Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hall of Howling Pillars

There's not much to say about this encounter so I'll keep it brief.

The Hall of Howling Pillars is a straightforward ambush. Players need to get their hands on the bell of fury's calling, located on an altar in the southeast, but they're obstructed by (a) the "howling pillars", which are horrific columns of living, tortured flesh that scream (and vomit) at adventurers who disturb their domain, and (b) a pack of carnage demons hidden with the pillars.

When the PCs get near the altar, the carnage demons emerge from their hiding spots and a battle ensues.

I actually ran this one wrong; I had the demons emerge too early, allowing the PCs to pick them off in pairs, so I've got no real feel for how it works when used as intended.

Probably the most interesting aspect, mechanically speaking, of this encounter is the bell itself. All of the items hidden in the rooms around the Proving Grounds are in some way cursed, and the curses tie into the themes of rage and madness that underlie the history of Saruun Khel. It's interesting in that cursed magical items, although part of a long tradition of D&D, have been removed from 4th Edition, and to some extent Thunderspire is going to lengths here to re-introduce them.

The intention of the 4th Edition rules is that magical items are always beneficial. Their usefulness varies, but you're never worse off as a result of finding them. And so the cursed items in Thunderspire follow that idea. Each of the three items has a horrible drawback, but it's balanced out by a compensating benefit.

For example, the bell of fury's calling has a handle covered with terrible spikes. Ringing it causes the wielder to take 2d10 damage. Everyone who hears the sound goes into a mad frenzy, causing their defences to lower but their attack and damage rolls to enjoy a healthy +2 bonus. It's a vicious item and players have to think carefully about the trade-offs involved.

I actually really enjoy this approach to magic item design. These kind of "cursed items" really convey a sense of the risks involved in dabbling with magic, and I'd love to see sacrifice/buff items explored further in Adventurer's Vault supplements. Like all min/maxing items there's very real potential balance issues involved but judging by what we've seen so far of the Adventurer's Vault 2, item balance is clearly not something that troubles the developers, so we can at least hope for broken items that are cool.


Maelora said...

I haven't bought the second Munchkin's Vault book, and I'm unlikely to do so after seeing the ludicrous excerpts.

Question for you: considering 'Thunderspire' has no minions, little or no treasure, and reintroduces nixed content like cursed iterms... Do you think it was concieved long before the 4E rules were finalised, and released afterwards without being edited or updated?

hvg3 said...


There are minions in Thunderspyre - just barely any. The final section (which Greg is not up to yet) has a handful of Norker Grunts in it, which are indeed minions.

For my game, though, I have been adding minios in quite frequently, as they do definitely add a different feel to the game - and the players enjoy clearing them out!

@ Greg
Are all the items cursed? I know the bell, dagger and the mask are, but cannot find anything on the book.

Also - I am still wondering why they have a would think that minotaurs would not use such a tiny weapon! Or, it should be at least a shortsword for our more normal sized folk!

Greg Tannahill said...

@Maelora - Yes, I'm pretty sure it was written before the authors had seen the final form of the 4E rules.

@hvg3 - The book doesn't have any mechanical effect. I assume it's still cursed, just not... mechanically.

I don't think the minotaurs used the dagger as a weapon; given the ritualistic nature of the other items it'd have to be intended as a ceremonial knife or athame.

hvg3 said...

@ Greg
Yeah, that was my assumption as well - but even then, it should be an oversized dagger, right? Since minotaurs (at least, the monster versions) have larger weapons than normal - so, the 'dagger' should be as a shortsword to the PCs, or deal d6 damage, or something.

My point is that I doubt it's a human-sized dagger.

Greg Tannahill said...

@hvg3 - I don't think minotaurs have larger weapons because they're bigger. At least in 4E they're still medium-sized creatures. They have larger weapons because they're stronger. It's not a hand size issue, it's a mass issue.

Besides which, daggers can be pretty frikking big. There are kris knives I've seen that go up to two feet in length but they're still not shortswords.

Todd said...

@Maelora What 4th edition books are you likely to buy? I honestly don't mean to be snarky, but with your hatred of 4th edition, I guess I don't understand why you would spend money on it at all. There are a lot of games out there, surely theres one out there that you might like?

@hvg3 I wouldn't be surprised if Thunderspire was written before NPC minotaurs had the "oversized" keyword.

Randy said...

Speaking of cursed items, the latest dragon article has something similar, some primal consumables that give you a boost in exchange to losing 1/2 a healing surge value each round it is active.
The flavor is less of a curse than using pain to focus you, but it seems the effect is similar.
Personally the drawback seems pretty steep to me, but I could be overlooking some synergy.

Vincent said...

Cursed Items...

I can't really see them as truly cursed. There are class powers that require the character to take some damage as a trade off for a boost in the following attack in that round.

Doom said...

Not looking good here, but there is Dnd4.0 commentary and after action reports at