Embracing the Unexpected

Here’s an interesting story. Anybody remember the pregenerated adventure in the back of the original Eberron Campaign Guide? The story goes that the PCs in Sharn are hired by House Cannith to recover some ancient schema from an ancient Cannith laboratory in the deepest bowels of the city. Pretty typical adventurer’s fare, right? Well, it turns out that House Cannith is having a bit of a civil war…or at least a family dispute over where the leadership of the house should lie and all the Cannith factions are looking for this little schema. Oh, yeah, and so are the Order of the Emerald Claw, and also the Lord of Blades. Nobody knows why the heck they want it but if they do it isn’t a good reason.

I’d planned on running that adventure and the four or so pregenerated sequels that continued the story through to completion. It was to be the jumping off arc for my campaign. My players didn’t quite know the depth of the intrigue they were getting into…but they did know one thing: that shcema was powerfully magical and it seemed to be only one part of a greater whole. I decided that their characters couldn’t possibly know what exactly the schema did because they’d never seen anything like it before, so even after a few great Arcana rolls I wasn’t any more specific about the schema than I have been here. That flipped a switch inside the PCs.

I hinted that the schema was probably from Xen’drik, and what did the deva wizard do? He rolled a History check to see what he knew about Xen’drik. Well…he beat a DC right around 30. So…I told him everything about the history of the continent that was in the in the book. All of it. That flipped another switch.

The deva wizard turned to the other players, with a gleam in his eye, and said, “We’re going to Xen’drik!” and everybody started fantasizing about the crazy magic stuff they were going to excavate. My players decided, to Dolurrah with House Cannith, we’re keeping this shema for ourselves! And, thus, the one pivotal plot point where the PCs turn in the schema to their patron and proceed through the already planned adventures that follow is ruined.

I couldn’t have been more happy, though!

Not only did my players turn my plans on their head, but they took the ball and ran with it. They plowed their own course and created a story that was entirely their own. The campaign suddenly went from the usual, DM presents a story and the PCs follow it, to the DM asking, “What do you guys want to do with your plan next?” and then having to react to the PCs’ decision. It was great! I didn’t know what the heck they were going to do and it didn’t matter because we were collectively making our story.

This is something I’d like to do again. It would be wonderful to have a group of players that are proactive enough to make their own schemes, for good or for ill and to execute them aside from whatever obstacles I may throw at them.


A Major Spoilers Plug

If you don’t already know about it, I highly recommend checking out the Critical Hit podcast at MajorSpoilers.com

Not only is Critical Hit a product of the minds of several talented and entertaining nerds (something Yours Truly thinks the world needs more of) but it provides a newbie- and grognard-friendly access into the often dizzying world of pen and paper roleplaying games.  Don’t know there are dice with more than six faces?  Haven’t touched a rulebook in over twenty years?  Or are you already up to speed and just need an outlet when you can’t get your RPG fix?  Critical Hit provides for all those needs with insightful commentary, stupid humor, listener Q&A, and anecdotes from games of yore.  Don’t have access to an iPod or a Zune?  Listen to the audio directly from the website.


Rodrigo speaks!  Or at least he writes.  Agree or disagree, see his opinions on pen and paper games…among other things.


This is a fairly straightforward adaptation of the flying race from Races of the Wild for the newer rules. Some of the mechanics, like the Gliding ability, are little changed from their original incarnation, though enough minor changes here and there along with some future playtesting should ensure that a race with a natural flying ability is actually mechanically viable. If you have thoughts on where this can be improved, share them. I was always a fan of this race and have wished to see it get a revival for quite some time.

Ability Scores: +2 Wisdom; +2 Charisma or +2 Dexterity
Size: Medium
Speed: 6 squares
Vision: Low-light
Languages: Common, Elven
Skill Bonuses: +2 Perception, +2 Athletics
Hollow Boned: You have two fewer healing surges per day
Walk of Four Winds: You have the Walk of Four Winds power.
Weapon Proficiency: You are proficient with the longbow
Wing-Aided Movement: When making an Athletics check to jump, you are always considered to have a running start.
Gliding: Raptorians use their wings to glide, negating fall damage from any height and allowing 4 squares of lateral movement for every 1 square of descent. raptorians glide at a maximum speed of 8 squares per move action, but they cannot glide in heavy armor or while carrying a heavy load and must land on the ground if they do not glide at least 4 squares during their turn.  You can’t shift while gliding and a stunned, unconscious or helpless raptorian still takes damage from falling but no more than 1d10 regardless of the height fallen.

Walk of Four Winds
Raptorian Racial Power

You spread your wings and lift off the ground, the birthright of your people now yours to command as master of the sky.
Free ActionPersonal
Prerequisite: You must not be carrying a heavy load or wearing heavy armor
Effect: You gain a fly speed equal to half your land speed for a number of rounds in this encounter equal to half your current healing surges
Special: These rounds need not be used consecutively and within an encounter you may activate this power as many times as you have unspent rounds for flying.

Heroic Tier Feats

Diving Charge
When you charge while flying or gliding your attack’s damage die increases by one size.

Pact with Wind Lords
When you make a critical hit with lightning or thunder keyword attacks you slide the target two squares

Wingover Maneuver
When subject to forced movement you may reduce the number of squares moved by sacrificing unused rounds of flight granted by Walk of Four Winds: each round of flight sacrificed reduces the forced movement by one square.

Death From Above
Your ranged attacks gain a +1 bonus against targets on the ground while you are flying or gliding.

Paragon Tier Feats

Four Winds Master
The number of rounds you can gain a fly speed from Walk of Four Winds is increased by one.


Foot Spikes: Statistically identical to a katar, including proficiency requirement except they occupy the feet slot. They may be equipped singularly or as a pair in this way. Foot spikes require a minor action to flick out (to “draw”) or retract the blades and the wielder’s land speed is reduced to 1 square while the blades are so engaged.

Raptorian Style Archery: Longbows are gripped with both a raptorian’s talon feet and the bowstring is drawn with the hands, a technique that enables them to more easily hit ground based targets. This is otherwise statistically identical to the rule that requires longbows to be wielded in two hands.

Design Notes

This race is based off of real world birds of prey, raptors, as they are also known. These are very large, very powerful birds…that don’t actually do that much flying. They glide and can glide for long periods of time on thermal currents. While it is quite silly to create a mechanic to simulate thermal currents it isn’t so unreasonable to just give the race a fly speed to compensate for the fact that, as Buzz Lightyear put it, gliding is just falling with style. Nevertheless, the actual act of flying is very physically demanding on birds. The phrase “eat like a bird” is very inaccurate because birds eat quite a bit to keep up the stamina necessary for flight. As such, the raptorian flight presented here is based upon the character’s current healing surges per day. Healing surges are roughly the closest thing D&D 4th Edition has to fatigue, but not only that, birds (and airplanes for that matter) require their flying parts to be in meticulous working order to make flying possible. Injuries (read: the loss of healing surges) make doing so much more difficult.

As to GMs worried about how game breaking a naturally flying race could be to adventure design (a legitimate concern if ever there was one) I submit to you a few considerations:

First, they way it is currently written, the longer the players adventure the less the raptorian PC’s already limited flying abilities are going to last. If you allow this race into your game you should expect an encounter or two where a raptorian can fly around and rain death from above or dive bomb your hapless monsters (it’s what the race is designed to do), but beyond that taxation from the rigors of adventuring will soon limit that.

Second, lacking two healing surges they would otherwise get with as another race and not being able to wear heavy armor and still remain aloft, a raptorian PC is somewhat more fragile than his contemporaries. There’s nothing saying you can’t shoot him out of the sky, or worse, knock him prone or stun him. He may be largely immune to fall damage but a grounded raptorian is a vulnerable raptorian.

Third, even characters that have 10 or more healing surges aren’t going to be using their racial power to fly very far. It takes a double move to fly the distance the raptorian could walk on foot, which makes the fly speed better used for gaining or losing altitude, shifting, and making abrupt course corrections. Gliding serves a raptorian PC better for moving lateral distances. Also, gliding has a speed requirement of 4 squares lateral per 1 square descent and at an 8 square “gliding speed” a raptorian will be able to cover ground quicker than his grounded allies but won’t be able to remain aloft without maintaining that speed-to-descent ratio.

Fourth, while gliding consumes a move action and activating Walk of Four Winds is a free action, the way it is worded, it only gives you access to the fly speed. Actually using the fly speed requires its own move action.

Fifth, and probably most importantly, there is no reason for your encounter design to be suddenly helpless to the presence of a flying player character. Use long ranged archers. Use other flying opponents. Most of all, use ceilings. I’d estimate two-thirds of adventuring takes place under ceilings of some kind, be that the roof of a cave or the castle or dungeon ceiling. Don’t keep a player from having the fun of a high soaring character but as you would plan for a party that has access to the Linked Portal ritual, plan for a player that has access to flight. It will be no more of a problem to a campaign than you let it be. A flying race might be able to bypass many mundane obstacles that other races might be hindered by, but his non-raptorian companions will keep him from ever getting too far ahead.

Blood Pact Warlocks

I make no claims that the following warlock pact is in any way balanced. It requires more work and especially more playtesting to qualify for such a distinction. Nevertheless, I present it to you “as is,” a sort of proof of concept. Also, it must be noted that, as a non World of Warcraft player I was not initially aware of the warlock from that game. I still remain fairly ignorant of the details, but it is my understanding that there are similarities in names both here and there. I assure you this is entirely coincidental. Moreover, the archetype for my warlock below is more along the lines of an “arcane monk,” a warrior who’s supernatural bodily awareness and dark background give him strange powers over his and others’ biology. My spin on this warlock archetype isn’t a direct adaptation of anybody else’s.


All mortals, no matter their station in life, eventually find their way to the death and from there, to the Raven Queen’s halls in the Shadowfell, but one mortal, either from fear of what was in store for him beyond death or because he had unfinished business in his former life, made a detour somewhere between the grave and Letherna.  This wandering soul, whose name is lost to time, made a pact with truly ancient vampiric spirit that had long since passed out of corporeality.  The ancient vampire, remembered as Cadaeus, wandered the bleak Shadowfell wasteland with a blood hunger he could not quench, his physical form destroyed by the Raven Queen as punishment for crimes committed against her in Orcus’ name.

Cadaeus showed the wandering soul the path back to mortality, a place he himself could not go, but in exchange, the vampire spirit demanded a backseat existence in the wandering soul’s new life.  It was a chance for Cadaeus to feel the fullness of blood flowing through one’s veins, to experience his long-lost corporeality again, even if it was passively through the mortal body of the wandering soul.  The deal struck, the wandering soul found himself awake and alive, his body restored to a false vitality.

With this falseness came the acute awareness of his every nerve, vessel, organ, and bone—and the control necessary to manipulate each of them independently.   Most of all he became aware of the ever-pounding drumbeat of his own pulse that interconnected it all.  As the mind and body cannot function without each other, neither can they function without the blood.  Through his blood and his new, vampiric understanding of his physicality could this newly risen mortal command his faculties and the faculties of others.

This was the first blood pact warlock, and each one since then has gained their powers through brushes with death in dark, bloody rituals practiced in secret places and administered by elder blood pact warlocks.  Through this is Cadaeus’ awareness spread through the original blood warlock’s disciples, and the ancient vampiric spirit shares his profane secrets of blood and body in exchange for greater and greater exposure to corporeality.  Whether they are aware of the intelligence behind it or not, each blood pact warlock feels Cadaeus’ creeping, insatiable thirst for sensation, a greater, and more satisfying narcotic than the blood the vampire used to crave.  This often manifests itself in tendencies to overindulge as these newly empowered warlocks feed for two.

Pact Boon

Blood pact warlocks are acutely aware of their bodies and use their own vitality or the vitality of others to fuel their arcane spells.  Sickness and injury are only passing things, easily overcome by the fine manipulation of their organ systems and manual adjustment of nerves.  Like the original blood pact warlock, a certain force of will and arrogance is necessary to overcome their bodies’ automated systems, even more so to overpower and manipulate the bodies of others, a trait Cadaeus was feared for.  To a blood pact warlock, the warlock’s curse represents taking control of another’s blood and turning it against them.  Constitution is their primary ability score and Charisma is their secondary ability score.  Blood pact warlocks’ secondary role is controller.

Fire in the Blood: You gain the Fire in the Blood power.
Blood Subjugation:
You have the Blood Subjugation pact boon, which allows you to create powerful infusions from your fallen foes that you use to control the lifeblood of your enemies.  In doing, you usurp their minds’ control over their bodies and direct their movements like a puppeteer.

When a creature affected by your Warlock’s Curse drops to 0 hit points, you gain 1 blood infusion.  You may expend any number of blood infusions when you would deal your Warlock’s Curse extra damage by reducing the damage by one die.  (A heroic tier Warlock would get no bonus damage, a paragon tier one die, and an epic tier two die) By doing so you can substitute one condition below in place of the reduced die based upon the number of blood infusions you spend.  The effect lasts until the end of your next turn.

  • 1: Prone or Slowed
  • 3: Dazed or Restrained
    11th Level:
    2: Dazed or Restrained, 3: Stunned or Dominated

You start with zero blood infusions and may gain any number of them over the course of a round or encounter as your cursed foes die, but the number of infusions you have to spend resets to zero after a short or extended rest.  Certain feats, called Blood Magic feats, allow for expenditure of blood infusions for alternate effects, but infusion spent using feats only grant the feat’s listed benefits and not the above benefits.


Certain feats, called Blood Magic feats, allow for expenditure of blood infusions for alternate effects, Infusions spent to use these feats are an additional cost to any infusions you may choose to spend for the Blood Subjugation class feature.

Blood Scent
Prerequisite:  Warlock, blood pact

You do not suffer the -2 penalty to attack bloodied targets that have cover or concealment.

Adaptable Physiology
Prerequisite:  Warlock, blood pact
+1 bonus to saving throws vs. poison and ongoing damage, and Endurance checks against disease; You have 1 extra healing surge per day.

Blood Magic:  Two Breaths as One
Prerequisite:  Warlock, blood pact
You gain bonus to AC against opportunity attacks from creatures under your Warlock’s Curse equal to the number of blood infusions you currently have.

Blood Magic:  Eldritch Transfusion
Prerequisite:  Warlock, blood pact
When you use your second wind while bloodied you may choose to expend any number of blood infusions to heal an equal number of hit points in addition to your second wind’s usual benefits.

Blood Magic:  Exsanguinating Spell
Prerequisite:  Warlock, blood pact
When you create an arcane effect that a save can end, the target takes a -1 saving throw penalty if you expend 2 blood infusions as a part of the action that created the effect.

Blood Magic:  Expedient Coagulation
Prerequisite:  Warlock, blood pact
When you are dying allies get a bonus to Heal checks made to stabilize you equal to the number of blood infusions you had when you were began dying.  Additionally, you add these blood infusions to the number of points you heal when you receive a healing effect while you are dying.  In either case, all these infusions are lost when an ally successfully stabilizes you or when healing effects bring you to positive HP.

Blood Magic:  Revitalize the Flesh
Prerequisite:  Warlock, blood pact
As a minor action you may expend 2 or more blood infusions to end one effect on you that a save can end.

Blood Ritualist
Prerequisite:  Ritual Caster feat, Warlock, blood pact
You can spend a healing surge when performing a heroic level ritual to reduce the ritual component cost by one-fifth.  Paragon and epic tier rituals cost two and three surges respectively for the same cost reduction.  Rituals, like Raise Dead, whose component cost depends upon the target’s level, use that level to determine healing surge costs.

Level 1 At-Will Spell

The blood pact archetype is a warlock that is armed with a suite of melee powers that he uses by simply touching his foes, creating a connection to their bodies that he can exploit in heinous ways.  This is characterized by the pact-related at-will power below.

Fire in the Blood
As you touch them, your foes shrink away in horrible agony as they feel their lifeblood corrupt and begin to boil in their veins.

At-Will • Arcane, Implement, Fire, Necrotic
Standard Action               Melee
Target:  One creature
:  Constitution vs. Fortitude
:  1d8 + Constitution modifier fire and necrotic damage, and you push the target 1 square.
Level 21:
2d8 + Constitution modifier fire and necrotic damage
Blood Pact: By expending 1 blood infusion the push is instead a slide.

Final Fantasy Recurrence

Whether you like it or not, the Final Fantasy series has a certain charm to it that keeps people coming back.  At time of writing there are approaching twenty titles in the series, not counting the various spin offs of varying quality.  Even then there are few direct sequels in the series.  If you have not played any Final Fantasy you may not know that each title takes place in its own world with a unique history and unrelated characters.  What makes it a series, besides sharing the same title, are the little recurring details.  Certain names, terms, and concepts roll over, giving each title a certain “shine” that gives it the look and feel of a Final Fantasy title.

Historically, the dragoon is a blend of infantry and cavalry, but in Final Fantasy dragoons are pikemen or halberders trained in a fighting style that emulates dragons.  It is a very Eastern reinterpretation of Western military history.  Similarly, one might expect to see a “dragon style” warrior in a kung fu movie, but such is a part of the charm of Final Fantasy‘s unique charm.  The end result is a new definition of “dragoon” that the game designers can drop into any game in the franchise and create instant brand recognition despite each game being unrelated to the others.  It allows for quite a bit of creative freedom while still enabling iconic elements that make the brand of Final Fantasy still recognizable.

There are many examples of this kind of recurrence, but arguably the most well-known is the character Cid.  Most games in the Final Fantasy series feature a character by that name, though none of them are actually related.  Although this is a very intentional thing done on the part of the video game developers, I have unintentionally managed to create a recurring character of my own that finds his way into all my pen and paper campaigns called E. Hollister.  The first name is always left as an initial for no reason I can actually remember.

To date I have only once run a campaign in the same world more than once, so like Final Fantasy, each of my campaign worlds is unique and independent, but somehow a Hollister slipped into just enough campaigns that my players began to expect a new Hollisters just like one might expect new Cids in Final Fantasy.  At this point the name has become a kind of Easter egg that my players grin at when they find, a tradition if you will, but it was not a tradition I planned on.

My players also tell me that they know when I am behind the GM screen because when they encounter a situation of extreme danger and stress they can inevitably expect the next situation to be even worse.  I can’t vouch for that, but apparently I am known for it.  Go figure.

That being said, I’ve got to thinking, what recurring things do other GMs put in their games?  What are the iconic elements that you always find in their games?

Here’s another example of what I’m talking about. A while back the D&D Podcast featured a GenCon 2010 session with author R.A. Salvatore that included a story he told about why he plays roelplaying games.  The story (which can be heard here) features the Rod of Wonder as a recurring item along with its silly command word, “wubba-wubba.”  The story itself is quite funny, but it is an example of a GM (in this case, Mike Ledger) who has a recurring element that he has become known for.  So from that I ask, what about you?  What can your players always expect to be entertained (or horrified) by from you, no matter what campaign world you run for them?

You’ve Got No Class!

I had a campaign in a quasi-realistic world (more so than a more traditional fantasy world that is to say) in which everybody was human, nobody believed in magic, and steam-powered techno relics of the past brought the marvels of electric sparklights and running plumbing (when they worked right, that is).

This was all promptly shattered when a group of young kids (the player characters) discovered arcane relics of the world’s long lost past and suddenly developed the supernatural powers of long dead generations.  The characters suddenly jumped from nobodies to full on adventuring player characters almost instantly.

But before that happened, my players had no class!

That is to say, they had no character classes.  I actually had them play through an entire session as the early, underpowered (and classless) versions of their characters.  They even participated in combat.  Ultimately, whenever the players reached the appropriate plot device they mystically gained the character classes (and all accompanying benefits and attributes) of a full fledged character.  But until that happened they had only their wits as players to keep the adventure going.

Here’s how their character sheets looked:

  • Ability Scores:  Same as usual.
  • Healing Surges:  3 + Con modifier
  • Trained Skills:  Pick any three (your 1/2 level is calculated as zero)

That’s it!  Really.  The players and I sat down for hours ahead of time developing these characters and the world they would live in so for roleplaying purposes quite a bit of what the characters could “do” was already figured out.  For example, one player’s character was a woodsman so it was natural to be very lenient when he wanted to attempt physical tasks.  What was required was a healthy dose of flexibility on everybody’s part as we free-form roleplayed our way through things.

Skills and Mechanics
Most mechanical issues were resolved by acting in character or describing what your character does just like you might at any game table but with an extra skill requirement. We did this by taking liberties with the skill system.  Want to make a melee attack to punch?  Sounds like an Athletics check.  Want to wrangle up a large animal?  That might be an Acrobatics check to lasso it or an Athletics check to wrestle with it or a Nature check to know how to train it or any other broad use of a skill you can think up.  The point is that you and the players can justify any action with both A) a relevant skill check and B) an in character description of how your character wants to pull it off. Regardless of what you actually come up with to satisfy A and B, the only important thing in that whatever happens has to add excitement to the ongoing story at the table.  When I needed a DC for something I just used the easy, moderate, and hard DCs for 1st level characters since the calculations came out to be the same.

Most situations that demanded mechanics borrowed loosely from the structure of skill challenges and ultimately combat was nothing but a skill challenge in disguise.  The giant spider monster was defeated when the players achieved a number of predetermined successes with failure only resulting in the monster making an “attack” against somebody.  No miniatures or grid were needed as the combat situation remained an entirely narrative construct.

As this was a very abstract narrative, players were free to describe their “attacks” using whatever means they could think up based upon the environment I presented to them.  One might stab with the pocket knife in a multi-tool, swing with a flashlight, pick up a cash register and heave it, use an electric cable to shock a foe, or anything else that satisfies the A and B criteria above and is dramatic and exciting.

Healing Surges and Injury
In any situation in which there was a potential for injury, after any PC made a successful skill check to “attack” in combat, or when a player was “attacked” by the spider monster for failing a skill check, I had the players roll a flat 1d20 and compared it to the table below.

  • 1-10:  Assorted bruising and lacerations but no significant injury.
  • 11-15:  Injury, lose one healing surge
  • 16-20:  Significant injury, lose one healing surges and your next skill challenge/combat turn

Potentially injuring situations had to be limited at best simply because this system represents relatively fragile player characters (just as, when you get down to it, you and I are relatively fragile in real life).  Players took a big risk when they decided to do something dangerous, which forces them to be very creative with their solutions. The issue of losing all healing surges never came up during the session, but had it the character in question would have been unconscious and therefore out of play until the usual application of the Heal skill could be used to stabilize them and later return them to consciousness after a short rest.  The character would then, being wounded and out of surges as they were, be returned to unconsciousness after any injury roll higher than a 10.

In the end, this system is unsustainable in the long run, but for a session or two with players willing to get creative and narrate with a GM, this is a simple way to have fun with a party of unheroic, classless characters.

Freestylin’ For the Win

Yours Truly had something happen a few weeks back that came as a surprise…even though I was the one that did it.  I sat down at a game table to GM a session with literally no preparation.  I suppose the only thing you might could could count as preparedness was a scene from Assassin’s Creed in which Altair is tasked with killing a man while he performs a public execution of three people in Jerusalem rolling through my head.  The executions were politically motivated, and the executioner was flexing the muscles of his authority as he railed vocally to the crowd about the crimes and the sins of his captives, which all tied in nicely to the overarching conflict of Richard the Lionheart’s Crusade going on at the time.  I’ll get back to this momentarily.

My players had brand new characters and we needed to find a way to tie them into the campaign setting.  It was probably for the best that I only had two players that night because we spent thirty to forty minutes just discussing background and motivations for the PCs.  It was a worthwhile discussion, and though we were not roleplaying in the strictest sense, we were “playing” in the world as I prompted these two players with probing character questions and wove the tale of their history into Athas.

As my players gave me more and more material to work with I seamlessly worked the discussion into a situation for their characters.  I remembered the scene from Assassion’s Creed and repurposed it from Jerusalem to Tyr.  The PCs, who had been vying for a position in the City Guard, found themselves in a gathered throng of common people near an executioner’s platform where a prominent politically active voice in the Warrens was whipping the gathered people into a frenzy, a riot if you will.  The activist railed on about the tyrannical oppressors that were the Templars and called for more revolution after the sorcerer-king Kalak’s death to put down the corruption and wickedness of the powers that run the city of Tyr.

The people gathered, sufficiently whipped into a fury, killed a passing Templar and surrounded his guards with sticks and stones and tools and fists.  The players, again, looking to display their loyalty to the city, took to the platform and shouted back at the crowd to convince them of the madness of rioting, that killing any more public officials would only cause the free citizens more strife.

Ultimately, the PCs decided that the crowd would not be swayed and took to eliminating the root of the rioting problem:  the vocal dissident on stage with them.  He died in a bloody mess.

But this snake did not die when its head was cut off.  The crowd (the angry mob at this point) turned their fury on the two player characters, who decided discretion was the better part of valor and scrambled up onto the rooftops and away from the pursuing throng.

All that I resolved with a skill challenge I created on the fly.  The subsequent chase scene through the Warrens of Tyr was another ad hoc skill challenge that remained appropriately tense and dramatic despite the fact that we “gamed” our way through with skill checks.

Having players that are committed to the setting and the suspension of disbelief and the supreme flexibility of the skill challenge system allowed Yours Truly to weave a story that we still talk about weeks later, even though the session was mostly a free-form roleplay.

I am still amazed at how I adjudicated this so effortlessly.  I sat down to play with a few butterflies in my stomach at not having prepared anything (I never like approaching anything unprepared), but as our character development discussion melded into an in-game scene that melded into a skill challenge, that melded into another skill challenge, and melded into a long roleplaying session to wrap it up…I found myself more and more at ease.  Looking back I feel that somewhere in that session I, for lack of a better term, “leveled up” as a GM.  Today I feel supremely confident (it remains to be seen if that is overconfidence) that I could freestyle GM sessions again and again.  The more I play the game, the less I seem to care about the rules and care more about telling a memorable story.

I wonder if my new GM level gets me a paragon path or something?  Maybe that’ll be in the new Dungeon Master’s Guide.