Game Day: Ravenloft, Back to Basics, Heroes of Horror, Pierce Haligarth

Tonight … we begin our horror-filled return to Ravenloft! Erilar will be running us through Expedition to Castle Ravenloft (Amazon), the updated and expanded version of the original 1st edition module.

I’m excited to play it — the last time I ventured to Castle Ravenloft, I was in 6th grade and playing my fighter Samuel “Battle Axe” Longriver (but, ah, he was just called “Battle Axe” then…) who eventually found and wielded the fabled sun sword. That was years and years ago, and most of my memories of Ravenloft have been consumed by the mists of time. Almost everyone in our group has been to Ravenloft at one time or another, and just about everyone is eager to return.

In anticipation, I’m listening to Episode 3 (October 2006) of the official Dungeons & Dragons podcast, which is all about horror. It starts off with hosts Dave Noonan and Mike Mearls talking about what makes for a good horror game (and what doesn’t). Then Noonan interviews Expedition to Castle Ravenloft’s designers Bruce Cordell and James Wyatt.

Can D&D really do horror? I don’t know … I don’t think it’s possible for standard d20 D&D to be nearly as creepy as something like Call of Cthulhu if for no other reason than people are used to playing heroic characters capable of fighting just about anything and when you’ve got iconic characters such as rangers, clerics and wizards running around, it’s just not easy to be scared by the undead (unlike CoC, where you’re playing mundane investigators with almost no supernatural might to back them up).

I’m not saying it’s impossible, and certainly the tone set by the Dungeon Master and the players has a lot to do with it … but I’m not expecting to be startled out of my seat.

Back to Basics

Our campaign’s been having a lot of d20 fantasy rules issues lately, as Wizards of the Coast continues to release book after contradictory book, each filled with feats, spells and skill uses we’ve never heard of before. It’s given rise to a rules situation that’s nearing the chaos of late 2nd edition, and it has a tendency to make people grumpy.

I blame Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 for this; we were pretty solid on the 3.0 rules, but when the revision came out we never sat down and really read the new rules. Instead, we’ve tended to stumble across the revisions, changes and contradictions during the game, which again, tends to frustrate people.

So we’ve decided to go back to basics. In the Ravenloft campaign, ever character is built using the rules found in the core rule books, namely the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Only classes, feats, spells and magic items from these books are allowed, with prestige classes having to be approved by the DM.

I’ve printed out and read through most of the errata and FAQ, and I’m going to be keeping notes on the questions that arise during the game. Then afterwards I’m going to add my notes, with any clarifications, to our fledgling campaign wiki for future reference.

Heroes of Horror

That said … we are playing a horror game, and it does have a few additional rules beyond the core. Some are taken from the Expedition rule book, while others appear in Heroes of Horror (Amazon). Few people in our campaign have the later source book, and since I’m something of a horror fan, I decided to go ahead and order it. It should be here in another week or so; not in time for today’s game but certainly for the next one.

Reviews of this book are generally positive, and I’m thinking that I could use some of whats in here when I launch Act II of our slumbering Dark City urban fantasy campaign.

Pierce Haligarth, Acquirer of Fine Treasures

My character for the Ravenloft campaign is Pierce Haligarth, part confidence man, part burglar. His modus operandi is to charm/fast talk his way into a residence using one of his man disguises, case the establishment, then return a few days later to steal whatever he had his eye on.

His targets are almost always rich and aristocratic, not because of any particular philosophical or political bent, but because that’s where the money is. He likes the finer things in life … and in particular, he likes stealing these things from the people who actually paid for them.

He has good Bluff, Diplomacy, Search, Open Lock and Disable Device skills, but would rather avoid combat. His Armor Class is merely 15 (as he relies on various magical devices for protection, rather than armor which might impede his roguish abilities) but he does have and use knowledge of Combat Expertise to increase his armor class in a fight and Improved Feint to put his opponent off-guard and (hopefully) allow him to sneak attack.

Statblock: Pierce Haligarth

Pierce Haligarth: Male Human Rog6; CR 6; Medium Humanoid (Human); HD 6d6; hp 26; Init +2; Spd 30 ft/x4; AC 15 (+1 armor, +2 dex, +1 natural, +1 deflection), touch 13, flat-footed 15; Base Atk/Grapple +4/+4; Full Atk +7 One-handed (1d6+1;18-20/x2, +1 Rapier), +6 One-handed (1d4;19-20/x2, Dagger), +6 Two-handed (1d8;19-20/x2, Light Crossbow); SA&SQ Uncanny Dodge(Ex), Trap Sense(Ex), Evasion(Ex), Sneak Attack, Trapfinding(Ex); AL CG; SV Fort +3, Ref +8, Will +3; Str 11(+0), Dex 15(+2), Con 11(+0), Int 16(+3), Wis 11(+0), Cha 13(+1); Skills: Appraise +6, Bluff +10, Diplomacy +10, Disable Device +16, Disguise +5, Forgery +7, Gather Information +7, Intimidate +7, Knowledge (local) +7, Move Silently +7, Open Lock +15, Perform (flute) +4, Search +11, Sense Motive +5, Sleight of Hand +9, Spot +5, Tumble +9, Use Magic Device +8. Feats: Combat Expertise, Improved Feint, Nimble Fingers, Weapon Finesse.

Class Abilities: Uncanny Dodge(Ex): You retain you Dexterity bonus to AC even if flatfooted or struck by an invisible attacker; Trap Sense(Ex): +2 to Reflex saves and AC against traps; Evasion(Ex): On a successful Reflex save against a magical attack, you take no damage. Sneak Attack: Any time someone you attack is denied their Dexterity bonus to AC, or you are flanking them, you inflict an extra 3d6 damage. Ranged attacks must be within 30 feet to gain this, and this extra damage is not increased on a critical hit. Creatures that are immune to critical hits ignore this damage, as do creatures with concealment; Trapfinding(Ex): You can use the Search skill to locate traps when the task has a DC higher than 20. You can use the Disable Device skill to disarm magic traps.

Magic Items: Oil of Silvershine, Hand of the Mage, Bracers of Armor +1, Goggles of Minute Seeing, Ring of Protection +1, Rapier +1, Hat of Disguise, Amulet of Natural Armor +1, Cloak of Resistance +1

Mundane Items: Thieves’ Tools (masterwork), Disguise Kit, Flute (masterwork), small steel mirror, silk rope (50 ft.), signal whistle, daggers (4), light crossbow.

Alchemical Substances: Sunrod (6), Smokestone (2), Thunderstone (2)