Game Day: Ravenloft Ends, Dark City Returns, D&D 4E Prelude

When last we left our weekly Game Day, our Ravenloft campaign was slugging along, pitting a heroic band of adventurers against the monstrous horrors of the fading land of Count Strahd. It’s based on Expedition to Castle Ravenloft an old school, 1st-edition style monster-crawl in which role-playing is minimized, and encounters with level draining undead are maximized.

We knew this getting into it, and in spite of the fact that most of us were getting burned out on the 3E combat mechanics, we plunged ahead anyway for nostalgia’s sake. At the same time, we were running a superheroes campaign using the Mutants & Masterminds rules, and loving the largely free-form, role-playing intensive style of play.

As the autumn progressed, and our D&D characters became battle-hardened adventures who dreaded another trip into the forest to fight the ghosts and were-creatures, we decided that perhaps this wasn’t the best campaign for us right now.

It was time to return to the Dark City.

A Greyhawk Anthology

The original Dark City campaign was a urban fantasy campaign based in our homegrown city of Obsidian Bay in the World of Greyhawk. The city had been our base of operations for years; this new first level campaign would allow us to explore it from the street level.

We played it round robin style, allowing each person a chance to explore the city, Grand Theft Auto style (though without the carnage). There were still storylines to be played out, but the focus was on exploring the town and role-playing the characters. The campaign went on hiatus after the birth of my son in 2006.

Now it’s back. This time around, we plan on keeping the role-playing intensive nature of Dark City, but it’s going to be run more anthology style, with different players taking the role as lead DM for a given session or story arc. That takes the pressure off of me being the primary DM, which is a task I’ve had a lot less time for since my kids were born.

We now have two generations of Dark City characters running around, the originals – who are around 5th level – and a new bunch of first level ones. Our first Dark City GM is Nuketown-regular Erilar, who’s running us through some Paizo adventures he picked up.

Prelude to 4th Edition

I originally started playing an orphan rogue who was obsessed with getting revenge against the archmage Fulgar, a veteran  of Blackrazor Guild (and our campaign) who was once possessed by an evil artifact and killed a number of allied soldiers during the war against the orcs. He seemed like too much of a one trick pony, and I’ve been playing too many rogue/bard types lately, so I decided to drop that character and do something else: resurrect a favorite character of mine named Zilanderan.

Zil was one of the original characters in our “Redshirts” campaign that saw the Blackrazors go up against the resurgent Temple of Elemental Evil. Zilanderan was a fighter/wizard who used to talk endlessly about the infinite realities of the planes and the cascade of alternative universes that surrounded Oerth. He died in the temple, and was sacrificed to Stan (aka Tharizdun).

Even since that happened, I’ve been thinking of bringing him back. Well, not the original Zil – his soul was devoured after all – but an alternative version of him from one of those other universes. Because you see, Zil was right – there are other worlds.

We’ve been spending a hell of a lot of time debating the merits and mechanics of D&D 4th edition, and I decided that we could use Zil to demo the closest thing we have 4E rules: Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords.

The Book of Nine Swords features three new martial classes, each with its own set of combat maneuvers and stances that allow them to create exceptional or supernatural effects. For example, one maneuver allows Zil to roll two d20s; if the lower of the two dice hits a target’s armor class, then the attack does an extra 1d6 of cold damage. The maneuver is then expended, and can’t be used again during that combat. At the same time, there’s a stance that allows him to regain hit points whenever he recovers a maneuver.

This has been described as “horribly broken” by at least one member of the group. I’ll argue that’s yet to be seen, but I do think that it’s definitely balanced against the later end of the 3.x spectrum than the core 3.5 character classes. The ability to quickly recover maneuvers theoretically makes Zil an uber-powerful character, but in practice I don’t think he’s going to end up using his cool tricks any more often than anyone else in the party. But that’s a review for a different day; for now I’m having a blast playing Zil, and I think the newness he brings to the campaign will help define this set of characters.

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