ZEITGEIST Session One – Review and Recap

I may be insane, but I’m currently running three different D&D campaigns.

I have my long-running Friday night game online via MapTool and Skype in the War of the Burning Sky campaign saga from EN World. Awesome game, awesome people. We play most weeks (I’d say 3 times per month usually), though we’ve just come back from a six-week break. I should probably write more session recaps of this game, but I have to admit that I don’t.

I have my family campaign in Madness at Gardmore Abbey. We’re four sessions in, and I’m liking the campaign so far. That one, too, is online. I’ve been writing recaps of that one regularly.

And then I have the campaign I run for my friends in-person. We’ve just finished our third session in the ZEITGEIST campaign, also from EN World, which brought us to the end of Adventure One.


Session one of Zeitgeist (I get tired of typing it in all caps, as it’s technically written) was on Christmas Day. We gathered at my and my wife’s place around 1:00 PM and started by playing some board games. We then moved on to Christmas dinner and, since my wife needed a nap, a game of Taboo. Finally, we moved on to Dungeons and Dragons.

We had already done character creation a couple of weeks earlier, using rolled stats (my first time doing so in 4th Edition) and the character themes in Zeitgeist to tie the characters to the setting. The themes are a fantastic idea. I had never used themes before, since I see them largely as power creep and things that are likely to slow the game down with more choice paralysis on the part of players. But in this case, I love that they give PCs an automatic place in the world of Lanjyr (the land where the campaign is set). I think that Zeitgeist DMs should STRONGLY encourage their parties to take these themes.

You down with RHC? Yeah, you know me.

The PCs in this campaign begin in the employ of the Royal Homeland Constabulary (RHC), a sort of CIA / FBI / special forces unit for the country of Risur. Magic and technology both exist in this world, though technology is just starting to come into its own. Assignment number one in the campaign is for the Constables to help out with security at the launching of Risur’s first steam-powered warship, the RNS Coaltongue (a fun nod to a character in the War of the Burning Sky campaign).

A skill challenge to case the crowd, looking for troublemakers, has the potential to end up in a fight, though my players did a good job and avoided combat here. There were some good role-playing opportunities, and I tried hard to bring my players into their characters via their interactions with NPCs. One PC wanted to recruit a local cop to help with a task, so I gave him a cop and asked him to name the guy. This is something I did again later in the adventure, and I encourage it – when you get a new minor NPC, let the player name it.

Soon the king and other nobles arrive to board the Coaltongue, letting the party learn a bit about the politics of the world. My wife’s character, a rare eladrin female in this world, decided to make friends with the beautiful handmaiden of the king’s sister, Duchess Evelyn. Our dwarven knight tried to endear herself to the Duchess. And so on.

Once on board the ship, more chances for role-playing and exploration came. Then there came a moment where some of the PCs were asked to go check on the Duchess, who had gone below deck to take a nap and hadn’t come back. Some of the PCs went to check on her, while others remained on the main deck. The handmaiden called through the door of the Duchess’s cabin that the Duchess was still sleeping, and she refused to open the door. Eventually, the PCs heard a splash through the door, as if someone had jumped or been thrown out out a window, and they decided to bash their way into the cabin.

And at just that moment, the brass band on the main deck started playing the Risuri national anthem, drowning out any sound from below. Roll initiative.

Save our ship!

This was a very cool way to run a combat; hundreds of dignitaries above, oblivious to the chaos below as individuals led by the handmaiden tried to sabotage the ship’s boiler in an effort to blow the whole thing sky-high. The fight spread over multiple decks and involved not just straight-up combat but also efforts to restore the magical wards to protect the powder magazine as well as the skills needed to deal with the sabotage before everything exploded. The adventure comes with a cool mechanism for tracking how close the boiler is to exploding, though it definitely needs a good DM to tweak it on the fly.

The party eventually found success, saving the ship, and the band played on. Thus ended session one, which was Chapter One of the first adventure. It was rousing day of fun all around, and had us looking forward to session two.

Future sessions: Session two

-Michael the OnlineDM

New edition of D&D – OnlineDM’s first take

So, the big news announcement on January 9 was indeed about the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragons. Lots of folks have been chiming in with their thoughts; here are mine.


Wizards of the Coast has said that they want the game to be modular, offering groups the chance to have more complex or less complex games as they see fit. It’s a lovely notion, and if they can pull it off, I think it will help to make the game appealing to a wide audience.

I expect to see options for omitting things like opportunity attacks. I expect to see a wizard option that’s Vancian and a wizard option that has at-wills. I expect to see separate books for whatever the next iteration equivalent of tiers will be (heroic, paragon, epic), with big changes between them.

Open Playtest

The other big news in the announcement was that WotC would be engaging in an open playtest of the rules. A friends and family playtest is ongoing (and no, so far your OnlineDM does not rank highly enough in the D&D community to have been invited; pity). The first public viewing of the current version of the new rules will be at the D&D Experience convention in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in a couple of weeks (under non-disclosure agreements from the players involved). A wider public playtest is supposed to start sometime this spring.

I’m very happy to see that WotC is making this move. I opined a couple of weeks ago about the importance of the company focusing on good community relations as they move forward; so far, so good. Actively soliciting feedback from everyone who offers it is a good idea. Obviously, they won’t be able to take everyone’s feedback, since some of it will conflict. But at least giving everyone a chance to be heard is a powerful step in the right direction.


This new iteration is explicitly intended to appeal to players of D&D from its entire history. WotC is trying to unify the D&D community with their new game. A lot of folks have moved to Pathfinder or OSR games, and WotC is trying to interest them in this new iteration.

It’s a tall order. I was shocked to see the level of vitriol on a bunch of OSR blogs on the day of the announcement. I understand that these folks don’t like WotC, but wow. It seems like this company is reaching out to them, and they’re just not interested at all in many cases. There are definitely folks in the OSR who are open to the idea of this new rule set, but I was shocked to see how many flat-out are not at all interested. So, not an easy task for WotC.

What I’d like to see

I’d like WotC to use a game license that lets third party publishers get their content into whatever electronic tools they develop. I find it annoying, for instance, that my players can’t add the ZEITGEIST themes to their characters in the Character Builder.

I’d like to see continued strong support for online tools like the Character Builder.

I’d like to be able to get PDFs of adventures at the very least, and preferably PDFs of everything for the game. I run games using my computer, and I’ve actually gotten to the point where I scan my hard copies of adventures like Madness at Gardmore Abbey so that I can use them more easily as PDFs.

I pray that we don’t go back to Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards. And if such a class option exists, I pray that it’s an optional rule that isn’t present for organized play events.

I want magic items to be rarer and more interesting. Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium is the right paradigm. “Expected treasure by level” is not.

I’d love for WotC to make more use of the digest format for books, as they did with Essentials.

I certainly hope the new version keeps the 4e style of monster stat blocks, with everything right there rather than making the DM look up spells and so on. I like being able to run combat easily. Heck, monster creation in general in 4e is fantastic; stick with that!

I want great community outreach. As I said, I think they’re already doing a good job on this one. Keep it up!

What I expect to see

I expect a license that’s more restrictive that the OGL but less restrictive than the GSL. I also expect WotC to do more work with third party publishers to keep them in the loop farther in advance on this issue. Community outreach!

I expect to see Vancian spellcasting in certain classes and probably even Quadratic Wizards in those classes. Sigh. I hope they’re optional rather than the default.

I expect to see the traditional hardcover format books rather than digests. Not a big deal to me, but I’m guessing this will be important for bringing back players who’ve left. They probably don’t want digests (but it’s worth asking to find out).

I expect the PDF issue to be worked out, somehow. They’ve got to get past the “no electronic books” issue if they’re going to have wide appeal these days.

I expect some option for stripped-down rules that won’t require electronic tools in order to build a character, and more advanced rules that basically will.

I expect options for gridless combat to have actual support.

I expect more focus on exploration and adventure and less focus on combat in the core books. Combat will still be well-covered, but the meat of the text will try harder to evoke a sense of wonder.

I expect lots and lots of changes throughout the process. I expect things to come up in the rules that people HATE, and for those things to subsequently go away or become marginalized. I look forward to this.

What about my own games?

I realize that it’s possible that the new version of D&D will be something that appeals to me less than 4e does, in which case I’d probably keep playing 4e. But I expect that WotC will do a good job with this new game, and that I’ll migrate over in the end.

I can say that as soon as I get the chance to playtest the new rules, I will do so. Hey WotC, you want someone to see how the new rules work in an online game, right? Drop me a line at onlinedungeonmaster@gmail.com!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Madness at Gardmore Abbey: Session One

At Christmas 2010, my wife’s brother and his wife came to visit us for a couple of weeks. During that time, I introduced them to Dungeons and Dragons, and they were hooked right away.

We started off with a Living Forgotten Realms module I had run at my friendly local game store, and they wanted to know what came next. So, I spent the next day crafting an LFR-style adventure that was the sequel (I really should post about my LURU 2-3 sequel one of these days – Deeper Into the Crypts). I ran it that night, and they loved it. I ran them through two or three more adventures that week before they had to go home. Good times.

Once they were back in Texas, they wanted to keep playing. No problem – MapTool to the rescue! I had heard such good things about Reavers of Harkenwold that I decided to run them through it next, followed by Cairn of the Winter King.

Now that we’re on the standard post-Essentials adventure path, I figured I might as well go with the next adventure: Madness at Gardmore Abbey. I got the box months ago, read through the first two books, and started building monsters in MapTool. Once we figured out when we’d actually be able to play again, I re-read the books, formatted the maps from WotC to fit to a 50 pixel grid, and put a few more monsters together. I randomly determined the positions of the cards from the Deck of Many Things and all of the consequences of those positions. And now, off we go!


Session one began with the party in Fallcrest, relaxing after their voyage to the Cairn of the Winter King. A messenger from Winterhaven rode to town, seeking the adventurers whose reputation was growing as problem solvers. Her name was Elaine (though no one asked). She knew the party by name: Sora the dragonborn swordmage (played by my wife), Homer the drow hunter (played by my wife’s brother) and Stasi the half-elf warpriest (played by my sister-in-law). The messenger explained that Lord Padraig of Winterhaven had a bit of an orc problem that needed solving, and his regular troops weren’t up to the task. He’d heard good things about the adventurers, and decided to send the messenger to hire them.

Being the easygoing, “Where’s the next fight?” group that they are, they eagerly agreed to travel with Elaine to Winterhaven. Lord Padraig had arranged for the party to be put up at Wrafton’s Inn at no charge during their time helping the town. They tried to catch a whiff of rumor about the orcs from the patrons who were there in the early afternoon (Rond Kelfem, Valthrun the Prescient, a few peasants and of course Salvana Wrafton), but their Streetwise was lousy. So, they waited for Padraig to show up.

The Lord came to the Inn around dinner time, and waved for Salvana to bring him his regular mug of ale. He bowed slightly to the party with a few words of flattery and asked to sit with them. He explained the orc problem and what he wanted the group to do (the Scout the Abbey quest from page 8 of book 2). Again, they readily agreed.

After Padraig left, the group tried to pick up some more information, which they got from Valthrun and Eilian the Old at a corner table. They learned about the sacking of Gardmore Abbey 150 years prior and the orcs who lived there ever since. Eilian had seen the ruins as a boy, but never ventured too close. Valthrun expressed interest in the grounds – surely there must be some intriguing mysteries within. He asked the party to let him know if they found anything mysterious.

And with that, they set off to Gardmore Abbey. After three days’ travel, they arrived at the place where a path left the King’s Road to head up to the wall around the abbey’s hill. Their keen eyes spotted some orcs manning (well, orcing) the guard towers by the main gate, so they decided to head south, where trees could be seen on the opposite side of the wall. Finding a gap in the wall, they decided to head on through.

At this point, I decided they needed a fight, so I tossed them into encounter 9 against the spiders (even though they weren’t coming at the Feygrove via the village). The three of them fought off five deathjump spiders without trouble.

During a short rest after the battle, the adventurers noticed an armor-clad skeleton tangled up in some webs in the trees. Armor might mean treasure, so they climbed up and cut the body down. They were able to figure out that this was the body of a paladin of Bahamut, and in addition to a faint magic aura from the paladin’s sword, they also discovered a thin plate of ivory, about the size of the palm of a hand, blank on one side, and with an etched image of key on the other side (which I described as being similar to scrimshaw). Stasi, the Arcana-trained warpriest, was able to figure out that this was a card from the Deck of Many Things, a legendary artifact known as a force for chaos in the universe. She was also able to determine what effect the Key card would have in battle. Intrigued, she decided to hang onto the card.

And thus ends session one. I’m excited about how things have gone so far. It didn’t take much encouragement for my group to decide to check out the Abbey, and now they’ve found one of the cards of the Deck of Many Things. They’re in the Abbey to scout the orcs, but have taken a circuitous route to get there – and that’s okay! Madness at Gardmore Abbey allows for a lot of freedom, which I appreciate.

Now I need to put some more encounters together – I only have 1 through 14 done!

Next session: Session two

Review of Heroes of the Feywild, part 3: Character options and backgrounds

Welcome to the final installment of my three-part review of Heroes of the Feywild! Part 1 talked about my impressions of the book’s overall aesthetic, while part 2 focused on the three races and four classes. Today, I finish by discussing themes, paragon paths, epic destinies, feats, gear, and the optional “Build Your Character” rules.


I’ve been of a mixed opinion on themes since they came out; it’s been hard not to see them as power creep. Nevertheless, they’re here to stay and they’re popular, so I might as well start trying them out.

The theme from Heroes of the Feywild that intrigues me the most is the Fey Beast Tamer. Frankly, it feels like WotC has said here that the Beastmaster Ranger never really worked all that well, so they’ve given the same basic flavor to any PC who wants this theme. You get a pet, which can attack if you command it or move whenever you move. It shares your defenses. It heals for free at the end of each combat. It regains hit points when you spend your second wind.

Your choices of companion are a blink dog, a displacer beast, a fey panther and an owlbear. They’re much less powerful than the corresponding monsters, of course, but they all have auras that are flavorful and that help your allies. At level 5, the companion’s aura makes all enemies grant combat advantage.

The theme is quite strong, but when you compare it to the beastmaster ranger it’s hard not to feel bad for the ranger. This theme does most of what that build does, and it’s free to anyone who wants it. Of course, nothing is preventing a beastmaster from taking the Fey Beast Tamer theme to have a second pet running around…

Yeah, it’s power creep. It’s also an acknowledgement that a lot of players want to have a functional pet in the game, and this is a strong way to do that.

The other three themes are more flavorful than powerful, I’d say. Sidhe Lord lets you summon a House Guard out of nowhere once per day to fight for you. The Tuathan is a fey-flavored human whose features are pretty forgettable to me. The Unseelie Agent is a fey spy who can summon a shadow weapon (which you’d think would be a dead giveaway that you’re a spy, but we’ll let that slide). I’m not very impressed by the mechanics of these themes, but I suppose that if the flavor is what you’re looking for, have at it.

Paragon Paths

There’s one for each of the four new class builds in the book. You can’t take them if you don’t have that build. Okie dokie. Moving on.

Epic Destinies

The Shiradi Champion lets you be the special friend of the Queen of Summer. My favorite part of this is the flavor of the level 26 utility power, Audience with the Queen, in which the Champion is magically whisked away to chat with the Queen in the middle of battle, getting benefits for each round the Champion spends away from the fight. It’s a good way to make your allies hate you, I guess (“Man, why did Sarthor disappear for a coffee break when that dragon showed up?”), but I think it’s an interesting flavor.

Wild Hunter is fun if you like the Wild Hunt mythology.

Witch Queen is interesting is that it doesn’t require that you be a witch, just a wizard, but the level 21 feature only works if you have a familiar, so keep that in mind. Still, I appreciate that they’ve erred on the side of making their choices more widely available.


There are a bunch of feats here, and I won’t go through each in detail. There are multiclass feats for each of the four new builds. There’s a feat to let the bard switch Majestic Word for Skald’s Aura. There are racial feats for eladrin, elf, gnome and wilden (yes, wilden), in addition to the races introduced in Heroes of the Feywild. There are feats that make you into a fey creature and a set of feats to pump up your familiar. There are also new expertise feats for totems and two-handed weapons.

“Mundane” Gear

I love the gear presented on page 133 of this book. The faerie puppet is a toy that walks on its own. False path stones let you lay down a gravel road for a day. The Hair of Fairy Hues lets you dye your hair. Snake oil lets you look younger. Sweetheart’s Confection lets lovers sense one another’s emotions from afar. Cool, flavorful stuff.

Magic Items

There are a few new totems in the book, but the bulk of the magic items are wondrous items, consumables and fey magic gifts (kind of like boons and grandmaster training, the gifts don’t take up an item slot). As with the “mundane” gear, these items tend to have lots of flavor. I love the idea of the wizard busting out her Faerie Field Catalog during battle to get a bonus on a monster knowledge check. The Starglass Eye lets the bearer look between planes. Ray of Feywild Sunshine has a “Galadriel’s vial” feel to it. Mount Growth lets you make a mouse or a squirrel into a rideable mount (giddyup squirrely!). I appreciate that these items are more out-of-combat focused and allow for player creativity. I’m sure some of them might have game-breaking applications in battle or something, but I see them as fun opportunities to do cool stuff.

Build Your Story

The last chapter of Heroes of the Feywild lets you build your character in an alternate manner, taking advantage of a lot of randomness if you like. You roll for upbringing, which influences your race. You then build a story of the places your character grew up and various tasks they attempted, with die rolls determining the results. Mechanically, this is giving you skill training and can influence where you put your ability scores, but it’s also building a character background.

I’d love to try using this chapter for a character creation session where the DM holds the book and asks the players to roll the dice and fill in the story. “Okay, you rolled that you were raised by peasants. What race were you? What did you do with your days? Now you ended up going to [roll dice] a Fey Crossing Hamlet where you either guarded the crossing or ran a trading post. Which of those is more like your character? Okay, let’s see how you did at that trading post. You learned Streetwise there; now let’s do a Charisma check. Ooh, that didn’t go well. You ended up ruined as a trader. You could either fall in with the wrong crowd or seek redemption – what’ll it be?”

At the end of this process, the player will have filled in the blanks on a bunch of background events that shaped the character’s life. I think this is a really cool way to build characters with actual character.


And with that, my review of Heroes of the Feywild draws to a close. I applaud anyone who made it through to the end! I promise that I’ll get back to more bite-sized blog posts in the future, but I wanted to go through this one in detail. I like the book overall. I wouldn’t say that I love it passionately, but I enjoyed all the flavor, and I appreciate the opportunities for creativity that the book inspires in me, at least.

I’ll be starting a mailbag column soon, so if you have questions you’d like me to answer in a future post, please send them to me at onlinedungeonmaster@gmail.com.

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Review of Heroes of the Feywild, part 2: Races and Classes

Yesterday, I shared my overall impressions of Heroes of the Feywild. Today, I’m reviewing the races and classes. Tomorrow I’ll wrap up with character options and the alternative background rules.


We get three new races here: Pixies, satyrs and hamadryads. All of them have optional racial utility powers that you can take instead of a class utility power at levels 2, 6, 10, 16 and 22 which I find to be very cool. WotC apparently started doing this with Heroes of Shadow, and I never really noticed. Oops.

The pixie

The pixie is polarizing, to be sure. Personally, I’m fine with it as a semi-comic-relief character. I’d have a hard time taking a pixie character seriously, but maybe one of my players will prove that a pixie can make you cry.

The fact that the pixie is Tiny and can shrink things down to its size gives it the most potential for weirdness. You know, like building a pixie berserker whose schtick is charging into enemies’ spaces. I’ve heard the idea of a pixie shrinking something like watermelons and feeding them to an enemy, only to have them expand after the pixie’s next extended rest. I’m sure there are lots of non-combat uses for the Shrink power, making an object easy to hide for a while, and I’m on board with that.

I’ll note that the origin story of the pixie makes it clear that the Summer Queen is evidently the most popular girl in the feywild. Four different guys thought they might be the pixie’s father? The Queen gets around.

Finally, I’ll note that if you’re looking for a less frou-frou take on the pixie, listen to episode 2 of Dice Monkey Radio, where Mark Meredith and I (mostly Mark) talk about using the pixie chassis to create a pseudo-dragon race. Pixie dust? Boring. Flame jet? Okay!


The satyr isn’t especially exciting to me. The racial utility power of sliding an enemy 3 squares after hitting it seems a little dull. The more relevant ability may be Pleasant Recovery: every healing surge the satyr spends while resting gives him an extra 1d8 hit points. I also love the level 2 Satyr’s Leap utility power that lets the satyr jump all over the board – an at-will move action that gives the satyr a running jump with a +10 bonus to the athletics check. Boing! Difficult terrain should be no problem.


The poor hamadryad is even less exciting to me than the satyr. A lady who can turn into a tree… nope, doesn’t do it for me. The Hamadryad Aspects racial utility is actually pretty good – you get your choice of a turn’s worth of combat advantage against everyone who can see you, or damage resistance. She also has a racial bonus to saving throws against daze, dominate and stun effects – the kind you really want to save against. But flavor-wise, I’m just not feeling it. I didn’t have any love for the Wilden, either; perhaps I’m just anti-plant when it comes to PCs.


Good stuff here. We get the berserker barbarian, the skald bard, the protector druid and the witch wizard. All of the classes follow the standard 4e at-will / encounter / daily / utility (AEDU) structure, though some are built to do well with basic attacks, too. They’re allowed to choose powers from the earlier builds of their respective classes, and the new powers introduced in Heroes of the Feywild are also available for the earlier builds to take (though in several cases the earlier builds can’t really make good use of the new powers).


Yes, I’ve already written about Crazy Wings, the pixie berserker. Not every berserker has to be so gimmicky.

The berserker is the first role-switching class WotC has produced. It starts off combat as a defender, with the same Defender Aura that the knight and similar classes have gotten, plus a good punishment mechanic in Vengeful Guardian (shifting or attacking a non-defender brings a melee basic attack with a d8 of bonus damage from the berserker). The aura also gives the berserker a +2 AC bonus.

However, once the berserker uses a primal attack power (not just a daily rage – primal encounter powers and even primal at-will primal powers from other books count here), the aura goes away and the berserker becomes a striker. In this mode, the berserker deals an extra d8 of damage on melee basic attacks, and the at-will powers in this book get extra damage as well. The berserker also has the option of switching into striker mode as a minor action if the character is bloodied. The berserk effect lasts until the end of the encounter, so there’s no way to switch back to being a defender once the berserker goes into striker mode.

The berserker also gets to choose from three homelands, which provide different benefits. Desert berserkers get +3 AC and +2 Reflex if they wear cloth armor and carry no shield, plus some fire resistance at later levels. Frozen land berserkers get +1 to Fortitude and Will, plus some cold resistance at later levels. Temperate land berserkers get +2 to damage rolls if they use a one-handed weapon and a shield. Aww yeah! They also get a speed bonus while charging at 4th level. I like the temperate land, personally.

I’ll note that the Stalk and Strike at-will power seems very good in that it lets the berserker shift 2 squares before the attack. Good stuff.

I’ve never played a barbarian before, but I could definitely see myself wanting to roll up a berserker. The role-switching brings a cool new aspect to decision-making at the table. I worry that it might slow the game down a little as the berserker’s player agonizes over when to go berserk, but experienced players should be able to handle this.


First, I’ll mention that I’d never heard of a skald before. It’s apparently a reference to viking bards, basically, though they’re not flavored in a viking way in this book. These are the folks who recite saga poems.

Next, I’ll say that I LOVE the skald. Regular readers know of how much I love my bard Factotum for Living Forgotten Realms games, and I wish I could make him into a skald. More on that later.

Right off the bat, the skald gets some flavorful non-combat abilities – groupies, favor with the king, a sweet ride, etc. I love this stuff.

The skald gets the Deceptive Duelist class feature, which lets him use Charisma instead of Strength for melee basic attacks with one-handed weapons. Huzzah!

Instead of Majestic Word, the skald gets Skald’s Aura, which is a cool twist on healing. It costs a minor action to turn it on during the encounter, and once it’s on any ally within 5 squares (or the skald himself) can spend a minor action to spend a surge and gain bonus hit points (1d6, 2d6, 3d6, etc. as the skald levels up). These folks also have the option of using a minor action to use the healing power on an adjacent ally instead. How cool is that? The skald himself doesn’t have to bother using the healing; whoever needs it can help themselves. The twice-per-encounter (three times at level 16+) limit still exists, but I personally think it’s awesome. Getting the d6 instead of the bard’s Charisma bonus is going to be a loss for most bards, as is giving up the free square of sliding, but that’s okay. I like the aura.

The skald still gets Song of Rest and Words of Friendship, and he also gets a spellbook-like ability to choose two daily powers at first level and decide each day which one to have available. He doesn’t get to pick two powers at 5th level or anything like that, though. It’s a little odd.

The bard’s at-will attack powers are all minor actions that work like stances (they stay on until the end of the encounter). They all have the effect along the lines of, “Each time you hit an enemy with a basic attack, one of your allies in the aura gains…” some bonus (temporary hit points, extra damage on their next attack, a bonus to their next attack roll, a bonus to defenses). The daily powers are similar in that they apply some beneficial effect to all allies in the skald’s aura. The encounter powers are all No Actions that trigger when the skald hits an enemy with a basic attack – kind of like Power Strike.

So, the skald straddles the AEDU structure and the “martial Essentials character” structure a little bit, which is fine with me. I’d love to rebuild Factotum as a skald, but unfortunately there’s only a feat to let regular bards get the skald’s aura, not the Deceptive Duelist power that lets the skald rely on Charisma for basic attacks. My problem is that Factotum has to have the original bard’s unlimited multiclassing, and skalds don’t get that. I wish I could give up Master of Story and Song and even Skill Versatility or Words of Friendship in order to be allowed unlimited skald multiclassing, but alas that would have to be a house rule.

I’ll also note that the skald’s powers at higher levels are explicitly improved versions of his powers at lower levels, with tweaked names. Lesser Dimensional Step at level 1 can be replaced with Dimensional Step at level 13 and Greater Dimensional Step at 27. You don’t HAVE to make those choices, but you can. This goes for all of the skald’s encounter powers. Again, it’s somewhat straddling the AEDU and “martial Essentials” structures, which is fine with me.


The protector druid, like the original PHB2 druid, is a controller. Unlike the PHB2 druid, the protector doesn’t turn into an animal. Instead, it has an encounter power that lets it create a zone of difficult terrain, and other powers can interact with this zone. The protector’s main schtick is summoning monsters to fight for the druid, ranging from Giant Cobras and Grizzly Bears at level 1 to Bulettes and Hunting Tigers at level 15 and ultimately Blue Dragon Wyrmlings and Raptor Behemoths at level 29.

Summon Natural Ally is the protector’s daily power, and at higher level the protector gets to use it more often (rather than getting new dailies). If you like summoning monsters to fight for you, well, try out the protector.

I’ll also note that the protector gets three “Primal Attunement” powers, which are basically druid-flavored cantrips. I love minor magical effects, so I’m a fan of Primal Attunement.


The witch is a sub-class of the wizard (it seems like every new magic class is a sub-class of the wizard these days!). Comparing the witch to the arcanist (the original PHB1 wizard), the witch gives up Arcane Implement Mastery, Ritual Casting and the spellbook, and in exchange gets a familiar, a moon coven, and the Augury power.

The witch’s familiar works like a regular familiar (the rules for which are reprinted in this book – yay!), but with two extra benefits. First, the witch’s familiar has a spellbook-like ability to let the wizard switch a daily attack power or a utility power for a different one. Second, at level 24 the familiar lets the witch spend an action point to recover an expended encounter power, getting combat advantage for that power.

The witch gets three cantrips, but only one (Chameleon’s Mask) is actually listed in this book, so you HAVE to have another book (or, you know, a DDI subscription) if you want to build a witch. That doesn’t bother me, but I was still surprised to see it.

Augury is a power that will definitely depend on your DM. Some DMs might give you a lot of info from Augury while others will not.

The moon coven determines whether you’re a good witch or a bad witch (I’m not a witch at all). Dark Moon (aka New Moon) gives you Dread Presence (a necrotic-themed power) while Full Moon gives you Glorious Presence (a power with some healing). These are the witch’s level 1 encounter powers, but these powers are available for any wizard to use, which I appreciate.

The new wizard powers introduced in this book are often witchy-themed, which I find fun. The Beast Switch at-will has the flavor of the witch briefly turning the target into a frog. Witch Bolt is an at-will with a sustain standard – I don’t think I’ve seen that before! Simple Animation is a level 2 utility power that lets the witch go all Sorcerer’s Apprentice by animating an object (such as a bucket-carrying broom). Foe to Frog is a level 5 daily that actually does make the target into a frog (the return of Slimy Transmutation!).

I can’t really evaluate the power level of these options, but it does seem like there are some fun new spells here for the wizard, and none of them appear to rely on being a witch. More love for wizards from Wizards.

More to come

Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of my take on Heroes of the Feywild!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Review of Heroes of the Feywild, part 1: Overview

I’m not usually one for writing reviews, since I usually don’t get books until long after they come out and have been reviewed by everyone else. I happened to pick up Heroes of the Feywild on the day that it first became available to premier stores, though, and I really enjoyed reading the book, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

This is part one of my review. Today I’m focusing on my overall thoughts of the book as a whole. In my second post, I’ll be talking more about the specific crunchy elements (races, classes). I’ll finish my review in the third post talking about themes, feats, gear and the rest.


Heroes of the Feywild is in the traditional D&D hardcover format rather than the softcover digest-sized books we saw beginning with Heroes of the Fallen Lands. I love the digests, personally, but I’m okay with the solid-feeling hardbacks, too.

The book is laid out in five sections: Feywild fluff, races, classes, character options (feats, paragon paths, epic destinies and items) and a choose-your-own-adventure semi-random character generation chapter.

The last page of the book has a wonderfully useful character advancement tables for the classes that follow the Player’s Handbook structure; aka “AEDU” classes (at-will, encounter, daily, utility); aka non-“Essentials” classes. It’s nice to have the whole chart on a single page, with all three tiers presented together on an easy-to-find page. Which brings me to my next point…

Is this an “Essentials” book?

When Heroes of Shadow came out, I was annoyed by some talk on forums and blogs about whether it was an “Essentials” book or not. The reason people cared was because it would be banned at their tables if it was an “Essentials” book.

Argh! If you don’t like the book, ban it for your game. If you’re okay with the book, allow it in your game. What the heck kind of sense does it make to make the ban/allow decision based on marketing? That’s all that “Essentials” is, really.

Anyway, the “knock” on Heroes of Shadow from people who vilified it as a dirty “Essentials” book came in a few ways:

  • It only called out Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms as the player books to be used with Heroes of Shadow on the back cover; no mention of the Player’s Handbook
  • While there were some options in the book that AEDU classes could take (feats, some powers), many of the classes in Heroes of Shadow were more like Fallen Lands and Forgotten Kingdoms in their advancement (modified basic attacks, few power choices)
  • No support was mentioned for any classes or races that didn’t appear in Fallen Lands or Forgotten Kingdoms

Well, if you’re a person who cares about this sort of thing (in case it isn’t clear, I’m not one of those people), you’ll be happy to know that Heroes of the Feywild doesn’t have any of the “Essentials” stink that Heroes of Shadow apparently did. The back cover explicitly mentions that it’s for use with the “Player’s Handbook core rulebooks” as well as Fallen Lands and Forgotten Kingdoms. Multiple references are made throughout the book to either the PHBs themselves or options that only appear in those books (such as gnomes and wilden and the original druid and bard). The classes in this book generally follow the AEDU structure. Even the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 are specifically mentioned, as are Arcane Power and Primal Power.

So I’d say that for people who ban “Essentials” content at their tables, you can allow Heroes of the Feywild.

Bard’s Tales

Throughout the book there are sidebars (usually a quarter of a page; sometimes as much as half a page) with the header “Bard’s Tale” and then the name of a story. While not every tale is a big winner, the sprinkling of these tales throughout the book does a great job of giving the reader a feel for what the feywild is really like. Think of these as folk tales that people from lands that are in or near the feywild would have heard as children.

For instance, “The Unruly Girl” on page 32 is the kind of story that could have been pulled from Grimm’s fairy tales; a story of a naughty child and the comeuppance that she received because of her wild ways. The bit at the end of the tale about the happy cat is deliciously dark and, well, Grimm.


Speaking of the Bard’s Tales, I appreciate that the writers of Heroes of the Feywild went to great lengths to focus on the flavor of the land – the “fluff” as it were. If you’re going to play a witch, you need to understand how one becomes a witch, the connection to the coven, etc. That’s all in here.

Lots of powers look like they were built flavor-first, too. The witch power Choking Shadow, for instance (page 98), seems to be a total flavor-first option. What would happen if your shadow separated from you to attack a creature? You’d get this power. The transformation powers from the witch, like Foe to Frog (also page 98), are similarly flavorful. Good stuff.

The gear is perhaps the most flavorful part of the entire book. I have no idea what I would do with a Faerie Puppet or a Sweetheart’s Confection, but the possibilities are out there. These items get me thinking. If my character were given one of these as a gift, how would he use them? The same goes for the wondrous items and fey magic gifts; these things come with story potential built in.


I’m not an artist, nor do I know much about what makes good art. But I do know that there were a bunch of pieces in this book that I really liked.

The entire art pack is available for download for D&D Insider subscribers. But WotC did publish several pieces of art in freely-available online articles. A few good ones are below

My personal favorite is the Witch Queen illustration on page 125. Badass and beautiful at the same time – that’s good stuff. Well done, Ryan Barger!


I enjoyed reading Heroes of the Feywild, which isn’t something I can say about every game rulebook. While there’s plenty of interesting crunch in the book, I think WotC did an especially good job with the fluff.

Granted, it helps that, unlike with Heroes of Shadow, I personally enjoy playing characters like those that can be created with this book (I’m not very interested in building anti-hero “shadowy” characters, but that’s just me). Still, I think that the overall structure of the book and the flavor in the pages make it a fun read and will give players (and DMs) seeds of character and plot ideas.

Next up: The crunchy bits.

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

D&D Encounters – Lost Crown of Neverwinter – Week 8

Edit 10/1/2011: Apparently WotC is NOT changing their policy of requiring that D&D Encounters be run on Wednesday nights, as I had originally mentioned in this post. My mistake.

I ran D&D Encounters at my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds, all summer long, and I loved it. I love the mini-sessions for prep purposes, I enjoyed the story, and most of all I enjoyed helping new players learn the game. One of the people I met via encounters is now good friends with my wife and I, along with his wife.

Thus, I was sad to have to give up DMing Encounters this fall when my Wednesday night bowling league started up. I agreed to serve as a backup DM in case any of the regular folks were out of town, though, and this week I got the call. Put me in, coach – I’m running a game!

My party consisted of four PCs – two warpriests, a bladesinger and a thief. They began the session by taking a short rest in a boat house in a swamp, where they had come in search of the Dead Rats gang. The boat house held only a table and a rug, and a sharp-eyed PC noticed the rug sagging in the middle. Pulling it aside revealed a stone pipe with metal rungs forming a ladder down into darkness.

The adventurers successfully negotiated crumbling ceilings, narrow ledges, tough climbs and tricky tracking with no problem and eventually emerged into the sewers proper. They noticed some movement in the water – two pairs of eyes staring at them from just above the water’s surface. As the dwarf warpriest pushed forward, the eyes revealed themselves to be attached to a pair of crocodiles, and a swarm of hundreds of rats poured out of some pipes in the walls to join the fun. The PCs could also hear noises inside a larger pipe, as if something else was making its way toward them.

The party thief decided to try to jump across the sewer channel but failed, landing in the water next to the large pipe – which was revealed to contain a dire rat. The rat bit the thief (one exposure to Dire Rat Filth Fever) and was soon joined on the other side by a crocodile who clamped its jaws around the poor thief’s leg. Ouch!

The rest of the party was dealing with the swarm and the other crocodile, but the drow warpriest did wade into the muck and drop a cloud of darkness to help the thief get away. No luck, though – the crocodile’s next turn of grinding its jaws down on the delicious thief left the sneaky bugger unconscious (and getting more exposure to disease from the dirty water).

Eventually the thief was healed and got himself out of harm’s way and the rest of the party started taking care of the bad guys one by one – first the dire rat, then the swarm, then finally the crocodiles. And there was much rejoicing!

At the end of the encounter, since the thief had been exposed three times to Dire Rat Filth Fever (twice from rat bites and once from bleeding in the dirty water) I invoked my house rule: He only had to make one saving throw to avoid infection, but because of the two extra exposures, the saving throw was at a -2 penalty. It was a moot point, as he rolled a 7 on the die and found himself infected.

In prepping for the game, I realized that it would be a pain in the butt for a typical Encounters player to have to deal with a disease. “Wait, what do I have to roll to get better? And what happens if I get worse?” So, I used the awesome Power2ool to create disease cards to hand out to any players who get infected:

While it was only a one-week return to the Encounters DM table, I had a lot of fun. It was also nice to have more people compliment me on my projector setup + MapTool for my in-person games. The encounter itself wrapped up within an hour, so I was even able to make it to bowling on time.

Best of all, the coordinator at the store is thinking about moving Encounters to Tuesday nights in the future, since WotC has given store owners more flexibility about when they run the program. That would be awesome, since I’d be able to get involved again!

Edit: However, it looks like this is not a new WotC policy after all, and Encounters is still required to be run on Wednesday. Well, poop.

D&D community follow-up discussion

Little did I know that sharing my feelings about my little place in the online D&D community would lead to so much discussion! I think most of the discussion was really generated by Adam Page’s guest post after my original post, but still, it’s been very interesting to hear this issue discussed on the Haste podcast and the Dungeon Master Roundtable / 4 Geeks 4e podcast.

Here are a few clarifications and follow-up thoughts I wanted to share.

First, the “three tiers” structure of the D&D blogging / Twitter community was Adam’s phrasing, not mine. I can take neither credit nor blame for that description! I did talk about feeling like there was an active community that I thought I was a part of until I met people in that community and realized that they didn’t know me, so I did imply the existence of two groups, but I didn’t express it using tiers.

Second, a lot of the follow-up discussion seems to have implied that people think Adam or I were saying that we feel excluded, that people ignore us when we reach out to them, etc. I can’t speak for Adam on this point, but this is NOT the case for me at least. I’ve never felt excluded or ignored. My revelation was that I was unknown without realizing I was unknown.

I think because it’s so easy to listen to and read people’s work online, it’s easy to forget that reading a blog or listening to a podcast is mostly a one-way street. I “knew” the folks from the DM Roundtable, for instance, but they didn’t know me. I wasn’t putting out a podcast for them to hear, and none of them had ever read my blog. Yes, this is a, “Well, duh!” revelation, but worth noting. Just because I’d been blogging for over a year and was on the various RPG blog networks, I mistakenly assumed that people in the relatively small RPG blogging community (and the even smaller D&D 4e blogging community) had read some of my stuff and knew who I was. And that simply wasn’t the case.

I didn’t feel excluded – I just felt that I was unknown (because let’s face it – I was!). And it’s not even that I desperately wanted to be known before that; it was that I never considered that I might be unknown, and it was jarring to discover. I tended to think of people whose 4e blogs I read and whose podcasts I listened to as people I “knew”, but I don’t actually know these people, and they don’t know me. They haven’t read my blog. There’s no reason I should have thought any of them did, just to be clear here. It was a little bit silly on my part.

Third, for me it wasn’t about Twitter. I only joined Twitter the week of GenCon because I wanted to hear about what was going on while I was there. I didn’t have any followers, nor did I especially feel the need to have any; I signed up mostly to read other people’s stuff. So, any conversations about people worrying that others feel excluded because they’re not replying to everybody’s tweets – that’s not an issue for me, personally. I know this is something @SarahDarkmagic has worried about, and I can tell Tracy that for me at least, it’s not a problem.

Finally, I will say as I mentioned on my earlier follow-up that talking about this community issue ended up changing things for me. I’m still not a “top tier” blogger (Adam’s term, not mine!) and I doubt if I ever will be. But some of the people whose blogs and podcasts I follow now know I exist and have mentioned my name. Maybe I’m not known for the reasons I wanted to be known, but, well, at least I know I’m part of the community now! And that’s all I was looking for.

Okay, back to my regular D&D adventures and MapTool talk now. Anyone want to play-test the adventure I plan to submit to Dungeon? I’d love more feedback! 🙂

-Michael, the OnlineDM

Speak Out With Your Geek Out: D&D of course!

It’s Friday night, but since I’m in the Mountain time zone it’s not midnight yet. Thus, I’m not too late to Speak Out With My Geek Out! #speakgeek

The basic idea is for bloggers to celebrate their “geeky” hobbies without shame, celebrating that which others may consider uncool.

I’ve written about this topic before. Originally, I was in the RPG closet, especially among co-workers. Now I’m out of the closet, and even farther out than I was at my last post. Today, even the people I work most closely with know that I play role-playing games and that I spent the first weekend of August at GenCon and Labor Day weekend at TactiCon.

I’ve only been playing D&D for less than two years, but it’s become my number one hobby by far. I still enjoy board games, too, but I spend the vast majority of my hobby time on Dungeons and Dragons. I mainly run games as the dungeon master, whether at a home game for friends, an online game for strangers who have now become friends, an online game for family members, or public games at the local store or at conventions.

I run published adventures, and I also write my own adventures. I’ve even published adventures on my blog and am planning to submit my next adventure to Dungeon Magazine! If that adventure ends up being published (a long shot, but you never know), my actual full name will be linked online to this geeky hobby. When co-workers or clients Google my name, they will see not just my work profile and articles I’ve written professionally, but also a Dungeons and Dragons adventure by this otherwise serious finance guy.

And I’m okay with that. I’m having fun with D&D, and I’m proud of it!

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of the online D&D community

Well, I’ve gone and ruined things now, haven’t I?

On Wednesday, I put up a post musing about the online D&D community and the fact that I didn’t exactly feel like I was a part of it. This was partly because I got to meet several well-known D&D bloggers and podcasters at GenCon, and they had no idea who I was.

I concluded that I needed to do a better job of reaching out to the community.

Apparently this topic touched a nerve with other people like me – bloggers and online community members on the fringes of the group. Adam Page (@blindgeekuk on Twitter) asked if he could put up a guest post here on Online Dungeon Master on the same topic (my first ever guest post), which went up on Friday. More commentary followed, including on Twitter (where Adam is much more active than I am, and he did a great job of drawing attention to the post).

Now here’s where the uncertainty principle comes in. One way Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is sometimes phrased is that you can’t observe something without changing it. In this case, I observed that I felt that I was a bit on the outside of the online D&D community looking in. In the process of discussing this phenomenon, I inadvertently changed it.

By the end of the day Friday, I had a guest post on my blog, lots of blog comments, and some new Twitter followers. This started with @NewbieDM, whom I’d exchanged messages with before on Twitter but who hadn’t actually followed me back. Then Adam’s tweets ended up getting @ThadeousC to both follow me on Twitter and comment here on the blog. Finally, I got a message telling me that @SarahDarkmagic herself was now following me on Twitter.

What is the world coming to? 🙂

Honestly, I didn’t put up my original post as a way to fish for attention or to convince people to follow me; I was just trying to share my thoughts. Apparently I’m not alone in feeling like an outsider, and after all of the discussion in the last few days I actually feel like less of an outsider.

In any case, if there any podcasters out there who want to talk about this as a future topic, I’m happy to join the conversation – and clearly lots of others are as well.

As always, you can find me on Twitter as @OnlineDM1 or on Skype as OnlineDM. And I’m certainly open to the idea of more guest posts here on Online Dungeon Master in the future.

Thank you for reading!