So I will roll 1d6, on a roll of 1-2 Keira is killed, otherwise she is brought back to Seldrin.

DAMN IT! I rolled a m#+@erf###ing two…..

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The warrior breathes heavily. He is in great pain as his skin in burned. His heart is pounding. Full of hatered he looks down at Keira.

“I told you you will face your death.”

Drawing a vicious looking curved dagger out of a hidden sheath in his boot he kneels next to her…

Alright then. This session was played 30.10.2013 and ends this 9Q adventure. Even though I died I am very satisfied a) with the 9Q engine and b) with the tense moments I had slowly lifting the dice cup peeking at the dice, hoping to see the right numbers.

So whats up next on solospelunking?

Before I start my next adventures I will go into a little detail about how to prepare quick instant encounter areas that look nice, so stay tuned 😉

Keira’s adventure continues with Q5 of the 9Qs…

5. How can any heroic gains from the results of Question 4 suddenly be undermined as new information about the true face/scheme/power of the enemy becomes known?

Be the GM first: Use the random idea generator to inspire an evolution of the threats and then roll a d6 twice for an encounter featuring (1-2) betrayal, (3-4) revelation, and/or (5-6) combat. Be the player next: Use the heroes’ abilities to respond to the threats as per their heroic motivation and the RPG’s rules. Be the GM once more: Close the encounter by resolving NPC reactions to the heroes.

Symbol rolled: Stairs leading underground. Interpretation: Keira discovers some kind of cave or underground complex. This game isn’t called Dungeons & Dragons for nothing 🙂 Encounter type: Revelation (rolled it twice)

Keira discovers a small trail leading away from the clearing into the woods. She sets out to follow it.

Has her messenger stone been discovered? (somewhat likely) No.

While moving, she activates her messenger stone:

“Master, the worst has come true. Our own society has been infiltrated by our enemies. I was deceived, attacked and poisoned by one of our own. Seldrin. He is in league not only with the servants of Vecna but also with the Drow. You must warn everybody but you can’t trust anybody. Who knows how far this treachery reaches. I managed to escape and I am now trying to locate Seldrin to learn more about all of this. Don’t worry about me. You have trained me well.”

After a few minutes, Keira reaches another small clearing. Not so much a clearing but a space where some trees stand farther apart, leaving some room between them. Within this small area she sees the crumbled remains of a structure which might have been a small church or cathedral at some time. However, only a few broken pillars, a stone archway and crumbled pieces of wall, covered in moss and fungus, is all that remains now. Keira stops and listens.

Perception vs. DC 15, roll 19+0, success.

From somewhere within the structure she hears very faint noises that sound like chanting. Cautiously she continues, grasping her staff firmly. As she reaches the structure the chanting gets louder. Some kind of ritual chanting! She tries to locate the source and discovers a circular stone stairway in the corner of two crumbled wall remnants which leads underground. The chanting is definitely coming from down there. Without a second thought Keira descends down the stairs into the darkness.

The darkness does not stay dark for long as the flickering light from torches or fires can be seen, originating from somewhere at the end of the stairway, casting ghostly shadows at the stone wall.

Stealth vs. 12, roll 3+6, failure.

Keira was so focused on what might lie ahead that didn’t pay attention to her surroundings. As she takes her next step, a loose piece of stone from the step ahead breaks away and rolls and bounces down the stairway, all the way down to the end.

Is it noticed over the chanting? I’ll give it a 40% chance. 87. No, lucky me.

Keira surpresses a curse and freezes in place, stops breathing….but the chanting continues.

Cursing herself again for letting her get so distracted she reminds herself to focus and peaks around the last curve of the stairway into a large chamber.

To see what the chamber contains and to determine what exactly is going on, I am randomly drawing two story cubes from the remaining four in the bag and roll a musical note and a snake. That fits beautifully…the story cubes go back into the bag, since I will still need them for the last Qs.

What she sees makes her shiver:

The chamber clearly is a ritual chamber. Stone pillars lead up to a rune covered stone altar. Before the altar, a magic circle is engraved in the floor, currently glowing faintly in a dark green. Forming a square aroung the circle, four persons are standing around the circle, wearing brown robes. Their eyes closed, they seem in some sort of trance while there are chanting unspeakable tunes, rocking their bodies back and forth. Behind the altar, facing Keira and the entrance to the chamber are two figures. One of them is Seldrin. The other one is a Drow priestess! Both of them are fully concentrated. Keira can see the effort they are exerting.

In the center of the arcane circle, a green fog starts to rise out of which seemingly hundreds of snakes and serpents start to converge and entangle with each other, slowly taking the shape of a large humanoid figure…

That was a pretty quick but still tense session. Quick because it didn’t have any combat. Let’s face it: D&D 4e combats do take a while, even if they are fun. However, I really like how the adventure develops. At the start of the whole adventure I didn’t have any clue of what might happen. I find it interesting to see how the story developed out of a completely random adventure seed and random dice rolls to a somewhat concise story. While the other sessions have been played a while ago, this session was played “live” today (26.10.2013) using a very handy new online word-processor thingy I stumbled upon at Grewulf’s Lair called quib. I am curious what the remaining Qs have in store for me.

Q4: How can the fight be brought to the enemy, gaining ground for the heroic motivation? Be the player first: Choose and declare an act of defiance, infiltration, pursuit, and/or combat. Be the GM next: Use the random idea generator to inspire an encounter that responds with appropriate resistance to the heroes’ declared act by using relevant previous threats. Be the player once more: Use the heroes’ abilities to respond to the threats as per their heroic motivation and the RPG’s rules. Choice: Defiance and Combat. Symbol rolled: Tent. Interpretation: Keira is brought into a camp and tied up in a tent.

Keira wakes up in an uncomfortable position. She is tied up with her hands tied to a wooden beam above her head inside a larger tent. Seldrin smiles at her:

“I am sorry if I took you by surprise. But I doubt you would have come quietly.”

Keira’s head is still heavy on her shoulders and her vision is a little blurry, but she is furious and snarls at him.

“You traitor! You worm! What is this all about? What do you think you will gain from this?”

“Ah, so many questions. I am afraid I can’t answer them just yet my dear. For now I have pressing matters to attend to, but rest assured, we will continue this conversations at a later time. If you will excuse me now. I leave you to the capable care of my Drow friends for now.”

Seldrin turns and leaves. As soon as he is out of the tent, Keira closes her eyes and tries to concentrate to channel arcane energy, which is not easy being tied up.

(Arcana vs. hard DC, success, 12+10)

Thanks to her sharp mind and her intensive training with Desmond she manages to black out the pain in her wrists and the pounding in her head. She conjures a spectral floating hand which starts to open her bounds.

Mage Hand cantrip. Normally Keira wouldn’t need to succeed at a check to cast a cantrip, but since she is suffering from the aftereffects of the poison and bound, I ruled that a check is necessary. Also, I don’t want to go to easy on myself. One important rule when playing solo: Always give yourself a chance to fail.

After a short moment she is free. She looks around and finds her belongings in an unlocked chest in the tent.

Mythic question with a very unlikely probability, but hey, sometimes I do get lucky. However, since Keira didn’t really take an extended rest, even though she was asleep (being poisoned doesen’t count) she is still out of her daily power Wizard’s Fury and out of Action Points.

She takes her gear and sneaks to the tent’s entrance to take a look.

(Stealth vs. moderate DC, success, 14+6)

She is in a small camp. Diagonally across from her tent she sees another tent. A campfire is burning between the tents and two Drow sit around the fire. The camp seems to be in a small clearing in the woods. So far, nobody seems to have noticed. Seldrin was nowhere to be seen.

Keira listens carefully (Perception vs. moderate DC, failure) but doesn’t hear anything. She decides to use the element of surprise to her advantage. She spreads her fingers and points in the direction of the Drow.

“KAL VAS FLAM!”

The arcane fire catches the Drow by surprise and they scream out in pain as they are burned.

“VAS ORT GRAV!”

A bolt of lightning hits one drow square in the chest, dropping him, but misses the other one. The remaining Drow, a slender female, jumps towards Keira and slashes at her with a vicious looking curved long dagger but she stumbles and misses. Keira sidesteps and smashes her right in the face with her quarterstaff, causing her to spit blood. The Drow makes one final attempt to slash at Keira but because of the pain the slash goes wide. With no effort Keira comes down with her quarterstaff, smashing the Drows skull. After the battle she doesn’t waste any time standing around. She quickly moves towards the other tent, ready for anything, and peeks inside. Just some sleeping bags, two small chests and supplies. Seldrin isn’t here. He can’t be far away. Maybe he even heard the battle and is getting help. No time to waste! Keira looks around. It’s late afternoon, she must have been out a while. She could be anywhere, but there must be some clue somewhere. Maybe a trail, tracks or something. She starts looking…

This is how the encounter went:

As opponents I used two level 0 Drow Rangers. I just used the stats of the Goblin Cutthroat and reduced them to level 0 by reducing their AC and defenses by 1, their attacks by 1 and their HP by 8. I ruled that because of the successful stealth check Keira got a surprise round. She casts Burning Hands and I got lucky rolling an 18 to hit and 14 damage! That means both Drow are down to 8 HP! I rolled initiative and got lucky again, since the Drow rolled a 1 and got a total of 5 and Keira rolled 7. Keira casts Arc Lightning but hits only one Drow, killing him. Now the remaining Drow acts but I got lucky again and the Drow rolled a natural 1 on the attack roll! Now, standing adjacent, Keira just smashed her with her quarterstaff. Thanks to her Melee Training Intelligence feat she has +7 to hit and deals 1d8+2 damage on a hit. After two hits the Drow is toast. This encounter was over quick but I have to admit, I was very lucky with my rolls and the Drow very unlucky. The encounter was played on a self-made A4 (a little bigger than US-letter) battlemat with a camp setting made from photocopied dungeon tiles. More on that after the adventure is over, then I will go into some details for creating grab and go tools for solo sessions.

Keira (Solo 9Q)

After you have read a few posts about Keira I think it is time you get to know her a little better by taking a look at her character sheet. This post is my first try to add a file into a post, so let’s see how this goes.

I created the character with the D&D Insider online character builder and as you can see, I have to admit I did a little min-maxing as AC 18 is pretty good for a 1st level Wizard wearing only cloth armor. I dropped her strength somewhat but thanks to her melee training feat she can use her intelligence modifier for basic attacks with her staff. Let’s see if she survives because honestly, even though I started the session quite a while ago, I will finish it live here on this blog since I am not quite at Q9. Who knows, maybe Keira doesn’t make it. However, my philosophy is let the dice fall where they may. With no chance of failure there is no sense of accomplishment. Also, if I would fudge the dice results I might as well just write a fantasy story, since the gamist aspect would be gone.

Keira’s adventure continues with question 3 of the 9Qs and an unpleaseant surprise inside Fiveleague House…

Q3: What elements of the results of Questions 1 and 2 suddenly get twisted in a surprising manner, increasing the danger to the heroic motivation?

Be the GM first: Use the random idea generator to inspire a shocking twist related to the previous encounters and then roll a d6 twice to express that twist in an encounter of (1-2) betrayal, (3-4) revelation, and/or (5-6) combat. Be the player next: Use the heroes’ abilities to respond to the twist as per their heroic motivation and the RPG’s rules. Be the GM once more: Close the encounter by resolving NPC reactions to the heroes.

Symbol rolled: Submarine. Encounter type: Betrayal (rolled it two times). Interpretation: I interpret the submarine as working under the surface. Together with betrayal that means that the agents from the Guardians of Ioun that reportet the Vecna activities are in fact undercover agents of Vecna who have been working to betray the arcane society. They purposley spread the information about the Vecna followers to set-up an ambush and to possibly draw out members of the Guardians that they don’t know of so far.

Keira enters the taproom of Fiveleague House and is greetet by a comforting warmth and the spicy odor of fresh stew. She takes a look around, watching for other members of the delegation of Vecna but it does not seem like there are any. Was the cultist outside just an advance scout? She has to wait and see. She walks up to the bartender and pays for a room, a hot cup of coffee and a meal of fresh bread and stew. She then takes a seat in a corner of the room, enjoys her meal and eyes the taproom. With one hand under the table she pulls out her messenger stone, cuts herself in the finger with her dagger and wipes some blood onto the stone.

She then whispers: “Master, I hope you can hear me. I have reached my destination and encountered a Vecna cultist in league with a Drow assassin outside the gates of Fiveleague House. I managed to defeat them and so far it seems as if no other cultists have arrived. I had another close encounter with the Drow just outside the gates of Fallcrest. Do you know of any other Drow sightings? I don’t know what it is yet, but I have a bad feeling about this. The Drow are up to something and I don’t know how the cultists will fit into this. I will keep in touch and I hope to hear from you soon. Bye.”

(Perception vs. Stealth, failure)

Keira didn’t notice the cloaked figure in the shadows watching her from the moment she came in. With a whisper, the figure talks to himself:

“Well, what have we here. Desmond send his little bird herself. What a fortunate development.”

The figure slips out of the room unnoticed through a back door. Outside, he pulls the cloak from his head, rights his hair, puts on a fake smile, prepares a small vial with a sleeping poison, takes his staff and enters through the main door, pretending to have just arrived.

Keira looks up from her cup as the door opens. She smiles. The man standing in the doorway was Seldrin, a fellow guardian of Ioun and mage. Good to see a familiar face. But even though she was happy to see him, she didn’t signal him or even call out to him. She was here undercover and pretended not to know him. At least at first glance. He walkes straight towards her, however.

“What a comforting sight. So my eyes didn’t betray me.” He greetes her warmly and with a friendly smile.

“Good to see a familiar face. What brings you out to Fiveleague House?”

“I am on an assignment. I am afraid I can tell you no more.”

“Oh, I understand. So I won’t ask any more.” He nods in acknowledgement. “But I can certainly share a good cup of whine with you before settling in for the night, can’t I? My treat.”

“Why not, one cup can’t hurt.”

Seldrin gets two cups of wine from the bar. While he is turning his back towards Keira, he pours the content of the vial into one of the cups.

Perception check to notice (hard DC of level 1, failure).

Returning to the table, he hands Keira the now poisoned wine, salutes her and drinks. She does the same. After a few sips Keira feels dizzy. The room suddenly starts to spin around her and all the noises seem to fade out.

Level 3 sleep poison: Attack +6 vs. Fort Defense, success (11+6 vs. 12)

This is what I like best about 4th Edition: You only really need the level of the opposition or obstacle and can determine everything else with it. Once you have the monster math down, which is pretty simple, you don’t need a book to improvise.

An attack against a non-AC defense is always level+3, an attack against AC is always made at level+5 (one exception are artillery monsters that get +1 or +2 on ranged or area attacks) and the same goes for AC (level + 12 for artillery and brutes, level + 14 for lurkers, skirmishers and controllers and level + 16 for soldiers). Non-ac defenses are always level + 12, adjusted slightly for role by increasing one defense and decreasing another one to compensate.

Keira looks desoriented. She tries to focus and to cast a spell to fortify her resistance.

Arcana vs. hard DC of level 3, failure. Note: I house ruled a little freeform magic into the system. Since 4e is very combat oriented I use the Arcana skill also to cast minor spells that a mage should be able to cast, in addition to the very flavorful prestidigitation cantrip. Of course you have to keep it within reason but the possibility to use Arcana in this manner is also hinted at in the 4e Red Box Starter GM Book (p. 27 at the top of the left collum “…or Arcana to use a simple illusion effect to…”)

It was to late. As she blacks out, the last thing she hears is the laughter of her “brother” Seldrin…

Keira’s adventure continues with question two of the 9Qs. Game mechanics and behind the scenes information is written in ITALIC.

Q2: What overtly troubling event remotely tied to the results of Question 1 occurs, confirming that something seriously adverse to the heroic motivation is afoot?

Be the GM first: Use the random idea generator to inspire an unusual event and then roll a d6 twice to express that event in an encounter featuring (1-2) intrigue, (3-4) pursuit, and/or (5-6) combat. Be the player next: Use the heroes’ abilities to respond to the event as per their heroic motivation and the RPG’s rules. Be the GM once more: Close the encounter by resolving NPC reactions to the heroes.

Story Cube: Towers with crosses on top. Interpretation: The first thing that springs to my mind is a church, so the encounter will have something to do with churches, religion or clerics etc. That also fits the adventure seed. Encounter: Intrigue and combat. I also decided to ignore the strict GM-Player alteration. Instead, I will just describe the action and use the GM emulator when needed.

Keira continues onward towards Fiveleague House, making good time. After two and a half days of uninterrupted travels she reaches the outskirts of Fiveleague House, a large and fortified inn and tavern, late in the evening.

At this time I find myself thinking about the concept of the “extended rest”. D&D 4e is a lot about resource management with expendable daily resources like action points and daily powers. The management of these resources is part of the underlying game system and an important part and I need a way to prevent the phenonomen of the “15-Minute Adventure Day” where you basically take an extended rest after every encounter to go into the next encounter fully healed. Since the passage of time is handled in an abstract story focused way using the 9Qs I will implement the following mechanic: If more than one day is about to pass and the hero is assumed to take an extended rest, I will roll a random encounter check for the extended rest. The chance of a random encounter is 30% and it can be reduced to 20% with a successful Nature or Dungeoneering check (depending on location) vs. a moderate DC of the hero’s level. If a random encounter occurs it will always be a combat encounter of the hero’s level and the rest is interrupted, which means the hero does not gain the benefits of an extended rest. This rule does not apply when taking a rest in a tavern or inn or an otherwise secure or fortified place. It will be implemented from this point on for future encounters.

It is already dark and a pale moon gives off only very little light but Keira can make out two humanoid shapes in the darkness, standing close to each other in the shadows of the wooden pallisade (Perception vs. DC 16, failure). She can’t make out any more details and assumes, that the shapes are guards taking a little break from their duties and having a little chat (Do the shapes notice Keira? Perception vs. DC 16, success. To determine the DC I used Keiras “passive” Stealth, I just added 10 to her Stealth skill modifier and I rolled a natural 19 for the opponents.). As she comes closer the talking stops abruptly and one of the shapes vanishes further into the shadows which strikes Keira as an unusal behavior for guards. Keira grasps her staff firmly and raises her voice, ready for anything. “Who goes there in the dark!? Show yourself if you mean no harm!”, she shouts into the direction of the two shapes. A human shape in a hooded cloak steps out of the shadows into the pale moonlight. “No need to worry traveler. I mean you no harm”, the shape answers.

“That is good to hear, but what about your friend? Where did he dissapear to?” The shape doesn’t look like a guard of any kind. From the tone of the voice Keira assumes he is male. He appears to be a little overweight and carries no visible weapons. His hooded cloak is dark grey and made from sturdy cloth.

“Oh he? Just a call of nature if you know what I mean. We were just about to go inside ourselves.”

Keira nods (Perception vs. DC 19, success on the spot, rolled a 19!) as she notices a ring on the mans finger in shape of a broken skull. The symbol of Vecna! Did the delegation already arrive? She needs to find out but she needs to be watchful.

“Well then, let’s wait for your friend and let’s go inside together.”

“Oh you just go right ahead. My friend and I, we were in the middle of discussing business. I am a spice trader you know.”

“Spice trader? I see. Oh well, I just go right ahead then.” With these words Keira heads towards the wooden gate that leads to the inner buildings and guestrooms of Fiveleague House. As soon as she believes she is out of sight she slips into the shadows and tries to sneak up on the man she just spoke to. Maybe she can eavesdrop on their conversation and verify if they are indeed only talking business.

Skill Challenge of level 2 with a complexity of 2 (6 successes before 3 failures). Skills: Stealth (3 successes), Perception (3 successes), Arcana (to use cantrips like “ghost sound” for distraction, 2 successes). Success: Keira catches the content of the conversation unnoticed. Failure: Keira is discovered. Skill challenge is a failure (5 successes, 3 failures, close call). Keira gets 250 XP for the challenge. Yes, for those of you unfamiliar with 4e, you still get XP for a failed skill challenge. Nice huh?

Keira casts a quick cantrip, ghost sound, to cause some noise, the sound of fighting cats, to emenate from a nearby bush.

She uses the sound to cover her own noise as she sneaks closer. The second shape comes back from the shadows and the two continue their conversation. After the “spice trader” said something the other shape suddenly stares right into Keiras direction and raises his hand, signaling the “spice trader” to stop talking. Did he see her?

Before she could further think about it, the shape draws a hand crossbow from underneath a cloak, together with a curved scimitar, and leaps backwards, firing a poisoned bolt. Now Keira can make out details. A drow! With darkvision! What are drow doing with Vecna worshipers?!

Time for the instant monster manual again. I need a level 0 cultist and a level 0 drow:

Cultist of Vecna, Level 0 Human Controller:

AC 14, Fort 10, Ref 12, Will 14, HP 18, Init +3, Speed 6, Arcana +8, Religion +8, History +8, Diplomacy +8

Dagger: +5 vs. AC, 1d4+4 damage

Vecna’s Command (standard action, ranged 10): +3 vs. Will, 1d6+3 psychic damage and slide the target 2 squares.

Web of Lies (standard action, area burst 1 within 10, enemies in the burst): +3 vs. Reflex, 1d4+3 psychic damage and the target is slowed until the end of this character’s next turn.

Drow Assassin, Level 0 Drow Lurker:

AC 14, Fort 12, Ref 14, Will 10, HP 16, Init +8, Speed 6, Perception +8, Stealth +8, Athletics +7, Acrobatics +8

Scimitar: +5 vs. AC, 1d6+3 poison damage

Hand Crossbow (ranged 10): +5 vs. AC, 1d6 poison damage and ongoing 3 poison damage (save ends)

Cloak of Shadows: This character can make a Stealth check to hide if he has any cover or concealment (except cover from creatures) as long as he ends his move 3 squares away from where he started the move. He still takes the normal penalty for moving more than two squares.

I planned to resolve combat on a erasable battlegrid that I made by using 1-inch gridded flipchart paper underneath a clear plastic desktop writing pad (far better than a chessex battlemap because of the smoother surface and the possibility to put professional poster maps underneath as well). Because my game time for the night was up I ended up running the battle at work during lunch break (yes, I am a geek and I had my netbook with me) improvising with the barest of supplies but I was surprised how well it went: I drew the map on squared paper with a ballpen in ink and marked the positions on the map with a soft pencil stroke (K for Keira, C for Cultist and D for Drow).

I updated the positions after every round and removed the former positions with an eraser. For rolling dice I used my Android dice roller app. Like I said, it went so well I find myself thinking about doing it like this all the time when I play solo. It saves a lot of time and foremost you don’t need a lot of table space. The cinematic part happens in your mind anyways.

The crossbow bolt only grazed her shoulder but the wound was deep enough for the drow poison to enter her bloodstream. She felt dizzy. The cultist uttered a dark prayer in a strange language and a streak of black foglike energy lashes out at her head, trying to get inside her brain. Thanks to her arcane studies her mind is fortified against such attacks, rendering the attempt useless. Now it was her move. She concentrates and reaches into her inner arcane power, focusing it in her hands and mind. She shouts the arcane words and a bolt of force strikes the cultist, who meanwhile had closed in on her. He stumbles but does not fall. But Keira is not done yet. Not breaking her concentration she digs deep into her inner strength. Sweat builds on her forehead. Staff in hand she clutches it tightly while stretching out her other hand. “VAS ORT GRAV!” The words of power cut through the night as a blue bolt of lightning shoots from her staff and hand, converging in front of her body and streaking outward towards the cultist. He opens his eyes wide in surprise as the lightning bolt strikes him with such powerful force that he stumbles backwards, burning through his cloak and into his flesh. The last thing he sees is a flash of light as another magic missile strikes him in the head, killing him. Now Keira can concentrate on the drow. She looks around but can’t see him. Suddenly a bolt shoots out of the darkness. There, behind the bush! Keira feels dizzy and weak. The poison is still running through her system, eating away at her stamina and life force. She pulls herself together and dashes forward. The drow changes position but one glimpse of him was all Keira needed. “IN POR YLEM!” The magic missile shoots forward. For the drow, there was no escape as the bolt of force burns through his chest, leaving a smoldering hole. Eyes wide open the drow falls to the ground.

End result: Keira survived with 4 HP left. In the first round, after being poisoned and damaged by the bolt and missed by the cultist’s Vecna’s Command attack, she used wizards fury (minor action) and fired one magic missile (minor action) and one arc lightning (standard action) at the cultist. She then spend her action point to get another standard action and casts magic missile again at the cultist, killing him. After that it was a hide and chase battle against the drow who used his Cloak of Shadows after every move and fired a bolt at Keira with combat advantage thanks to him being hidden. Thanks to Wizard’s Fury Keira could take two move actions and still fire a magic missile, so she moved to a position one square away and fired a missile. Of course there was some metagaming involved since I as player knew where the drow was hiding but I played it so that Keira had to move so that there was no cover or concealment between them and the drow still had an edge by gaining combat advantage for every attack. After all it was a close call and a fun encounter which costs Keira quite a few resources: one daily power, one action point and four healing surges. Since an extended rest is not a sure thing anymore it might get pretty close in future encounters (unless of course, Keira rests at Fiveleague House). Keira gets 100 XP.

After the battle Keira can finally concentrate on her healing magic. She purges the poison from her system and a green warm glow heals her wounds.

That is my fluff description of using healing surges 😉

What are drow doing in league with Vecna followers? She searches the bodies, takes the ring from the cultist and the quiver of poisoned crossbow bolts from the dead drow. The cultist’s dagger is decorated with a large ruby which she also takes. She then hides the bodies in the underbrush and makes her way into Fiveleague House to see if the cultist has friends with him.

So, like promised here is my first session report. I am playing 4th Edition D&D solo, using the 9Qs solo rpg engine that you can get at the Solo Nexus blog. I am using the 2012 version however. The version that is up for download at Solo Nexus is the 2013 edition but the basics are all the same.

As a sidenote: John Fiore from Solo Nexus was so kind and posted some articles from me that I send to him to contribute. I am Carsten from Germany on his blog and did some posts about how to play D&D solo and some other articles. So if you have the time go there and check it out.

 But back to my solo session:

Like I said, the 9Q engine is used, together with Rory’s Story Cubes as a random idea generator as well as the Mythic Game Master Emulator fate chart when necessary. To generate the adventure hook, I used the Adamantine Fantasy Adventure generator, that you can get at rpgnow.com. Whenever I talk about game mechanics or give behind the scenes information about how I did things, I use ITALIC text.

My character is a young wizard named Keira, and this is her story…

Character Background:

Keira is a beautiful young woman of 22 years and a faithful follower of Ioun. She was a street urchin in Fallcrest when she was discovered by her mentor to be, an aging mage with the name Desmond, who saw her arcane potential. He took her with him, offering her a home in his mansion located in the farmlands just outside of Fallcrest. He was teaching her the arcane arts and the principles of Ioun and she became a member of his arcane society, the “Guardians of Ioun”. The Guardians of Ioun are a secret society whose goal is to battle the followers of Vecna wherever they find them. Keira has long blonde hair, a slender but athletic build, blue eyes and a sharp mind. She wears a fitting outfit made of soft leather, together with a blue hooded cloak with a golden seam. She carries a black, polished quarterstaff and a slender dagger hidden underneath her cloak. A sturdy leather bag holds her spellbook and her adventuring gear.

Adventure Seed (generated by the Adamantine Fantasy Adventure Generator):

Keira must combat a warrior in a tavern while dealing with religion and facing a monster.

Prelude: Keira is instructed by her mentor to undertake a mission for the arcane society. This sets the heroic motivation which is generated by interpreting the adventure seed.

Keira enters Desmond’s study on the second floor of the mansion. It is a large room with wooden bookshelfs lining the walls. A fire is burning in a fireplace, radiating a comfortable warmth. The better part of the room is taken up by a massive oak table. Books and parchements are piled on the table. Desmond is sitting in a comfortable armchair, reading what appears to be a letter. As she enters the room, he looks up.

“Keira my child, do come in.” Desmond looks troubled.

“What is it master? You look disturbed. Bad news?” Keira points at the letter in Desmond’s hand.

“I think so. One of our agents heard a rumor, that a new delegation of Vecna initiates is on their way to the Nentir Vale. That information is consistent with reports coming in from other agents throughout the Vale. It appears as if the church of Vecna tries to strengthen their presence here and gain a foothold in the Vale. The agent reports, that the delegation is headed towards Fiveleague House from outside the Vale. There they are to meet up with a member of their church who will escort them further into the Vale to their final destinations, which are unknown to us at this point.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Well, my child, I think it is time to see if I have prepared you well. I certainly tried to do my best. I will ask the leading order of our society to a secret meeting where we will discuss these disturbing news and hopefully determine a course of action. But first we need to gather some more reliable information and I can’t think of anyone better suited for this task than you.

You have to travel to Fiveleague House. Try to reach it before the delegation arrives. You must hurry. Once there, you must try to gather as much information as you can and relay it to me. Try to travel with the delegation, blend into the crowd and learn as much as you can about their plans and destinations.”

Keira nods. “How am I supposed to relay this information to you master? I mean quick and over such distance?” She looks puzzled.

Desmond smiles, stands up and pulls a large tome out of one of the bookshelves. He puts it on the table and opens it. Underneath the cover, a hidden compartement cut into the book is revealed, containing a small silk bag. He reaches into the bag and pulls out two perfectly smooth, flat black stones. “Do you know what these are?”

Arcana Check vs. DC 15, result 17, success.

Keira looks at the stones and takes one into her hand, examines it closely and closes her eyes. “I can feel the arcane energy running through these stones. They seem to be magically bonded to each other…”, she smiles and opens her eyes. “These are Messenger Stones, linked to each other. I can talk to one stone and my voice will be heard through it’s counterpart.” Desmond smiles. “Looks like you were paying attention in class after all. You are correct my dear. These messenger stones are linked to us and to each other. Only we can activate them by dropping a small drop of blood onto one of them. After that, you just need to talk, not much louder than a whisper, and I will hear your voice in my mind if I carry the stone with me. The same is true if I have to talk to you. I crafted these in a ritual shortly after I took you in. I knew the day would come when you had to leave me and I wanted you to always be able to seek my advice, should you ever need it, no matter where you were.” Keira smiles at Desmond, walks up to him and gives him a warm hug. “That was very thoughtful of you master. I will do my best and try not to disappoint you.” She takes one of the stones and slips it into a leather pouch on her belt.

“Do you know when exactly the delegation is scheduled to arrive at the Fiveleague House?”

(very unlikely, no)

“No, the rumors and the information I have is still very vague. They will probably need a few days though.”

“Do you know who is supposed to meet them there?”

(very unlikely, no)

“Sadly I don’t but I suspect it will be someone who is already operating in the Vale and knows his or her way around.”

“Well then I guess I hurry and get my things packed up and ready to leave. It is some distance to Fiveleague House and I don’t want to miss the delegation.”

Keira smiles sarcastically and turns to leave the study.

Does Desmond give her some money for the journey? (very likely) Yes, 1d6 x 50 gp, 100 gp.

“Wait my child. You don’t think I would let you wander of just like that do you?” He reaches for a small wooden box which is sitting on the table, opens it and throws Keira a small pouch. “I want you to be comfortable and have good food. And who knows, maybe you have to buy your way out of trouble?”

Keira gives him a confident look. “Maybe I try casting my way out of trouble first. Otherwise all those years spent in class and sticking my nose into old dusty books would have been wasted. But thank you master.” She looks into the bag and smiles. “Very generous of you….are you sure you don’t need these coins master. I know I will be fine without them.”

“I know you will….but do me a favor and take them anyway, if only to help an old man sleep without worries.”

Keira nods, leaves the room and packs up her gear. A few minutes later she is ready, says farewell to Desmond and heads out for Fiveleague House.

And we have the heroic motivation. Keira’s goal is to complete the assignment her mentor gave her, finding and infiltrating the delegation of Vecna followers and gathering information about their plans.

Q1: What looming hostility inherent within the setting unexpectedly comes into conflict with the heroic motivation, threatening to worsen over time? Story Cubes “Voyages” are used. A random cube is picked. The symbol rolled is a pill. Interpretation: The pill is interpreted as poison or poisoning someone which immediately makes me think of Drow, so Drow it is. I rolled 1 and 6 which means an enemy is pursuing new goals and taking aggressive action against the hero.

As GM: Hidden in the underbrush a drow scouting party is watching the road, making note of every armed patrol or adventuring group that passes by. The Drow are on a mission to gather information about Fallcrest’s defenses. The group consists of a drow ranger led by a drow priestess of Lolth. As the priestess spots Keira in her arcane robe, walking with her staff, she snarls, her voice silent but sharp with hatered: “An infidel human sorceress. Disgusting! I can feel the arcane energy surrounding her. I will show her what real might is. We will follow her for a while to see what she is up to. When she is farther away from that stinking human rathole they call a town we will strike her down. Maybe she carries a spellbook or artifact from which we can gain some more insight into human magic.” The drow scout just nods in acknowledgement. He would never dare to speak up to a priestess, even though this one was still an initiate.

Gracefully and silent they move through the underbrush, following Keira on her way to Fiveleague House, waiting for the right moment to strike. After following Keira for a while, the road makes a small curve. The priestress nods to the scout. The time to strike is here.

As Player: Keira travels at a fast pace. She didn’t know when the delegation would arrive and she didn’t want to miss them. Otherwise it would be difficult to pick up their tracks again. Traveling between villages and towns in the Vale was dangerous, so she keeps to one side of the road to gain some cover from the underbrush while keeping her senses sharp.

Stealth check of the Drow vs. Perception of Keira (15). The scout has +8 Stealth and rolls a 12 for a total of 20, he is hidden from Keira. The priestress has +6 and rolls an 8 for a total of 14, so Keira spots her. There is a surprise round. The scout can act during the surprise round and take a single action, he has combat advantage.

Time for some stats made up on the fly using the “Monster Manual 3 on a business card” formulas.

Drow Scout, Level 1 Minion Skirmisher, 25 XP:

Init +5, AC 15, Fortitude 13, Reflex 13, Will 13, HP 1, Speed 6, Stealth +8.

Hand Crossbow: standard action, ranged 10, +6 vs. AC, 4 poison damage

Curved Scimitar: standard action, melee 1, +6 vs. AC, 4 damage

Combat Sidestep: move action, the scout shifts 3 squares

Drow Priestress Initiate, Level 1 Artillery, 100 XP:

Init +1, AC 13, Fortitude 11, Reflex 13, Will 15, HP 22, Speed 6, Stealth +6, Religion +8, Arcana +8.

Venom Bolt: standard action, ranged 10, +6 vs. Fortitude, 1d6+2 poison damage and ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends)

Lolth’s Grip: standard action, ranged 10, +6 vs. Reflex, 1d6+4 force damage and the target is slowed until the end of the initiate’s next turn

What was that? Movement in the underbrush? A crossbow bolt shoots out of the underbrush, fired by an unseen opponent. Keira doesn’t have time to react. The bolt hits her in the shoulder and the impact causes her to stumble backwards. She feels dizzy, drow poison runs through her veins. In front of her, a drow priestess steps on the road.

Since I have my netbook up and running, the encounter is resolved using the 4th Edition combat rules and the VASSAL DDM 2.0 module on the King’s Road map.

Keira catches her senses and looks around. There! The hidden attacker crouches in the shadows, hand crossbow already reloaded. In front of her, the priestess starts to make a gesture. She has to be quick. Staff in her hand she stretches her arms outward and shouts with a powerful voice, carried by arcane energy. “KAL VAS FLAM!” The arcane energy flows through her, channelled by her words of power and a searing blast of arcane fire and flame erupts from her hands. The drow scout is caught in the brunt of the flames and is instantly incenerated, together with the bush he was hiding underneath. The priestess screams out in pain as the arcane heat washes over her, burning her severely.

But she too pulls herself together and makes a complex gesture, chanting in an unspeakable language. A green bolt of venom shoots out from the palm of her hand and engulfs Keira, making her sick and causing pain. Poison. Keira feels weak and sick. She knows she has only one chance left to kill the priestess, which is severely wounded. With all her resolve she draws upon her inner strength, channelling the arcane energy through her once again. Raising her hand towards the priestress, who took cover behind a large rock, she shouts the arcane words of power again. “IN POR YLEM! IN POR YLEM!” Two magic missiles shoot forward, unerringly striking the priestress in the chest and head, killing her.

Keira collapses and falls to the ground, gasping for air. She concentrates and casts a minor healing spell upon herself, neutralizing the poison.

For fluff I used the spell syllables from the Ultima line of computer role-playing games. Keira survived the encounter by using an encounter power (Burning Hands) in the first round after the surprise round which caught the scout and the priestess, thanks to a blast 5 area of effect. She then burned her daily power Wizard’s Fury in the next round, which allows her to cast Magic Missile as a minor action. The power itself is a minor action so Keira used one minor action for the power, one standard action to cast magic missile once and traded her move action for a minor action to cast magic missile again, killing the priestess. The ongoing poison damage reduced her to 2 HP by the end of her turn but since the encounter was over Keira could burn a few healing surges in a short rest. All in all it was a very close call. Had Keira rolled poorly on the Burning Hands damage roll or had she missed she would be toast and the adventure would have been over pretty quick. Keira gains 125 XP for the encounter.

After catching her breath Keira gets up. What are Drow doing on the surface so close to Fallcrest in the light of day? That’s strange. She looks around, making sure that no other hidden stalkers are near and examines the bodies.

As GM: On the body of the dead priestess Keira finds a leather bound book with notes in a script she can’t decipher (Nature vs. DC 15, failure) and which she doesn’t recognize, as well as 30 gp. Other than that the Drow have nothing of value. Keira takes the money and the leather bound book, hides the dead bodies in the underbrush and moves on quickly.

This blog will be my first foray into the blogosphere and I will use it to post about my experiences and adventures playing RPGs solo. Yes, you heard right. Solo as in nobody else is playing just me. No GM and no other players. While that might sound weird I am not alone with this and in good company. As a matter of fact, I developed the idea of creating my own solo tabletop gaming blog while reading the great Solo Nexus blog from John Fiore and also the very motivating tabletopdiversions blog.

Let me get one point straight: I do have a social life and a regular gaming group that meets almost every Friday night. During our weekly sessions we mostly play the Star Wars living card game at the moment, alternating with Star Wars Miniatures scenarios. So, as John Fiore would say “Why solo?”

Because I am a working father and husband and like probably a lot of you potential readers out there I can’t game as much with other people as I would like. So I use the few hours here and there, when the little one is asleep or the lady of the house is at work, to squeeze in a quick session of my favorite RPG, do a quick miniature dungeon delve or test some house rules. Because of the flexibility required and the sometimes odd hours when free time is available the only way I am able to do that is by going solo. On my own schedule.

So why not just play one of these new “free-roam open world next gen” video RPGs? Simple answer: Because I like the noise of physical dice falling, the smell of plastic miniatures and the physical sensation of actually moving pieces on a tabletop. For me, a solo rpg session is the ultimate open world game. The definition of free roam. There is no better graphics processor than the human brain and no better AI than the human talent for improvisation.

So what do I wish to accomplish with this blog?

First, I want to have a place where I can store my game sessions. Something like an electronic archive. Second, I want to give encouragement to other people who are kicking the idea of a solo rpg session around and show them what works for me.

So you can expect to see session reports, house rule ideas, solo rpg tools and ideas and examples of game mechanics in use.

To close my first post I want to give you a little more information about me.

Like I said I am a working father of a beautiful little girl and husband to a beautiful wife and loving mother. I am in my mid to late thirties and I have been playing RPGs and fantasy boardgames since I was eleven years old, which makes it over 20 years. I love to GM and create new content and to tinker with rules. I also love Star Wars, Star Trek, high fantasy, prepainted miniatures and I think 4th Edition D&D is a great game. English is not my first language as I live in Germany, so that might explain the occasional grammar error. I have a M.A. in Criminology and Police Science and work in a related field.

That’s it for now. I hope I’ll be able to post my first session report soon, so that you can see what I have been talking about.