Thursday, March 24, 2011

Drop And Give Me Twenty! Reasons to Buy Matt James' "Soldiers Of Fortune"

This is my sword. There are many like it, but this one is mine...

A few weeks ago, freelance RPG writer, Matt James, put a call out on Twitter. Matt was looking for 4e bloggers that might be willing to review his upcoming offering, "Soldiers Of Fortune"; a gaming supplement set in Wolfgang Baur's, Kobold Quarterly's campaign setting - Midgard. I initially jumped at the chance, because I've known Matt from Twitter and from having him on the DM Roundtable which I help host. 

Matt was quick to send me a review copy of the supplement, and then I promptly set to...well, sitting on it. There are a number of reasons for my hesitation, but most of them had to do with my lack of experience in reviewing this kind of material. While I'm eager to share my thoughts about products I actually use (usually dungeon terrain and other types of physical objects), I have much less experience reviewing written words. That lack of experience combined with a product I wouldn't necessarily immediately have use for myself (or so I thought at the time), made me drag my feet. However, I have finally shaken off that bit of writer's block, and so a little late to the party, I provide this review. Matt, I ask your forgiveness for my hesitation. Please don't assign me to KP duty.

As I stated above, this supplement is probably not one I would have initially picked up on my own. My own campaigns don't have a strong militarized element, and that is what Soldiers Of Fortune is all about. If you want to know how to incorporate guards, soldiers, mercenaries, and armies into your 4e campaigns, this is definitely the tome for you.  However, even if you (like me) don't have a strong military component to your campaigns, you can still find something useful in this supplement. In fact, there are SO MANY interesting and useful tidbits, I'm going to give you 20 reasons (in no particular order) to immediately go out and buy Soldiers Of Fortune. Free 3-Day passes to anyone doing a push-up after reading each one:

01)  Clear and well thought treatise on the reasons for going to war.

02)  Plot hooks that are specific to the subject matter of the book, but general enough to drop into any campaign setting.

03)  Clear examples on how the various races of the Midgard setting view the life of a soldier.

04)  Numerous Skill Challenge examples that work great in just about any military adventure.

05)  Clear examples (in the form of "Edicts") that show how armies work and how military campaigns are conducted in the Midgard setting.

06)  Numerous "call-outs", little boxes of extra text that help tie either real-world or campaign setting information in to the general information provided by the supplement.

07)  Interesting NPC generals and leaders suitable for use in any campaign.

08)  An entirely new background theme for military characters  - The Mercenary.

09)  An entire career's worth of new Powers: At-Wills, Encounter, & Dailies.

10)  A slew of new feats for military characters.

11)  Powers & feats specifically related to the use of siege engines.

12)  Military themed Paragon paths.

13)  A host of new magic items including War Banners and new Martial Practices.

14)  A complete adventure for five -  7th level players.

15)  New monsters. Many of the new monsters are related to the Midgard campaign setting, but could easily be re-skinned to suit any campaign.

16)  New minion & minion aura rules to facilitate large combats (but see my notes below). 

17)  A boat load of new templates for various military types.

18)  The entire supplement is laid out in an attractive way with sparse but relevant art and maps for the included adventure. 

19)  A fantastic section on siege engines and how to use them. This section (for me) is worth the price of admission alone.

20)  Clearly written by someone who has been in the military and is able to apply that knowledge to the game, without speaking down to those of us without that experience.

With all these great reasons to buy Soldiers Of Fortune, there are a couple of things I would have like to have seen that are not included. The supplement is certainly complete without them, but I think it would have floored me had they been included.

01)  Rules for large scale combats. The 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons has been lax on this point, and this book would have been a natural place for those rules. It's quite possible, though, that there's enough material on that subject to warrant a second book. Soldiers Of Fortune - The Field of Battle would be a great title for that, by the way. Just sayin'. 

02)  Clearer rules for when characters NOT of a military nature find themselves conscripted into an army. How can the Rogue, Wizard, or Druid get along if left with no other choice but to find themselves drafted?  I think that would have been a great addition.

Again, these are minor points. Overall, even though I don't run a military styled campaign, there is plenty of material in Soldiers Of Fortune to warrant its cost. Every DM needs to have these rules in their 4e arsenal.  

Soldiers of Fortune is available at the Kobold Quarterly Store in both PDF file and hard copy versions. I do suggest you pick up a copy. 

At ease, Soldier.

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

So You Want To Take An Extended Rest?

Round about two weeks ago, Twitter's favorite Dungeons & Dragons curmudegon, The Angry DM, posted an extremely well-thought-out and insightful article on his blog. That article detailed the various rest mechanics that are an inherent part of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons experience.

I'm not going to rehash that lengthy treatise here. However, before you continue with what I have to offer, please read his article. It's very good, and you can link to it RIGHT HERE.  It's okay, I'll wait.

Good read, that, and quite thought provoking.  So thought provoking, in fact, that the article spawned about a week's worth of active Twitter chatter, and a follow-up article by Angry to explain to his readers that he wasn't trying to incite an Edition war.

Now I make no bones about the fact that I'm firmly in the 4th Edition camp. It's the game I prefer to play because it's the easiest of all the versions to DM (my opinion, of course). However, Angry makes some good points about how the resting mechanic impacts resource management, and then how NOT having to really manage your resources affects the ongoing adventure. Angry does offer a couple of possible solutions to this issue, and opened up the floor to discussion. What I have below is my solution to the issue of Extended Rests.

Like Angry mentions in his article, Extended Rests essentially wipe the slate clean each new adventuring day. Powers are recharged and hit points are recovered. Theoretically, a party could challenge each new encounter area completely refreshed, offering no real difficulty to an encounter based on the assumption that the party is experiencing a drain on resources. Most regular gamers recognize this activity as a feature of the "15 minutes adventuring day".

There are several methods to combat the abuse of Extended Rests. Many of these methods rely on DM Fiat, which means that the Dungeon Master can simply say, "You can't take an Extended Rest". While that does probably work fine in some groups, as a DM myself, I like to provide my players with a little more rationale beyond, "Because I said so."  Since I recognize that Extended Rests can be an issue in making resource management a factor in an adventure, I decided to tackle the problem with a tried and true method...I made a chart.'s a link to that document.

Yep, that's some table. It looks overly complex, but if you break it down into its components, it works like this:

Extended Rests assume that the Hero has a reasonably safe place to rest, and that the Hero is uninterrupted during that rest. Some sleep must be had, and you're limited to very little activity.  What this table tries to do, is break environments into very basic categories, and then cross-reference that environment with the resting conditions. I chose four basic types of environments: Urban, Wilderness, Extreme, and Bizarre. Those terms are explained on the PDF file.

The other terms I refer to in the table are resting conditions. Here I decided on Bedding and Distractions/Interruptions. For the purposes of the table, "Bedding" means some place reasonably comfortable to sleep. A bedroll is probably the bare minimum acceptable for this term, although the DM might allow a big pile of soft leaves, or a mound of hay to suffice as well.  "Distractions/Interruptions" is pretty much what it means. If the environment is plagued with insects, or perhaps is really noisy (for example, outside a waterfall), those would qualify as Distractions/Interruptions. They're not so severe as to prevent some measure of rest, but they make it difficult to have a complete one.  After that, it's simply a matter of what the Hero loses (in way of Powers or Healing Surges) as a result of his or her Endurance Check roll.

As with any table, some level of DM adjudication needs to take place. Below are some examples of situations that might not fit perfectly into the table:

A Ship At Sea: I would classify this as Wilderness/Sheltered (if below deck) Wilderness/Unsheltered (if above deck).  Calm seas (no distraction) Rough seas (distractions)

An Alley in Some City: I would classify this as Urban/Unsheltered. No distractions unless near an area with lots of foot traffic or other noise.

Hanging in a Cliff-side Climbing Rig: I would classify this as Extreme/Unsheltered. Hanging several hundred feet in the air is also likely to be rather distracting.

A Dungeon Delve: Well, it depends. If the dungeon is a strange wizard's lair, it might be classified as Bizarre/Sheltered. Otherwise, if its an abandoned underground city, you might even classify it as Urban/Sheltered or Urban/Unsheltered depending on where the Heroes decide to rest.

Well, you get the idea. I won't pretend that using a table such as this will resolve all the issues inherent in the Extended Rest, but it should add some additional difficulty as an adventure progresses. I'd love to know what you think! 

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.