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Archive for February, 2012

I have been thinking a lot about D&D Next lately and I find myself awash in a sea of ambivalence. On the one hand I really want Dungeons and Dragons to  be successful but every move I get from WOTC these days just plucks my strings, like they have found a raw nerve and are continuously digging a finger in. Now before I go any further in this shooting-from-the-hip soap-box rant I will without a doubt buy next edition and probably find enjoyment in it. Although, in fairness it is not hard to get me to buy an rpg as I will pretty much buy one out of boredom not unlike the emotional eater that inhales bags of chips to settle their nerves. 

I have no doubt that they will make a good game, these are some talented designers, but I just have this overwhelming feeling of “who gives a fuck”. This probably has to do with the staggering short turnaround on editions that is the modus operandi for WOTC these days, coupled with their product release style which is the equivalent of dropping trou and shitting out a metric ton of material on their fans.  Maybe I am just fatigued by it all, as I really don’t have an edition warrior bone in my body. I am not really for or against any edition or play style, I will play anything, and D&D to me is any edition I am playing and enjoying, not one style over another.  I guess I am just against WOTC/Hasbro and their corporate policies.

I have been reading the legends and lore articles, which probably isn’t good for my agita,  and it isn’t that I am upset or disagree with what they are doing, or seem to be doing because who really knows until the actually product comes out, but  it’s more why are they doing it. The big buzz line is to play any style game you want from 1st edition to 4th edition. Don’t we already have that? Ah but yes they aren’t making any money on that, plus they counter with they are cleaning up the clunky parts of older play styles. Isn’t this what house rules are for? Then they flash the tagline that you can play any style of character at the same table from an early edition character right up to a 4th edition style character. Really, this is what you’re hanging your hat on? I am again left with the feeling of “who gives a fuck”. That sounds like a nightmare to DM, it probably won’t be but you know I am naturally pessimistic.  I am just left thinking that D&D Next is really the edition that no one was asking for.

One of the goals of this edition is to end the edition wars, a laudable but ridiculous goal, and a bit of a rope-a –dope. It is really to get money from people who are no longer paying them to play D&D because they already have the game they want and enjoy. I think they underestimate the strength of the OSR/Pathfinder cliques, because they are cliques within a clique which fosters a rabid devotion. WOTC isn’t dumb, they are smart people, and they must have thought extensively about this, I just wonder if it will work out well enough for them. Will they bring enough people back to offset those they might drive away? I don’t know. It might be a wash or worse a deficit. Maybe they are counting on making up lost sales by absolutely punishing the completest by pounding them with modularity. Although, I guess you can never underestimate the power of the new shinny. If they are really interested in curbing edition wars a pretty solid way to reduce them might be to have less editions, but what do I know….pretty much nothing.

End rant…. more positive next time I promise

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I have been experimenting with encounter design my last couple of sessions, trying to find that Goldilocks sweet spot for non-set piece BBEG super smack throw downs. I think I had mentioned in the past about some of the combat grind I was experiencing in terms of length of combat and lack of story or role playing progression. It was one of the reasons I stopped using a lot of published modules after Keep on the Shadowfell as sometimes we could spend 2 sessions moving through 3 rooms in the dungeon. This is not inherently a problem as there are different strokes for different folks, but I could tell that it made my players a little antsy, especially since we only play like once a month.

Combat can take a long time in 4th edition and that is just a fact, it’s the nature of the beast, but I think I was exacerbating it with my approach. In reflection I can see I was succumbing to the blood lust. I was hurling monsters and bad guys at my players determined to challenge them and create a sense of threat, and maybe, if I was lucky, shit themselves. Part of this stemmed from running two very different groups at the same time. My online group was highly optimized and tactically sound and outfitted with a War Priest with the pacifist healer feat that could basically heal everything anytime all the time (I know I pointed out the paradox to him but he just laughed at me). They had no problem dismantling encounters in the bat of an eye, but when I brought the same encounter design to my offline game the combat took forever and I usually needed to ease off the throttle to prevent annihilation.

I began experimenting, using some of the encounter templates in the DMG at various difficulty levels. The problem I would run into is most of these templates call for lots of enemy combatants of differing roles. Even when I set the difficulty level at party level or even slightly below party level combat still seemed to take a while since it took a long time for all the bad guys to bite it, although with little threat, which I found really boring. I also tried experimenting with minions in terms of having lots of them but the party doesn’t really have multi-attack powers so they tended to stay on the field longer than I wanted, plus I think people like rolling their damage dice and feel cheated when they take out a minion.    

I came upon a solution that seemed to work fairly well for my group and which I will utilize more often for non major throw downs.  Twice in one session I had the party face off against 2 opponents per encounter that were level +2 to level + 3 above the party. The result was quicker fights with me being able to adequately pummel one or two players a fight, while requiring a decent expenditure of resources by them. Nothing ground shaking here but just something I found helpful for this particular group.

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I Lost Another One

I decided I couldn’t put things off any longer and needed to have the talk with one of my players. It is not what you think; he wasn’t being jettisoned from the group for jackassery, bad body odor, or an excessive and uncomfortable level of junk touching. I just couldn’t ignore the signs any longer, from the body language at the table to the constant tweaking of his character being emailed to me between sessions. After perusing his new build I finally just came out with it and said we need to talk because it seems like he is unhappy with his character. Perhaps I let it go to long? Maybe I was in a bit of denial? Perhaps I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing another one to the sweet sirens call of the striker.

I watched young Rhogar go from a stalwart paladin of Pelor who was a true blend of a sword and board defender/leader to a full blade wielding striker/defender. I saw the dice envy grew every time the twin blade ranger laid some smack on a bad guy.  As I watched this unfold I tried to give some counsel on defenders and the role they played, often lovingly recounting the exploits of that rapscallion Drax. I tried to show him how awesome the tank could be. I tried to show him how miserable he could make my life and all the nasty things he could do to my monsters, and how he could thwart my plans and make me want to pull may hair out. Doesn’t that sound like fun I’d ask? All this was to no avail as I saw him firmly on the path to the dark side. I now know how Obi-Wan felt.

Here is what I wrote to him after being sent another tweaked version of his character:

“You need to play the character that you will be most happy with and I will make it work. With that in mind, it seems like you want to do a lot of damage. The problem is at its core the paladin is a defender, so even though you upped his damage he is still below a striker in damage, but in making him more damaging he becomes a sub par defender. This leaves you being meh on a couple of fronts, which is what I think you might be struggling with. So why don’t you look at the barbarian, the ranger or even the avenger and you can still be a knight of Pelor because that is just fluff. I can easily adjust things to accommodate the lack of a defender.”

So I lost another one to the lure of the sparkling damage dice.

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