And all the men and women merely players.

The players upon the stage of Blackengorge are a dedicated bunch, keeping the saga going for a number of years. One day I will let them out of the cages I keep them all in.

Blackengorge is a homebrew world for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition (D&D 4E) played by a group of friends, initially on Google Wave, but later moved to this site after Wave's demise.

To run the game online a number of conventions and rules have been honoured (or at least most of the time!)

  • Books, Chapters and Scenes

    The main structure that we use is the “scene”. We have broken down the play and story into books, chapters and scenes for easier consumption.

    Chapters are like chapters in a book, with a main theme and point to them. For instance, one of the first themes for the players in our Blackengorge world was to go and scout out (and perhaps even clear) a goblin lair.

    This chapter can then be broken down into scenes — usually a scene to set the theme and elicit the point and then a number of scenes for encounters along the way. Once the end goal for the chapter is realised, there is usually a scene to bring the players back to town and to start building the threads for the next chapter.

    We try to keep each of these scenes under the one hundred post mark, as this is the magic number where we can sometimes see scrolling becoming a pain.

  • Scene Layout

    Scenes usually fall into one of two types for us: an interlude or roleplaying scene where there isn't any combat and the majority of the posts are descriptive and flavourful text from both PCs and NPCs and progress the story; or an encounter scene where some form of combat takes place.

    Introduction Post: All scenes start with a very similar layout for the first post as an introduction. This introduction contains the campaign name, the chapter name, the scene name and then the chapter and scene numbers. Below this title is a quick link to the previous scene (and may even be the last scene in a previous chapter) so that rapid movement between the two can be done without having to resort to further navigation.

    Synopsis: A synopsis then follows (including the in-game date) to quickly describe where the characters have got up to within this chapter — a good refresher if required.

    Characters: Character links are next, opening up the character sheet for each of the characters if they are clicked on. The final entry in the introduction is a quick scene length estimate, to give some indication of when the scene starts, how long it should last, and how often it would be ideal for players to post for this scene.

    Initiative Block: For encounter waves the initiative block is the first real post in the wave. The “initiative block” text is bright and bold to catch the eye, and there is a line to indicate who's turn it is. All of the players are quite happy for me to roll initiative en-masse before the start of an encounter, doing both the PCs and creatures, and then ordering them appropriately in the post. Characters and creatures are different colours to help them stand out and I include the characters' hit point totals for easy reference. The initiative block post is updated after every turn within the encounter, and is a good place to briefly scan to see who an encounter is progressing. After every turn the DM updates any character or creature status, including showing what damage totals have been done to creatures, applying damage to characters, adding status effects, and eventually (hopefully) drawing a line through creatures as they are killed. The block is always kept up to date with who's turn it is next.

    Battlemap: Usually for encounter waves there is the need for a battlemap, and sometimes even for interlude waves. We use the common MapTools program to draw the maps and an export of this is used as the image in the scene. An animated version showing all of the moves so far in the combat is also provided.

    Features of the Area: One post that we added to an encounter wave after we started, just under the battlemap, is one describing the features of an area. To allow players to make quick decisions on tactics we added a description of the map, particularly around points such as difficult terrain, or deep water, or acid pits. This allows them to tactically move their character, looking for cover or concealment, or avoiding hazards (or even using hazards to their advantage) without having to come back with questions that may slow down their turn.

    Turn Posts: Following the setup posts we then start with the posts from the players or DM in initiative order. A turn post is usually made up of some flavour text that describes what the character/creature is doing, a bit of rules and dice rolling, a result, and then some flavour text describing the result. Characters post in sans-serif text and the DM uses serif to highlight the difference. The idea of the turn posts is to make it very obvious to the player, the DM, and the other players exactly what has happened so that the next turn can be influenced if necessary. A turn post can also be a simple flavour post, particularly if the scene you're in is an interlude scene. These posts may contain dice rolls (for skill checks or the like) and are handled in the same way as the combat rules.

    Scene Wrap-Up: If the scene is a combat encounter, then a single post stating that the combat encounter is complete is used, and the initiative block is updated to reflect that fact, changing the statement about who's turn it is into a “combat encounter complete” statement.The last post in the scene should be one that allows a quick link to the next scene.

  • Extended Rests in Armour

    In one of our scenes within our game the player characters had to camp in the wilderness for the first time. We had been playing the game for nearly nine months at this time, but for all of us it was still our first foray into 4th edition. The group managed to find an abandoned hovel in a forest to settle down for the night, and set watch. My intention as DM was always to have an encounter during the night — there were no random factors at play. However, we wanted a modicum of realism in that the party needed to set an appropriate watch and get a good night's rest for it to class as an Extended Rest to regain healing surges and powers.

    One of the items I decided upon was that sleeping in armour would be quite difficult, and pushed this idea over to the players. Full plate would be difficult to sleep in, for instance, so Rindall would discard most pieces. Scale would be uncomfortable, as would chain. You could get away with leather, and cloth would be fine. I guess most people would put their weapons (and shields) within easy reach. Donning armour in the middle of an encounter would be next to impossible (without getting skewered).

    If people want to keep armour on during the night, I suggested they need an extra one hour rest wearing leather, two hours wearing chain, four hours wearing scale, and six hours wearing plate. Everyone seemed fairly happy with this, and the three main melee combatants (human fighter in chain, dwarf warlord in scale, and dwarf paladin in plate) stripped their armour for the night. During the wizard's watch in the night the group were attacked by a pack of wolves including a couple of dire wolves. With the alarm taking a little while to be raised and the wolves taking advantage of surprise the fighter and the warlord were reduced to single-figure hit points in the first round. Hits that might not have happened had they been wearing their usual armour. In the end the party scraped through without anybody being reduced to unconsciousness or worse, but only with a couple of the wolves taking stock of the situation and heading off into the forest when they could have gone in for the kill.

    As it happens, I am sure I will be able to use the disappearing wolves as a future plot point at some undisclosed time, but I felt that the encounter was unbalanced in the favour of the monsters.

    The group and myself are quite happy to use a good amount of realism in our games, but we also want to preserve play balance and make things as easy as possible for ourselves. Therefore, we had a rethink on how to handle sleeping in armour.

    In the Player's Handbook there are five Heroic Tier feats that deal with armour under Armor Proficiency for chain, leather, hide, scale, and plate. The benefit they imply is “training with ‘x’ armor”. My assumption with this training is that it also allows you to find the right position in which to sleep for an extended period in that armour, however repeated nights within the armour will soon take their toll.

    Characters can sleep in armour they are trained in. At the end of an extended rest sleeping in such armour the character should make an Endurance check at a moderate difficulty level to avoid losing healing surges from their daily total. No check is required for sleeping in Cloth, Leather, or Hide armours.

    If the check is failed, the number of healing surges lost from the daily total is as below:

    • Chainmail — 1 surge
    • Scale — 2 surges
    • Plate — 3 surges

    The character can apply any magical bonuses of the armour to the Endurance check roll.

    For each extended rest in succession that the character sleeps in their armour they receive a -2 penalty to the Endurance check, and the number of healing surges lost increases by 1.

    We hope this should allow the players to sleep in their armour and for us all to be more confident that any random or otherwise encounters during the night are balanced and fair.

  • Short Rest

    The short rest is straight out of the rules — encounter powers are replenished, milestones are reached, characters can level up, and healing surges can be spent. With the latter I automatically spend healing surges for the characters to get them up to full hit points — the players can then let me know if that's something they do not wish to do.

    Within the timeframe of a short rest (about five minutes) the characters also automatically:

    • check the bodies of any enemies (for gold and obvious items)
    • have a cursory check around the room for anything hidden (using the highest passive perception of the party)
    • have a cursory check of the exits from the room (direction, how to go through, sights/sounds/smells)

    During this time there is no chance for the party to be disturbed (unless there is a specific story-led reason for doing so). The mechanical aspects of the short rest are treated in a separate post to a narrative post by the DM which describes the event in a more flavourful manner. At the moment the party always do a short rest, regardless of their next actions.

  • Investigative Rest

    At the prompting of the players the party might also take an “investigative rest”. This could take anything from ten minutes to six hours, depending on what the players want to do. An investigative rest incorporates the short rest as well as some extra features.

    Within the timeframe of an investigative rest (up to six hours) the characters spend more of their time giving the corpses, room, and exits a thorough examination. The investigative rest narrative is led by myself.

    The characters check any corpses thoroughly, finding any gold or items upon them as standard, and anything secreted upon the body (using the best perception score of the group plus 20 if required). This check takes up 1 minute per corpse divided by the number of people searching (round up).

    Any item found that is magical in nature is checked by anyone with arcana skill with an active arcana check (1 minute each).

    The characters make a thorough check of the room (using the best perception score of the group plus 20 if required) to find any secret doors, traps, or other hidden specifics. This check takes up 1 minute per square of room divided by the number of people searching (round up).

    The characters then make a thorough check of the exits, making active perception checks on any doors or corridors for noises, spotting traps, checking if locked, etc. If traps or locks exist, then they are left for the players to decide what to do. This check takes up 1 minute per check.

    This investigative rest can take a fair bit of game time, so there is a chance for an encounter to happen. This makes the investigative check a conscious decision for the players, rather than an automatic choice.

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