Monday, August 25, 2014

Confusion at Gardmore Abbey

So for those of you that don't know, I was a player in a 4th Edition campaign running through the module Madness at Gardmore Abbey. The module centers on the aforementioned abbey and the legendary Deck of Many Things. Those of you familiar with Important Things know that the Deck of Many Things is an artifact that has been designated a campaign ender by all of the Internets. You give one to your players and your campaign is over. It's too disruptive an influence.

For instance, looking at the 1st Edition AD&D version, drawing the Talons card removes all magic items you carry. The Jester gives you 10,000 experience points or two more draws (25,000 experience in original 1975 D&D). Balance changes your alignment, Rogue turns one of your henchmen against you, Vizier gives you the answer to your next dilemma, Donjon imprisons you (a spell that puts you in suspended animation and secrets you away forever unless someone casts the reverse of the spell with a detailed biography on you, a less than complete biography releases 1d100 other imprisoned creatures), one card gives you 1d4 wishes. Etc, etc, etc. So yeah. Looking at these cards from previous editions, there's not much practical use for them in combat since they affect the person that draws them and no one else. In the 4th Edition module we played, this isn't the case.

To give you a frame of reference, I played an Eladrin (Elf+) Rogue focusing on gaining and maintaining combat advantage to deal sneak attack damage. My feats allowed me to have combat advantage against everyone on the first round of combat and to expend my Fey Step teleport ability to gain combat advantage against everyone adjacent to me. All of my encounter powers gave me combat advantage against my target till the end of my next turn, and my magic sword let me 1/day gain combat advantage against a target until the end of my next turn. So yeah. I also had a daily that gave me combat advantage against an enemy as long as I was adjacent to him. My other one was a stance that let me make an interrupt attack every time I was attacked via my AC or Reflex defense for the duration of an encounter.

So we're these adventurers wandering around this abbey for various reasons. First it's to combat some Orcs, then it's to clear out this temple of Bahamut. We start discovering that this order of Bahamut was hanging onto the Deck of Many things to protect the world from it because it is an artifact of destruction and chaos and such. Three hundred years ago the Deck destroyed the abbey somehow. We never found out how.

So we quickly start finding these cards by looting them from people. We find the Euryale card (she is one of the Gorgons of Greek mythology, sister to Medusa). Now in previous editions when drawn this card has caused you to turn to stone with no saving throw (OD&D), given you a permanent -3 to all saving throws vs. petrification (1st and 2nd Edition AD&D), and given you a permanent -1 penalty to all saving throws (3.5 Edition).

What happens when you draw the card in 4th Edition? Oh, you make an attack roll at +11 against the Fortitude defense of creatures in a 5x5 space and they get turned to stone. A miss or critical failure on your attack roll does not turn you to stone. That's it. You petrify people. Not exactly in keeping with the previous editions. It's actually kind of badass. 

According to my DM, when you collect all 22 cards and put them together to make them into a deck, there is a certain element of risk to them when used, but I don't know specifics. They can also be used as a tome implement. I don't know what additional effects they have beyond regular tomes though.

I like that there is an element of risk to the use of the cards when they are combined into a deck, but overall I am not pleased with the 4th Edition representation of the cards. They go from being a campaign destroying artifact to being a risk free toy you can use in combat. Unless you decide to put them together. But I suppose that makes sense, because 4th Edition is a game about cinematic high fantasy action economy based tactical combat and absolutely nothing else.

I have mixed feelings about the adventure overall. I enjoyed playing as a player and I enjoy this gaming group and the DM is a good DM, but the module itself is kind of ho hum. Which I suppose is expected in a WotC created module. They only go bug nuts crazy in the edition switch modules like the Vecna trilogy of modules from 2nd Edition and the Tearing of the Weave modules in 3.5 Forgotten Realms. I did manage to make it to 9th level in this module though, which is a lot higher than any previous attempt. To be fair, we started at 4th level then jumped to 6th because and then leveled normally.

One interesting thing that I thought was kind of neat on a personal level was that my character Erevan had decided not to use these cards. All it took was the knowledge that they destroyed the abbey and the order of Bahamut maintaining it and he was like nope. So over the half a dozen sessions I am just collecting these cards and stacking them next to me character sheet. At one point I had half of the entire deck sitting useless beside my character sheet. Everyone else is using these cards like crazy. One guy, a Fighter, made barging into a room and dropping down a card his main fighting style. He had the Euryale card. When we fought the dragon, I got Donjonned, which is the card that imprisons you. So as a player, and knowing these cards are completely safe to use, I was constantly tempted to throw them down to do cool shit. It was very frustrating, but it ended up working nicely in terms of RPing Erevan and the constant temptation to use these cards. 

I did use a card though. Once.

So we're nearing the completion of the module and we're missing like six cards (I had twelve cards at this point with the other four scattered among the other players) and I go to our friendly non evil NPC and ask how we defeat the deck. He asks if I have them all, I immediately go on the defensive and surreptitiously prepare to knife his face into oblivion. I have twelve cards hidden on my body with a Thievery check of 34, so each card can be found on my person after 12 successful DC 34 Perception checks. Misunderstanding is avoided (as well as face knifing) and the wizard does some research and discovers that the cards need to be removed from the prime material plane to be defeated. Which is weird. But whatever. Jacob, who is 18 and has never played anything but 4e (and is the guy with the Euryale card, until I stole if from him with Thievery) suggests we use a portable hole and bag of holding combo to shunt them out of this plane and into the Astral plane. 

We track down the last six cards and our wizard gets us a bag of holding and portable hole. I end up with twenty cards and Jacob ends up with the last two and refuses to give them to me. He wants me to give my cards to him, and I want him to give them to me. Neither of us is budging. I throw down Euryale and petrify him, combine the cards into the Deck of Many Things, drop the bag into the hole and shunt them off into the astral (which is a totally secure location no one ever gets to, so they'll be safe there). I ask my DM if Erevan survives this, and he has me make a check and I succeed, but he says Jacob's statue is sucked into the astral. I had forgotten Jacob's character was a statue and couldn't avoid the sucking vacuum like everybody else. 


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