Author Topic: [D&D 4E] Good-bye to Baldur's Gaping Gate  (Read 1698 times)

Ron Edwards

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[D&D 4E] Good-bye to Baldur's Gaping Gate
« on: November 20, 2013, 07:36:41 PM »
Wow, am I late with the Saga of Hank updates! "It has been four weeks since my last confession." We've finished the canned scenario.

I missed a week due to various child-oriented events, but played for the final two sessions. Apparently everyone but me knows this already, but the idea is, Hasbro/WotC/TSR gets a store to register some number of DMs (3 in this case), then they send a box for each of them with pamphlets and play-aids of all sorts, and then each one runs the prepared campaign simultaneously, hitting specific benchmarks in unison across their tables, until it's all over.

The precise expected enjoyment benefit gained from this simultaneity eludes me. I'd also like to know what the store actually gets out of doing it, as opposed to, say, having a dedicated 4E play-night with an after-play all-group hangout.

Anyway, you can all probably guess my approval rating for that kind of play under any circumstances, but man is it a terrible fit for 4E. Where do I start ... First with the events.

Apparently, at the session I missed, the characters had surprisingly killed one of the faction leaders, the one who runs (ran) the Iron First mercenaries. This was billed to me as a surprise outcome and I was tentatively pleased that events had done something off of the rails. Hold that thought.

For the first of the final two sessions, we included a drop-in player with a classic dwarf-fighter provided by Shawn via WotC's random-creation template. This landed the dwarf with a falchion instead of a hammner or axe, which the player thought was amusing. He was a fun guy and brought some needed forceful direction to the events.

However, the events were still fully programmed, to the point of parpuzio through and through, with that all-important Black Curtain in place to convey the notion of emergence through play.

It started with Shawn asking each of us to roll a die to find out who slept in that day. Given six or seven characters and whatever he was assessing (if anything), the chance for it to be someone was pretty high (or 100%), so that meant we were late to the big parliamentary meeting, just in time for it to be blown sky-high by a gunpowder bomb.

Yadda yadda, we start talking to everyone. We corner an NPC who wasn't there and should have been, and he acts all squirrelly. It's patently clear he's involved but our various rolls like Intimidate don't do anything (more on this later), and he snaps his finger and disappears. In case you were wondering, I was seated to Shawn's left and announced Hank's attack on the character several times, apparently into the suddenly-appearing sound-baffle apparatus that separated me from him at those moments.

Gotta love that IIEE. It's all about the SIS, baby; if what's said isn't shared, then it's not part of said SIS and doesn't kick in the "initiation" step. Black Curtain management 101; ignore what's said unless it's what you want to hear. I regret to admit that I used to GM like that all the time.

What's weird is that within minutes after that exchange, Shawn had us ("we found out") go to some building and we found him there all set to fight us. Why he couldn't have just run the fight when I initiated it, I have no idea, unless maybe he was committed to using that particular battle-map.

On the plus side, the final fight was actually satisfyingly tactical, with the characters working together decently, with some pretty cool powers getting showcased, and it was all tough enough that Hank had to fight defensively and use healing surges and stuff like that to make it through. We sort-of killed the guy and turned him over to our patron.

At the beginning of our final session, play fortunately included all the people who'd built some stake in the game: Ben with his paladin, me with Hank (Ben and have become play-buddies and sat next to each other), Amy with her tiefling magicky-class character, the guy with the cleric, the guy with the halfling rogue, and the guy with the bard. The player of the elf lightning-magic character apparently dropped out - if I perceive correctly, dramatically quit - after the fight where she was less effective. The guest player with the dwarf had only shown up that one time for a lark.

Play went precisely as it always has. We waited until we were placed in the desirable spot.

Guess what we learned at the banquet? Our patron was the bad guy all along! For whatever reason, he chose to announce this in such a way as to gain no tangible goals and to initiate a combat with us (as opposed to, for instance, paying us a ton of money and waiting until we'd left the city). Big fight ensued, the classic whittle-down, which we won even with a lot of bad rolls. One reason we won was that the bad demon-guy kept zapping various people rather concentrating on one with sustained strikes, which guaranteed that he'd take no single one of us down. The other was that Shawn provided us with several useful high-level NPCs on our side, which accounted for all the minions who otherwise might have flanked us and whittled us in return.

We did some character epilogues. Predictably but fun nonetheless, the cleric married the NPC rogue (the one Hank stabbed a while back). Hank and the paladin left town together, considering building a church somewhere with two entrances. I'd like to think Hank would support a religion like this one.

Discussion about the game ensued, as Shawn was happy to explain how he'd worked with the material. I also spoke with one of the other DMs who'd - along with everyone everywhere - had also concluded the adventure.

1. The Big Bad was a jumping bean - whichever of the primary NPCs was left standing by session X, that guy turns out to be the demon-child thingie. If all of them had been killed by then, then one of the player-characters turns out to be it.

2. Apparently the "surprising" move of killing one of those people in the earlier session was taped too; the various DMs asked each other, "So which of them died at your table," and so on.

3. The player-characters' social skill rolls were mandated to be ineffective against any of these characters or anyone directly involved in their schemes; i.e., the only people you could charm or scare into talking with you were those who didn't know anything.

So according to the fiction, our characters were gullible in trusting ourselves to Silvershield's direction, got tricked by him, were therefore indirectly responsible for the destruction of the Parliament, and should really learn a lesson ... of some kind ... sort of along these lines (wait for the last 20 seconds especially).

Ah, railroading with "free choice!" You see, we coooooould have refused Duke Silvershield's service, and not done what he wanted, right? Except that play of any productive engagement with the DM is predicated on us going where he says, and we have no way to go anywhere except to where an NPC directs us. And the only non-villainous NPCs are distinctly useless when it comes to advice, and the villainous ones are immune to our social skill roles. So ... uh, what were we supposed to have a choice about, again?

(One of the other groups in the store did not get the Parliament blown up, and I'm curious to know how that happened, specifically how that DM handled situations when the characters tried to do something except go where a high-level NPC told them.)

Nice people to play with, and I'm glad to have the chance to mess with 4E mechanics before launching into my own game. But I'm even more glad it's over.

Best, Ron
« Last Edit: November 20, 2013, 07:39:12 PM by Ron Edwards »

Moreno R.

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Re: [D&D 4E] Good-bye to Baldur's Gaping Gate
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2013, 08:46:22 PM »
Apparently everyone but me knows this already, but the idea is, Hasbro/WotC/TSR gets a store to register some number of DMs (3 in this case), then they send a box for each of them with pamphlets and play-aids of all sorts, and then each one runs the prepared campaign simultaneously, hitting specific benchmarks in unison across their tables, until it's all over.

The precise expected enjoyment benefit gained from this simultaneity eludes me. I'd also like to know what the store actually gets out of doing it, as opposed to, say, having a dedicated 4E play-night with an after-play all-group hangout.

Well, I can quote an expert on the evils of D&D...   myself!
From http://indie-rpgs.com/adept/index.php?topic=224.msg1991#msg1991
You search ignorance. The "system" is evil. Let's keep away from the system, it's the GM job, players should not even touch it. Players should not even know it.
You search conformity: everything MUST stay the same, to return to the initial awesome state. No matter if you can't return to it even if everything were the same, because now you see the reality behind the courtain: it can't be the same, it's not awesome, that DM must have done some error, he was not following the "official" setting, it's his fault.
You search VALIDATION, so you play the game that everyone play, the one "real", not an "imitation".
You search for something "REAL": if everything is at the GM's whim, what is real? The book is real, the setting described in the books is "real", it's the same for everyone, so everything "official", with the TSR magic mark, is "real".


Quote
However, the events were still fully programmed, to the point of parpuzio through and through,

I am finally "arrived", I added a term to the Forge Jargon!

To tell the truth, I was surprised I had to invent it: that the game most people play when they think they are playing D&D, Vampire or other rpgs, still had no name...

RangerEd

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Re: [D&D 4E] Good-bye to Baldur's Gaping Gate
« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2013, 09:46:55 PM »
I am agog at your patience and good-natured evaluation. Your description of the DM reminds me of a joke evaluation report. "Subordinates follow you out of morbid curiosity." Perhaps your motivation for play was the same.

Great links BTW,
Ed

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E] Good-bye to Baldur's Gaping Gate
« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2013, 10:13:04 PM »
Well hold on a bit, Shawn did handle the social side of this kind of play much better than nearly anyone I remember from the 1980s, and despite such things as the remarkable cock-block* I described above, he never literally shut anyone down socially. The table atmosphere was consistently cheerful, if a little limited in player-to-player dialogue (I changed that a little), and especially by the end, people seemed to appreciate one another's characters and combat tactics.

For me, the game was definitely high pay-off as a teaching tool for what the system does.

Best, Ron

* I am no Doctor Seuss, but I can play him on TV a little: If you want to go out with your cock to rock out 'round the clock, never mind those socks and go on holding your cock, because I never did see such block for a cock as this cock-block rocked me 'round my clock, 'cause my cock was so blocked that my socks got knocked right off my block and down I was locked.

Miskatonic

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Re: [D&D 4E] Good-bye to Baldur's Gaping Gate
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2013, 01:56:08 AM »
Interesting stuff.

The bit about declarations being conveniently "ignored" and how fits in with IIEE and SIS is useful to me in thinking about a certain pet frustration I've noticed in some games.