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Archive for December, 2012

Alternatives

I have been thinking a lot on alternative goals in combat lately. These are not “combat outs” (which were developed to speed up 4th edition combat and reduce some of the grind that can develop) such as bad guys…”gulp”… actually surrendering instead of determinedly inviting the players to cut them down like shafts of wheat or monsters fleeing when bloody or underlings/minions dropping when the master is slain. What I am really talking about are goals that one or both sides can have in a given encounter that isn’t just curb-stomping the other into Valhalla. I don’t think this concept is particularly limited to 4th edition, or new for that matter, but given the tactical nature of the combat these kinds’ goals can really make the game shine, particularly if you feel like you have fallen into a bit of a rut with encounters playing out in a predictable pattern of powers and feats each round almost like a combat assembly line. Although this maybe more of a DM issue than a player issue because when I am a player I looove stabbing things until their dead at which point I continue to stab them like I have some kind of stabbing Tourette’s..but I digress.

The alternative goals can be almost anything from needing to protect a high value target during an attack or transport to acquiring an item before time runs out. In the later example imagine a scene where an item is guarded by powerful opponents, perhaps much more so than the players where a straight up brewhahah could go either way. The players then have the option to either throwdown, hopefully survive, and acquire said package or do they have some players defensively engage the guardians while one player grabs the item followed by a measured retreat?

Alternative goals are meant to not only make choices interesting but also failure interesting. Take the former example of protecting a high value target during transport. Say the players are tasked with protecting the king’s daughter on a diplomatic mission to a warring neighbor. During the journey they are attacked and while perhaps they defeat the enemies in the traditional fight mode but fail to protect the princess because the attackers had the alternative goal of killing/kidnapping the princess and not necessarily wiping out the players. What are the consequences of that failure? Probably pretty interesting, particularly of your a sadistic mother fucker like me 😉

I will give you an example from my Dark Sun game. I set up an encounter in the desert where the players were ambushed by the Muto Tieflings. I had several ground troops followed by some Muto’s swooping in on giant bats as I piped in Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries. The Muto’s had the goal of capturing one of the player’s (Quell) who they were calling the Muadeeb for a ritual sacrifice.  It played out rather nicely with the players adjusting strategy to try and protect Quell (I kept trying to have the bat riders grab him and fly away) and the associated tension/urgency it generated. The defenders were overjoyed as the Muto’s repeatedly violated marks to try and get at Quell.

One of the side benefits of having encounters with alternative goals is that you don’t’ need to be so neurotic with encounter balance or scaling (if that is your thing) because there is usually a win button that doesn’t involve total annihilation of the monster(s). A word of caution, like most things in life, with the exception of gaming and maybe porn, moderation is probably best with alternative encounter goals. I don’t think you want them in every encounter or your players might start rolling their eyes every time you frame a scene while fondly reminiscing about the good ol’ days when you could just kill things and take their stuff.

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I have been laid up the past couple of weeks with an atypical pneumonia. It feels like I got beat with a bat, but not in the loving tender kind of way. I am currently in the hospital while they try and figure out what bug it is and the corresponding drug to nuke it with.  It is also the reason I haven’t written much lately, not much energy and not much gaming. Maybe some of you thought I had blog faded and finally ran out of stupid and inane shit to spew at you….well no such luck fuckers.

In terms of gaming I did a brief play-by-post using 4th edition D&D but it was very narrative driven and collaboratively determined by the players and DM, almost like a story game.  I played Tommy Gunns, elven bow ranger, and it was a fairly enjoyable and interesting little delve. Aside from that I have been consuming TV, movies, and comics, when my blinding headache mutes a bit. Mostly, I seem to have been afflicted by some kind of Bat addiction or fetish that has seen me inhaling anything Batman related. I lay the blame squarely on Kevin Smith and his podcast “Fatman On Batman”. It’s a familiar story around these parts, I hear someone talk excitedly about shinny nerdy baubles and I immediately and compulsively start shot gunning money at said things.

I think I have mentioned before how impressed I am with the Bat titles of DC’s New 52, they are all pretty strong but Batman #13 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo gave me chills as I read it. Now I am not some young gun and have been reading comics for 25 years, so it is safe to say I have pretty much seen it all.  –SPOILER- the reappearance of the joker and what he is doing has me riveted. The aforementioned comic starts with a guy taking out the lights to the police station (you never see his face just his feet) and he is silhouetted in the door way. It is the panic in Jim Gordon’s face as he just screams “YOU” and starts firing blindly with his flashlight (the only illumination in the station) while the joker calmly walks around, cracking lame jokes and snapping police officers necks in the dark that had me going.

The purchases have been quick, fast, dirty, and all mentioned on Smith’s Podcast. I picked up Batman The Animated Series the complete boxed set, The Dark Knight Returns Part 1, and the first two Nolan Batman movies on DVD. The Animated series really holds up and is such a fantastic representation of the Dark Knight (Whenever I read Batman it is Kevin Conroy’s voice that I hear in my head). I got a great deal on the boxed set from EBAY for 67$, well worth it as copies are hard to come by these days. It has all 103 episodes. It was pretty funny as I had a bit of a Hulk rage moment when I popped the first disc in. The animation was a little grainy and I had the thought that I had been duped by the seller into some bootleg copy despite the sealed box and high gloss book and accouterments  but then I remembered the animation was done over 20 years ago and the rage subsided to my baseline, which is a mildly elevated punch a smurf level.

The Dark Knight Returns, one of the greatest Batman stories ever told, is getting the DVD treatment. Part 1 was fantastic and true to the source material. I did miss batman’s internal dialogue from the comic as it’s where he delivers his best nerdgasming lines.  But like Mr. Smith said in his unsolicited commentary track (Fatman on Batman episode 14 ) perhaps they tried it and it didn’t work very well. I even re-watched Batman Begins and enjoyed it. I was about to watch the Dark Knight but had to go to the hospital where my laptop only plays dvd and not Blu Ray, so whattya going do, more time for Batman the Animated Series…and maybe the Expendables 2 tonight.

Well that’s it for now, got some ideas on gaming and alternative combat goals but maybe I’ll delve into that when I not so doped up on percs and sleeping pills. If you haven’t checked out Kevin’s Smiths Podcast Empire you definitely should as there is some fantastic content there, but for sure check out the Fatman on Batman series if you love the Dark Knight. It has been heavily focused on the film and animation content to date and also goes into the guests background a lot, which I love. The Paul Dini and Luke Skywalker episodes I find just riveting. Fair warning though, if you are weak willed like me you will probably end up throwing wads of cash at everything they talk about so if you need to drop me a line and I will walk you through hiding said purchases from your significant other.

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