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Posts Tagged ‘D&D 4E’

I have been thinking a lot about complexity in rpg’s , that and the metric ton of shit that Rob Schwalb took over a recent blog post . From what I can gather it seems that some folks felt betrayed by his self-admitted rant as they perceived it to be the metaphorical equivalent of him dropping his pants and bricking into the mouth of the character optimization play style and by extension into the mouths of 3rd and 4th edition fans, who he was supposedly meant to represent in the design of 5th edition. I didn’t take his post that way, I mean really what DM hasn’t felt the berserker rage as some filthy fucking optimizer…er sorry… -deep cleansing breaths, finding my warm happy place- I am also not prone to being narcissistically wounded by the decisions a game company makes or need what I like to be validated by others, but hey that’s just me. Anyone who has followed Rob’s personal blog shouldn’t be surprised by this at all as he has long expressed his growing dissatisfaction with the aspects of very “crunchy” game systems that were becoming increasingly at odds with the experience he was looking to have at the gaming table. If you look past the hyperbole, you see a guy who is really just describing the results of his gaming “vison quest”, and what he has learned about his preferences and what makes the hobby awesome for him.

I also happen to agree with what I think Rob is trying to say. I didn’t take his post as advocating or that he, in some way conspired, to remove the mechanical crunchiness or complexity from D&D, but rather that the game needs to offer more than just that. D&D, to be truly successful, moving forward needs to allow and support different play styles. I realize that you can play a given edition anyway that you want and are not limited to doing things just one way and I am not talking about flirting with barmaids or talking to the king because those are the same whatever you’re playing. I am talking more about the game in action. For example you can try and recreate a heavy exploration or dungeon crawl feel similar to what you experienced in 1st or 2nd edition D&D with say 4th Edition but the system constantly fights you. It pulls for long set piece tactical skirmishes where the roleplaying, exploration, and interaction happen in combat. The combat essentially is and where the roleplaying happens. The combats are long because we need to make sure to use every standard, minor, immediate, free, and no action we painstakingly crafted together and that are at our disposal. Character creation can be a beast, even for someone like me, and a bit of a barrier just from the sheer volume of decisions and options. It’s one thing if that kind of stuff is your jam, but if it is not then you are kind of boned in 4th edition. I saw this first hand in my face to face group, were none of them probably ever read the core rulebook let alone a charop forum. Character creation and leveling were brutal. When they clicked on that button for their first level feat you could see their eyes glaze over at the nauseating volume of choices. Again, it doesn’t mean 4th edition is bad or wrong or that you can’t just say fuck it and pick the first option you see, it’s just the system pulls for something different. I found Pathfinder the same way, maybe even more so.

After reading the Basic Rules I am beginning to get sense of what they meant by an edition for everyone through modularity and I think it’s fantastic. If you want easy character creation and an old school feel of play you go with the baseline classes, opt out of feats and stick with stat bumps, and use theatre of the mind for combat. It’s quick, easy, and you’re cooking with gas. You want a more 3rd to 4th kind of feel? Then add some of the more complex sub-classes, opt into feats, use the rules for grid play, and boom Bob’s your uncle. There is even supposed to be different ways to handle healing, other than the default hit dice system, coming in the DMG that will allow you to tailor it to your desired play style. For those of you who are having aneurisms at the thought that Mr. Schwalb has single handily ripped out the still beating heart of the charop play style devoured it in front of you, take it easy. It doesn’t matter what system it is the minute you have any choices there will always be the best choice and best combinations, especially with multi-classing and feats. Plus this is just starting; you don’t think there is going to be tons of more player options in the future? You have to remember that charop is a lucrative play style for any company, because there are more players than DMs and player options sell. I think the take away is that WOTC is trying to provide you with options in terms of play style, not choosing one over the other. Is it going to be perfect? No, but what in life is aside from beer, pizza, and for some of us online streaming pornography?

Personally, I would have to say I have been leaning towards moderate complexity, in terms of character creation and game rules. You could sort of say I am like goldilocks in that regards. I like a descent amount of choices or options in character development and play, but not so much that it is overwhelming where you have to study the books like they were the Dead Sea scrolls. In gameplay, I am finding I prefer a system that is easy to adjudicate (parsimony over simulationistic detail) and combat that is not sluggishly long. I know you are laughing at the last point as I have played predominantly 4th Edition over the past 4 years, but it is likely that fact that has more clearly defined my preference. However, having said that I can make do with less or more complexity; I am kind of a cheap date that way. I am pretty intrigued with the new D&D, and maybe it will hit my sweet spot, but more on that later.

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I am introducing a new segment here called “State of the Gaming”. Basically these posts will cover, in a rambling beatnikish incoherent style, what I am playing or thinking of playing and will be done on a haphazard and infrequent manor. I know what you’re thinking, “how is this any different than what you usually do”. Well, all I have to say to that is…touché sir.

I am currently playing in the first module of Chris Perkins’ 4th Edition update of the classic AD&D G-series “Against the Giant’s”. The module is a pretty good rendition of the original and I am prepping to run the second adventure (although this one focuses on the stone giants who were left pout of the original series).  It looks like we are going to complete the adventure without taking an extended rest or having a character drop below zero hit points. I don’t think we are overly optimized (no radiant mafia bull shit) but are definitely well put together pc’s. So this has spurred a bit of a debate as to whether it is too easy or not enough challenge and should we gimp our characters. I personally don’t have an issue with it because I enjoy feeling like a big man in my fantasy life; it’s kind of why I play these things in the first place. I don’t find the lack of challenge boring at all; there are still plenty of interesting tactical decisions and dick jokes to be made. Looking at the encounter design it seems like this is the way the game was probably meant to be played, with their trying to move away from the 5 minute workday in all. In most of our home games whether it’s me or one of the other DM’s I play with you could never go this long without an extended rest.  That’s because we usually over level encounters, despite players probably not caring about a lack of challenge, as a reaction to feeling impotent in the face of their pownage. I am also playing in a 4th edition D&D superhero mash up game as Clint “Hawk Guy” Martin. I modeled him after Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye title (which is probably one of the best comic books out there these days). Mechanically he is a hybrid bow ranger/monk. You can also check out my fighter Carl Laggerbelly, a sword and board fighter that makes a living by building auto-erotic asphyxiation contraptions, who I am playing in the Giants game.

I finally finished reading the DC adventures rule book and I am feeling a little hesitant about running it. The game itself is a very crunchy d20 based system.  I am having a little trouble with the lack of hit points or their equivalence in the system. If you haven’t read the system, basically all attack outcomes are conditions based, whether that’s Superman punching you in the breadbasket or Zatanna turning you into a frog. It shakes out like this, when you attack someone you roll against the appropriate defense (will, parry, toughness etc..). If you hit then then they make a saving throw against the attack to determine the effect. If they succeed then usually nothing happens and if they fail a condition is applied based on the attack power and degree you failed the saving throw by. This seems a little cumbersome to me and I am leery about keeping track of multiple conditions and their effects at the table (it is one of my least favorite aspects of D&D 4th Edition). I kind of prefer things to be a little more straight forward like in Hero System with their Stun, Endurance, and Body to keep track of damage and effects in combat.  I am still trying to decide how to approach running the system and whether I will make a small location and populate it with some different factions or download the free introductory adventure from Green Ronin Publishing. If I know anything about myself, I will probably end up choosing the option that is most painful and punishing to me. Any suggestions?

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So I was reading Mike Mearls’ Legends and Lore column, you know so I can fill myself with indignant rage to fuel my sleep deprived workweek. Anyways, it was the article about “what happens in between adventures” in D&D Next that started this ball rolling.  Apparently they have created mechanics for what your character does in between adventuring that then confers some kind of benefit.  This covers things from socializing and gaining beneficial acquaintances/contacts to the old favorite of spell research (yes we are back to that again).  My initial response was “Why the fuck are they doing this, like really who needs this in their lives?” Were the faceless masses, with flaming dice bags in hands, screaming and demanding this?  It seems like it flies in the face of their primary design goal to strip the core rules down to the very essence of what D&D is. I guess I always thought you just had conversations about what happens in between adventures and what you did or wanted to do, you know you kind of talked it out or role-played it out or whatever. It doesn’t really seem to make sense to put mechanics to these things, it feels…..burdensome.

The article, aside from causing agita, got me reflecting on my own gaming style and how it has changed over the years. I find that I don’t really do much with the scenes in between scenes these days. Any Interaction scenes, set up by me, are meant to drive the adventure or impart necessary information for the adventure.  Gone are the shopping trips, visits to the tavern, or just shooting the shit with the locals. I might flesh out player ideas or goals through some Q&A that can be built into the adventure or narrative of the game, but that’s about it. The 4E game system might have something to do with it, as there is an emphasis on encounters, or it might be a slight withdrawal from simulationist aspects, I don’t know.  In some ways I think I just have less time.

You see back in the old days much of the gaming sessions were spent in these scenes between scenes, sometimes more so than the actual adventure.  Throughout high school I mostly gamed with my best friend. We played  Runequest and Champions, with each of us taking turns running games for our characters (yes the GM played his own character). Sometimes another friend of ours would join. In the summer we played in my 2 car garage that never housed a car. We were surrounded by multiple weight benches, free weights, and other implements of pumptitude. The walls were adorned with various comic book and basketball posters, sport illustrated covers, and anything else we thought was cool. Our playing surface was an old wood boxed television set with an unused door laid across the top (I know sounds super ghetto but it was awesome).  Like most teenagers we had nothing but time and our sessions definitely reflected a certain lack of urgency.  Everything was played out because we could and it gave us the opportunity to bull shit and make each other laugh. We were the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of gaming. Nothing was important but everything was important at the same time. The game could pause at the drop of a hat so thorough discussion could be had on hot girls, sports, movies who had the coolest super power, what superhero would win in a fight  etc… Anything that wasn’t accomplished or gotten too was easily done tomorrow night.  It also helped when you were a little light on the prep or ideas.

These days I just have so little time that I get agitated if something’s not happening. I need to be smashing something in its face before the sessions over or I get too tired to remember where I am and what I am doing. I am not really looking to know what happens in between adventures, unless it is substantive, and then we can handle it through some quick Q&A.  I also really don’t want to be talking with every npc on the block, especially if it doesn’t give me vital information or lead directly to me kicking something or somebody in the nuts. The thought of adding mechanics or minutia makes me nauseous and seems the opposite of streamlining and more like bloating. The people I know that have playtested  D&D next have been somewhat neutral about it. It hasn’t’ been horrible, it hasn’t been great; it’s just kind of whatever. With so many options out there these days I do get the sense that WOTC needs D&D Next more than we need D&D Next, or at least than I need it.

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4E Forever!

Hear Ye Hear Yer, 4E Forever is now available for your reading pleasure. What the fuck am I talking about you ask? Well allow me to elaborate. 4e Forever is a free fanzine created by Frothsof (one of the most entertaining forum posters you will ever read), although I would hesitate to call it a magazine as it’s like 154 pages long which really makes it more of a tome in my books. This is truly a labor of love as Frothsof strives to keep 4e support alive by uniquely blending old school game elements, aesthetics, and design with the game we all know and love (well most of us). The content is mainly geared towards epic level play were there is a dearth of official content. The magazine itself looks fantastic and reminded me of my old 1st edition texts minus my stickers and hand drawings. A lot of the content is stuff originaly presented on his blog but more fully hashed out and with a cleaned up presentation. I am not kidding on the amount of content either, you get two freaking adventures, over 30 new monsters, mass combat rules by Will Doyle, as well as additional rules for everything from morale to henchmen. If you’re a fan of 4th edition you really need to check out this fanzine, particularly if you’re a DM that likes to ball stomp your players (like me) as there is a definite and intentional fourthcore flavor to Frothsof’s design sensibilities. You can download the fanzine at his blog Frothsof 4E.

I am also continuing my own 4e journey as I gear up for the playing in the Against the Giants modules converted by Chris Perkins. I am playing Carl Laggerbelly, a sword and board fighter who makes a living by building auto-erotic asphyxiation contraptions (you know a true dwarven craftsman). While testing one of his devices he has a vision that the Giants are gearing up for a new Dawn War and that he has been chosen my Moradin to take the fight to them….you rightfully should have some empathy for my DM.

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I am beginning to get a better understanding how edition warriors and grognards can be forged. Not that any one thing is ever solely responsible for that unpleasant phenomena as personality traits seem to be a likely culprit as well.  What I am really feeling lately is an inertia created by my system mastery of 4th edition D&D that is making it incredibly painful to branch out into other game systems. We have talked in the past about my impulsive shotgun approach to buying shinny baubles of the geeky persuasion, so it should be no surprise to anyone that I have an entire bookcase practically bowing under the weight of RPG systems that I have never played.  With the recent planned ending to my year long Dark Sun campaign I thought I might stretch my wings a little and take on a new system and genre for a change. I kind of narrowed the options down to Star Wars Saga for a little Old Republic love and DC Adventures (aka Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition).

Given that my Comic Book reading/collecting has burgeoned into an all consuming junky habit of late, I settled on DC Adventures. I began reading the core rule book in spits and spurts over the last month or so, but haven’t made much of a dent. I think I have made it to second chapter.  I am pretty busy with work and young kids these days that my free time is fairly limited and occurs mostly while I am fighting off exhaustion, so when I look at consuming and mastering a new game system I feel like there is a pound of lead in my shoes.  I don’t think there is any surprise that both the potential systems I chose are d20 based as the familiarity seemed comforting.  The biggest sticking point however is how second nature 4th edition has become for me, I don’t really have to put much thought into prep and I can easily handle any in-game adjudication that might possibly come up. I am finding it very hard to move from this warm cocoon that I have enveloped myself in.

I don’t think this inertia has as much to do with my love of 4th edition as it is my reluctance to change.  Change in any form whether it is good or shitty can be difficult or stressful and can result in a retreat. I am beginning to think that some of my apathy and disdain for D&D Next is colored by this inertia (aside from my dislike of WOTC‘s business model in general).  Armed with some insight I need to push myself a little and embrace this kind of change. I think I will set a goal of running mini-games (I am going to stay away from longer more open ended campaigns for the time being) in some different systems over the next while and see how it goes. In the meantime I am going to run the season 4 Lair Assault tonight. I am looking forward to it as there is no need for any of this collaborative storytelling bullshit or alternative goals, it’s just straight up DM vrs douche bag munchkin players with coup de graces for everyone…you know the way D&D was meant to be played….. ;0

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I read a blog post the other day that made me groan inwardly and let out a deflated sigh at my desk, once again requiring me to reassure my officemates that no one had died. I would post a link but that would mean diving into my twitter feed, and as you know I’m kind of lazy and prone to half-assing things. Oh yah I am on the Twitters now, you can follow me @middleageddm. I don’t really twat a lot…is that the right term? Is it twating or tweeting? Whatever, anyways it wasn’t like this article was a provocative flame war punch to the crotch; it was just the depiction of modern D&D that rankled me a tad. The gist of the post was about gamers retreat from the heavy rules focused editions of D&D back into the loving embrace of the OSR. The part that stuck in my craw was a statement that 4th edition’s particular rule set and combat focused mechanics had eliminated role-playing from Dungeon’s and Dragons.    

I just find assertions like these a little rigid and myopic. Don’t get me wrong this has nothing to do with the OSR. I fully understand the desire to dust of those old 1st edition texts on the shelf and head off into the bowels of the Moathouse, holy symbol in hand, to kick Lareth the Beautiful’s ass six ways from Sunday. When I hear assertions about role-playing and how 4th edition discourages it or has an absence of it, I feel like that person is erroneously applying their subjectively held schema about what role-playing is for them in a weird sort of nerd pattern recognition.

Look I will grant you that the rules/mechanics can make combat pretty long in 4th edition, which can be off-putting to some, but I don’t find that it reduces or discourages role-playing in anyway…well at least based on my subjective schema of what role-playing is. You see for me combat is or can be role-playing. It’s all there for the taking; you get character-character interaction, character-npc interaction, character-environment interaction, character-monster interaction, collaborative storytelling, and narrative descriptions of character actions/moves and the corresponding DM narrative moves. Combat itself can be a rich, flowing tapestry of smack down, that is if you want it to be. So are we then talking about a lack of exploration or interaction scenes? I don’t find this to be true either as these things seem more dependant on group play-style and taste, as games can have as much or as little of each as desired. Are we then talking about how the clearly defined and codified combat and pc mechanics stifle creativity? I haven’t really found that to be the case either, maybe even the opposite for some people as this allows for easy fluffing..er I mean re-fluffing (fuck why does my mind always go there first?) or re-skinning as desired. For example I had two wizards in my last game that weren’t even recognizable as wizards. One was essentially Green Lantern and the other was a dumb as rocks gladiator.

I think in reality I have found 4th edition’s rule set to be the most flexible and inclusive of multiple play-styles. I have seen or heard about games that run the full spectrum of the continuum. On the forums one guy was describing his multiple 1-30th level campaigns that don’t even have a DM and are a series of delves and completely combat focused. While at the other end of the spectrum I have heard many descriptions of peoples games were they proudly declare having an entire session without any dice being rolled.  As an aside this seems to be the gold standard seal of approval for grognards when championing the greatness of the older editions and the bastard demon spawn that is 4th edition. This is something I don’t really get as I tend to get kind of jittery if I don’t smash something in the mouth during an evening of gaming, but that’s me.

Role-playing isn’t necessarily inherent to a system, unless were talking like a diceless system such as Amber or some heavy story game, it really seems more related to the individual people playing the game and what they do with the rules. Take Battletech as another example. That game is essentially a tactical Mech Fighting game but some cats have created such deep role-playing rich campaigns that would make some of my 1st edition campaigns look like a game of checkers. So when people say that the older editions of D&D encouraged or had more role-playing in them I just don’t buy. My personal experience and anecdotal research shows that a lot of people just killed things and took their stuff through endless dungeon crawls back then just as much as they do now.

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A Dog’s Breakfast

Do you remember that little experiment I was planning? You know the one where I was going to thrust the socially reticent player into the collaborative story-telling spotlight. How did it turn out your wondering? Hmm I guess about as well as having some kind of rectal exam. Overall, it was one of the more garbled, incoherent, garbage sessions I have ever run.

As I dissect the session in my head several factors come into play that contributed to this massive steaming pile of a session. The scene began with the players climbing out of the Tarek pit of pleasure after killing the pack of rabid –insert name for a Dark Sun lizard type creature- and earning the right to walk amongst the Tareks without being killed on sight. I gave a brief history of the Tareks transmitted through song by the head shaman during a campfire on the eve of the “Great Hunt”, a kind of Tarek bar mitzvah where they send the young out into the desert to slay a great beast and claim their place as an adult in the society. The song told of the great Tarekian empire during the green times and how society was split into three castes (warrior, shaman, and tinkerer/engineer). Much knowledge was lost as the empire was shattered during the brown times and Ranjaat’s racial cleansing war.

The newly reformed “empire” consists of several of the elder houses and the conclave of shamans. The major player’s involved were the Emperor, head Shaman, Tar Ugu (a former pc), and the Tarek player’s hidden brother. Each major npc had some motivations and possible moves. In terms of the emperor I went with the Son of Mogh story line from STNG where he had falsely accused the Tarek player’s father of selling the newly reborn empire out to the sorcerer king Kalak, thereby seizing control of the empire and having the player’s father executed and house stricken from the stories.

So what went wrong? Well overall my mood was a little off as I had just gotten word that I would not be accepted into medical school for the fall. I was a little bummed and it kind of took some wind out of my sails. Now in the grand scheme of life this is not a major disappointment. I already have a doctorate in clinical psychology and a full time job plus a part-time private practice, so it’s not like I am in my mid-twenties and trying to figure out what to do with my life or stuck in some dead end job that I loathe. I also only applied to one school so I new the odds were slim. None the less I was a little bummed with a sense of loss at missing out on a new challenge. So blabity blah blah basically I was a little flat.

I also think I didn’t frame the scene as well as I could have in terms of layout and positioning of the NPC’s and Tarek faithful. This made the exploration at the beginning of the night a little awkward as things became jumbled with people going off and talking to different factions. It also made coming up with a plan or strategy on how to deal with any potential threats or desired shenanigans more difficult and less clear. Sometimes I forget how dependent we have become on maps and tokens in 4th edition, particularly when playing online, to set the scene adequately compared to the olden days. I can get a little lazy and forget to put tokens out to help frame the scene. Often this is because I haven’t planned anything out, partly due to said laziness and partly due to a desire to be reactive to player choice.

Now in terms of the socially reticent player who I thrust into the narrative limelight, he reads this blog and was game for it but….perhaps it was a bridge to far and we need more baby steps and supportive coaching. In improv terms he kept blocking himself at every turn, it was literally like he was pulling a gun on himself while shouting no. In one instance he stated that he was going to intimidate the emperor and before I could say anything he stated that wouldn’t work because the emperor was un-inimitable. He also had some good ideas but they mostly came off as incoherent and not fully formed. He had established that he was going to use the inherent psionic link that Tareks have to do something but then abandoned what he had started (later I would learn that he wanted to see if a member of the tribe had any memories of the betrayal that would be helpful). He eventual just rushed up and slapped the emperor which then prompted a battle royal in the middle of the camp that essentially ended with him being dead..again (unconscious and the emperor threatening to coup de grace him if the others didn’t stand down). In talking with him after the game he explained his intent wasn’t to fight the emperor but it was more of a klingon challenge type thing. Which my response was “awesome but how would I know that unless you tell me”. I think I really needed to ask more questions to try and draw his ideas out, but like I said I was a little flat. I think this is important to remember when trying to impose collaborative story telling on less experienced players or those that it doesn’t come as naturally to.   

Overall, I also think I need to be more prepared in terms of potential skill challenges, even though I loathe them. At a minimum I need to think/be prepared for the use of skills to overcome challenges or adjudicate player driven hi-jinks on the fly. I feel like I have sort of hit the proverbial wall in terms of running the campaign and need to bear down and push through it. I figure I have 6 to 8 session left to wrap everything up for the end of the heroic tier and I need to end strong…or at least crawl through the finish line like one of those depleted nut jobs at the end of an Iron Man Triathlon.

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