Monthly Archives: September 2011

And STAY Dead!

And STAY Dead!

Assassination In A World Of Magic

The RPGBloggers carnival this month is about assassins, everyone’s favorite black-cloaked n’er-do-wells. My contribution is this collection of items and rituals designed to aid in killing people (and, ideally, not getting caught), when “We can’t question him here… kill him, cut off his head, stuff it in the bag of holding, and carry it with so we can talk to him later” is a perfectly viable strategy, or when the nearly lethal wound you inflicted is instantly healed by some inconvenient cleric a second later. (Or, worse, by some warlord who just shouts at someone until their throat un-slits.)

The items, etc, here, are not so much intended for the assassin class per se, as for anyone, regardless of their class, who engages in the art of removing obstacles from other people’s paths. Assassination, in this context, differs from straight-up combat in many ways: It is usually done solo; the assassin spends time, often days or weeks, studying their victim; and  it is best if no one knows who did it.

While the game mechanics here are for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, the ideas should be readily portable to any fantasy game where magic is, if not necessarily cheap or common, both common enough and reliable enough that the rich and powerful will have access to it for protection, and those who would slay them have access to counter-measures. (In most cases, there aren’t counter-counter-measures, because that game tends to have no end.)

Oil Of Eternal Silence

There are few things worse than having your dead victim rat you out. Even when returning the dead to life is out of the question, they can still speak from beyond the grave. Many assassins carry a vial or two of this substance to use if they suspect they were seen or that their target would have a good guess who got them.

Oil Of Eternal Silence Level 5+ Rare

This oil is thin, black, and yet glistens even in darkness. When ignited, the flames make no noise.

Lvl 5: 50 gp

Lvl 15: 1,000 gp

Lvl 25: 25,000 gp

Consumable

Utility Power * Consumable (Minor Action)

Effect:When this oil is poured on a corpse, and ignited, any attempt use speak with dead on the charred remains are stymied, with a penalty to the Religion check equal to the  oil’s level, plus 5 (-10 for the fifth level potion, -20 for the 15th level potion, -30 for the 25th level potion).

Spider Queen’s Caress

This item is named for the drow, fabled masters of poison, but it is uncertain if it truly originated with them or if this is mere folklore, as the mystique of such things is ruined if it turns out it was invented by some cunning kobold shaman.

The Spider Queen’s Caress Level 8+ Rare

It’s clear, tasteless, odorless, and perfectly safe for you to drink right along with your target… assuming no one is also targeting you…

Lvl 8 125 gp Lvl 23 17,000 gp
Lvl 13 650 gp Lvl 28 85,000 gp
Lvl 18 3,400 gp

Consumable

Utility Power * Consumable (Minor Action)

Effect:This poison must be ingested, and can be slipped easily into a target’s drink or food with a typical sleight of hand check, if anyone’s watching. It is virtually impossible to detect, requiring a Hard Perception check at the poison’s level +5 to notice. (Magic that detects poison with no roll or chance of failure will still have a 10% chance of missing this one.)

Once ingested, spider queen’s caress gives the target vulnerability 5 (poison) and a -2 to all saves against ongoing damage or other effects from a poison of its level or lower, until the end of the second extended rest from when they consumed it. This increases to vulnerability 10 (poison) at 18th level and to vulnerability 15 (poison) at 23rd level. In addition, at 13th level, the first save made against any poison attack automatically fails (this is the first save rolled, whether the normal end of turn save or one granted by magic or healing). At 23rd level, the first two saves fail.

Since the spider queen’s caress is not directly damaging, some daring assassins will risk consuming it, if doing so lulls the suspicions of their target.

Blessingbane Weapon

Often, merely hearing that someone has been marked for death is enough to make his friends desert him, but some people have annoyingly loyal companions. This weapon quite literally cuts a victim off from support. While it was originally crafted to prevent someone who was “mostly dead” being restored if a healer happened on him at the last minute, it has also become a useful tool for those whose plans of a quiet slit throat in the night have gone awry, and they must kill their victim in the presence of witnesses.

Blessingbane Weapon Level 4+ Rare

One slice of this dagger, and the target finds that no one can aid him, not even himself.

Lvl 4 +1
840 gp Lvl 19 +4
105,000 gp
Lvl 9 +2
4,200 gp Lvl 24 +5
525,000 gp
Lvl 14 +3
21,000 gp Lvl 29 +6  2,625,000

Weapon: Light blade

Enhancement Bonus: Attack rolls and damage rolls.

Critical: +1d8 necrotic damage per plus, or +1d12 necrotic damage when making a coup de grace

Property: Any attacks you make with this weapon ignore temporary hit points, and directly reduce the target’s true hit point total.

Power (Encounter): Free action.  Use this power after you have damaged a creature with this weapon. Until the end of the encounter, any powers you use that deal ongoing damage to the creature which a save can end impose a -2 penalty to the save.

Power (Encounter): Free action. Use this power after you have damaged a creature with this weapon. Any attempt to make healing checks on the creature suffer a penalty equal to twice the weapon’s enhancement bonus. This lasts until the end of the encounter.

Power (Daily): Free action. Use this power after you have damaged a creature with this weapon. The creature cannot be the target of any beneficial power or effect with the healing keyword. He is not considered an “ally” of anyone, for any purpose, until this effect ends, meaning he will be targeted by area spells which normally do not affect allies, he is not included in any power that allows “all allies” to make an attack, and so on. Likewise, no power he has which targets “allies” will function. This effect lasts until the end of the encounter, or until the wielder of this weapon ends a turn without making an attack against the target.

Rite Of The Deceptive Tongue

While assassins often make a big show of swearing to carry their secrets to the grave, the fact is, many who have sent others to their deaths have no desire to follow after. Torture, magic, or simply a jingling bag of coins can tempt many to spill their guts.

Rite of the Deceptive Tongue

The hooded master of the guild of friendly helpers finished scribing the sign and then waved his subordinate on his way. He knew this was a risky mission, but he knew the killer would die before he revealed any secrets, whether he wanted to or not.

Level: 8

Category: Deception

Time: 10 minutes

Duration: 24 hours

Component Cost: 135 gp

Market Price: 680 gp

Key Skill: Arcana; must also be trained in Bluff to use this ritual.

When this ritual is performed, the target of the ritual, who must be willing, is given a topic or closely related set of topics that he cannot discuss honestly. He will be given a cover story or the like, and he will believe this with absolute sincerity, so that any Insight check will reveal he seems to be telling the truth. The Bluff check of the caster of this ritual, +5, is the DC for any Insight or Arcana check to determine that the target is under magical compulsion. Even if confronted with hard evidence that he’s lying, or threatened with death or torture, the subject of the ritual will either stick to his story, or will “crack” and tell a second, different, lie, but at a -5 penalty to his bluff as it will be forced and obvious.

Acquisition

It is not always easy to find these items; they are fundamentally illegal in most nations, as their purpose is self-evidently the antithesis of weal.  While the default is often to let the players have them if the DM thinks they should, and otherwise not, a less railroady method is possible.

A streetwise check at a hard DC of the item’s level can be made to locate a likely seller. This check is generally impossible in any village of under 500 people, unless the DM has explicitly placed someone there or the village is exceptionally corrupt and criminal — a drow town in the underdark, for example. It is at a -2 to -5 in any town or city of less than 5000, the exact penalty being based on the size of the settlement and the general tone of the place; chaotic cities in evil empires tend to have a thriving black market.

It is reasonable to assume that professional, full-time, NPC assassins who are working in their home cities, or who traveled with a target in mind from the start, will have resources appropriate to their level. If the NPC is forced, by circumstance, to hunt for such items himself (for example, he has joined the PCs as a hireling and was not able to gather all his items before they teleported half across the world), you can just assume he finds what he needs “offstage”, but it can be more fun to roll for it, as above, and then decide what the NPC does if he’s denied access to some of his favorite toys.  This also helps convey a sense of fairness and avoids the problem often seen in 4e, where there’s a giant wall between how the world works for PCs and how it works for everyone else.

More Merry Mutant Mayhem

More Mutants!

Sadly, this has nothing to do with the X-Men, but everything to do with Earth Delta, Lizard’s still-ongoing attempt at Gamma World style adventuring for D&D Fourth Edition. As with prior articles, this is a “work in progress” sample, as I had some extra time this weekend and chose to use it writing about mutant turtles (but not, I will note, teenage ninja mutant turtles… though it ought to be very possible to write up on using Earth Delta, come to think of it…)

This article has just monsters, since they’re the most useful to people playing WOTC’s version of Gamma World, but for those who care, I have been constantly expanding tech items, mutations, and tweaking rules here and there as I go along.

The monsters in this section represent more examples of “spreadsheet design”, and by that I mean “I have a spreadsheet showing all monsters by role and level, and I’ve been looking for gaps”. In a perfect world, there will be at least one of every role for every level, and I’m slowly approaching that, but I’m also trying to push forward to get the higher level monsters done as part of my goal to get to Paragon Tier complete. This means there’s still a few gaps in the lower level monsters, and I managed to fill in one of them. So, if you’re wondering why there’s a level 1 lurker mixed in with the level 14 and 15 monsters, that’s why.

Also, in a perfect world, I’d have the CSS needed to display the monsters in a prettier format than a crude cut-and-paste from Word. I can cut them into a separate PDF and attach that, but I’m not sure it’s useful to many readers (this assumes I have any readers, a dubious premise) and I’ve found that any kind of extra step, such as “click here to read”, is often too burdensome for the Twitter age. So, until I actually publish the next full draft of the Mutant Manual, I am going to ask that you bear with me.

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An Utterly Random Thought On 4e Combat

So I’m over on WOTC’s site, where their advice on making 4e combat take less time is to not do any of the things that 4e combat is designed around, such as using interesting terrain, or giving monsters cool powers. One thought occurred to me that a problem with 4e combat is that, since most of your key abilities are encounter based, for a fight to be challenging, it has to actually force you to use most of them and then press you to use your dailies or to drain enough healing surges that the fight actually “counts” — if you can plow through a battle in one round, you won’t use 1/5th of the daily resources you might use in a 5 round fight, you’ll likely use no daily resources at all.  Thus, a “real” fight must be a full-on affair, with multiple monsters and all of their synergies, or you might as well just say “A fight happened, you won, here’s your XP and loot”.

Older versions of D&D had most powers as X/day, or (especially in Pathfinder) X rounds/day, so a series of short, 2-3 round fights consume as many rounds/day resources as a longer, 10 round, fight.  Because of the way encounter powers work, there’s no reason for players to hold them back in any fight, if they can reasonably assume even five minutes to catch their breath… if they encounter a lone “standard” monsters of their level, they will unload with encounter attacks without a second thought. Why not? Using anything less means a greater risk of damage, which means a loss of healing surges, one of the few non-recoverable resources.

So, what if — and be aware this is a random thought and not something I’ve really considered in depth as to its implications — encounter powers didn’t refresh with a short rest, but refreshed only X rounds of combat after they were used, no matter how far apart those combats were during the day? Lets say, totally arbitrarily, that the ‘average’ power recovers after five rounds of combat. If you use that power in Round 2 of the first fight of the day, and that fight ends in Round 3, you can’t use it again until fight 2, round 4.  (A Reliable power would not ‘discharge’ until it hit, of course.)

So let’s say the a party of 5 encounters a single level-appropriate elite monster, or two level-appropriate standard monsters. This is well below an ‘easy’ encounter and it would be exceptionally bad luck if anyone lost more than a healing surge, at most. However, unloading with encounter powers, under my system, would mean that those powers would not be available until late in the NEXT fight, so players might hold back a bit, with perhaps one or two players using their encounter powers to end the fight fairly quickly. This would let a typical “Adventuring day” contain a wider range of encounter types, and probably the same total rounds of combat, but broken up in much more interesting ways than the standard sequence of fights. Further, if we eliminate the short rest to recharge encounter powers, a particularly long fight doesn’t mean a tedious sequence of shooting at-wills… if a fight drags on long enough, the earliest used encounter powers in the fight come back, allowing a sudden surge of ability just as the enemy is weakest.

Thinking further, you can make this a way of balancing powers… weaker powers might recharge after three rounds, stronger powers after eight. Daily powers might go away altogether, just make them recharge every 20 rounds or so, so they’ll be unlikely to be used more than once a day, but, you never know… A chaos sorcerer might have their powers recharge 3+1d4 rounds after use.

Bookkeeping becomes more complex, because you need to track total rounds of combat in a day and which round of which fight each power was used. This adds one more annoying thing to keep track of, so it’s a serious concern.

Like I said, a random thought.

Mad Monkeys (4e)

I’ve been on record many times for performing experiments into things man was not meant to know, graverobbing, violations of the Federal Anti-Moreau Act Of 1906, and inquiries into forbidden knowledge, and I… oh, wait. That’s for an article on, uhm, another website. Let me check my notes… yes, here we go, I’ve been on record many times as stating my love for the spell mad monkeys, which is the Best. Pathfinder. Spell. EVAR. Because I believe ideas transcend game systems (to all the Forgies… “System matters, but not nearly as much as you think it does”). it occurred to me it would be interesting to translate the essence of it into Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition. (This is sort of a variant on my “A Spell For All Time” articles, such as this one and this one.)

So, here we go!

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Snakes… Why’d It Have To Be Snakes…

…because snakes are cool, that’s why! Duh! Only sharks are cooler… hm…. snakeshark! Oh, yeah, that’s going in there…

Anyway, here’s a bit more of work-in-progress for Earth Delta, namely, snakevines! I like concepts that lend themselves to easy expansion, mostly because I’m intellectually lazy, and if I get one quasi-good idea (possibly even a para-good idea, and if you get that joke, damn, you’re an old-school gamer), I will not just run with it, I will do a god-damn marathon with it. So, when I got the idea of sort of snake/plant hybrids, it occurred to me I could do all sorts of snakes and fill a lot of different niches, so a quick look at my spreadsheet of monsters showed me I still needed brutes and artillery for level 15… and that’s what you’re getting.

Wait, you ask, level 15 of what? No, you’re not asking that, since this site isn’t exactly teeming with random casual browsers, but, just in case… this is for Earth Delta, Lizard’s version of post apocalyptic mutant adventuring designed for the Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition rules, a lot like WOTC’s own Gamma World, except, a)mine doesn’t have collectible cards, and, b)rather ironically, mine is more compatible with core 4e than theirs. Go figure.

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