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Author Topic: [D&D4e] Feeling defeated by the ruleset  (Read 2839 times)
AzaLiN
Member

Posts: 44


« on: May 10, 2009, 03:10:34 AM »

I've been DMing a D&D 4e campaign for 2 or 3 months, playing twice weekly. It started off a little rough, but after I shrank the group size to 4 players it went extremely well for a long time- the players would phone me every few days to try and arrange another game, and the games would last up to 10 hours long. If I had to describe how the gameplay went, it was quite gamist with numerous aborted narrativist and simulationist elements that the players (powergamers, used to MMORPGs) were bored by. I realized this might be the case before the campaign even started, and prepared for it- as i said, the campaign went really well for a while.

This is my first post here; I'm immensely impressed by this website thus far. I never imagined such a place existed...

Over the last month, however, I've completely lost interest in running the campaign, and instead of playing 2-3 times a week, I've avoided hosting a game for 2 weeks :( I have to remedy this!

I've been reading the articles here, and I think I'm having a GNS incompatibility issue- in RPGs, I like playing Narrativist-style games with a consistent, realistic-ish world, and a karma resolution system with a bit of luck- maybe a d6 instead of a d20. 4e isn't really suitable for this- the mechanics don't lend themselves to realism or plausibility in the slightest, and this has destroyed immersion for me 200%...

(- the fighter COMBAT CHALLENGES a swarm of mindless spiders, and the rules support it; he's tapped into their primal competitiveness or something... and the avenger swears oaths of enmity against unknown strangers he finds sleeping in the dark, in the wilderness. What's he avenging, exactly??!)

... The skill system leads to some weird results sometimes, but that's a minor complaint, as it works okay in a gamist context at least... It has never worked in a way that satisfies me outside of that context, looking back. The game, and the players, are intensely gamist, which i think is the main thing: I get pretty bored after a few games of it, but all my experiments (about 1/2 of games, making sure to keep a good ratio of what works) have almost completely failed to capture player interest- except for the bard, who does bite, but then everyone else at the table is catatonically bored (though the bard raves about how happy she was about how things went).

I think the way to make the group happy is to play it  80% gamist, but include narrativist elements for the bard once or twice a month, making the other suffer through the tangents for her sake... but I have no motivation whatsoever. I don't know what to do. I need something prepped for Tuesday, but I'm tempted to try getting someone else to DM, or running a premade module while hoping it inspires me somehow. I would switch systems, try to switch to a more narrativist mode, but the thing is: they love 4e. they spend their free time studying feats and powers and using the character builder; they talk about it constantly in their free time.

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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2009, 04:56:10 AM »

Are you looking for advice?

I was in a similar situation earlier this decade - my solution was pretty much to learn to enjoy the game that others wanted to play, while also starting new, different games for my other interests. Later on I moved to another town and have been playing all sorts of games with different people. So I guess my advice is to not try to subvert of fix 4th edition D&D that your group is enjoying; better to start new games or work on enjoying the game yourself.

For that latter point, why aren't you enjoying 4th edition? It seems a pretty slick rules-set to me, as long as you're satisfied with a complex skirmish game. I know that this is easy to say when I can get the sort of gaming I want whenever I want, but to me it seems very worthwhile to patiently learn to enjoy many different types of games. You could start another game with different people while also developing your play of D&D with an eye towards making it shine in what it is good at. Or if you're utterly disinterested in the game D&D is, then playing it at all seems counterproductive to having a good time.
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C. Edwards
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Posts: 589

savage / sublime


« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2009, 09:09:39 AM »

Quote
Over the last month, however, I've completely lost interest in running the campaign, and instead of playing 2-3 times a week, I've avoided hosting a game for 2 weeks :( I have to remedy this!

Above and beyond (or maybe on top of) any other issues you may have with 4e or your groups play preferences, you may also be just plain old burnt out. Playing 2-3 times a week, with some of the sessions going around 10 hours and with a game that can require a good deal of preparation by the DM, may simply have you overloaded. I can't play games I like in the way I like that long or that often without getting sick of them, so I can't imagine doing it when I'm not super jazzed by the play that is going on or with the system being used for that play.

My suggestion would be to cut back the frequency of your 4e sessions, as well as the time you play per session. For me at least, that goes a long way to keeping my enthusiasm and my energy at sustainable levels. Eero's suggestion on throwing a different game or two into your (now reduced) play schedule is good as well. Maybe you can recruit the Bard player for some play of games that seem like they would fulfill you main play preferences.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2009, 03:07:10 PM »

Hi Azalin,

Well, drawing on my own history, their playing to win doesn't really provide any imaginative material. This may be your problem. Like they kill all the monsters in the dungeon - does that really provide any further imaginative material? Something that inspires new idea? Not really, it really just subtracts from the pool of inspirational material.

The second thing is - well, you know the computer game 'Half life' and how it was written using the 'source' engine? Half life is a game, the source engine is not a game. The thing with any edition of D&D is that it is not a game. It is best described as an engine. You don't play 4E. No one can - you can't play it as much as you can't play the source engine. I highlight this because it's twice as creatively draining if your acting like your playing 4E, when your really creating a game, then playing that game (often creating game during the session itself, on the fly). It's twice as draining because you can't just keep playing until an inspiration hits you, you have to create or you can't play at all. Mind you I've had an ugly arguement about D&D not being a game on another forum, so this may be a controversial suggestion (though I do hope the idea that 'half life is a game, the source engine is not a game' is non controversial)

In terms of running a predominantly gamist game, it may be the lack of new, inspirational imaginative materials being provided, that's the problem (rather than needing a bit of narrativism on the side to prop you up). And I mean specifically from the activity itself. It's not just a matter of going and drawing from other sources for inspiration - the problem is, inspiration goes into this activity, but none comes out again. It's like a money pit. Well, an inspiration pit. Your lack of motivation might originate from the activity being like this.
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2009, 04:27:33 PM »

Callan, I'd say the better analogy is that someone gave you half life's game mechanics without any levels, and you have to build the whole of half life while playing it.

AzaLin, I agree your problem is basically that the game is not providing what you want, but other people love what you produce. I have a word for that situation; it's called work! If you continue serving your friends in this way it may be lovely, but the danger might be that they do not realise how little you are interested in the stuff they are doing. I might say something along the lines of "Guys, at the moment the only thing I enjoy about this game is that you like it! I can't keep this up at this frequency unless we change something."

Now what could that change be? Firstly you need to be getting something back for your effort or you're being a slave just for your love of your friends! Now it may be that you limit the game to the quantity that does interest you, or they could start paying you.

I'm half joking with the last one, because I don't think it has to be actual money, although it seriously could be. What is needed is some way for gamist players to create narrative content for you, that you vibe off of, pretty much as a service to you. Now this is a hard ask, and the system may actually need to be changed to support it; if powers rub you up the wrong way, their going to keep doing that regardless of whatever effort they put in. On the other hand, if you object to their use in certain situations, such as against mindless foes with which they have no history, then cut those out of your campaign!

If you can master merging your different interests to produce a sustainable game, then you will have made quite a forward step for RPG design, if not, don't worry, many others have had the same problem you recognise, and a frequent solution is just to split the group.

What kind of things does the Bard player like? Do some of the players that dropped out share your interest in proper narrative stuff? And when I say that, I'm concious that a lot of the details you mentioned so far sound more like sim than some of the joint narration, "dealing with issues" stuff that people might suggest.
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Brimshack
Member

Posts: 88


« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2009, 08:23:12 PM »

I'm just going to focus on one small aspect of the OP here, and that is the conflict between a preference for hack&slash and one for role-playing.

Obviously, too much difference can be a deal breaker, but the degree to which that difference is a problem can itself be a variable. I would add that people's preferences often shift around a lot, depending on the campaign, the GM, etc. I know at least one GM in my area whose role playing scenarios make me grit my teeth and long for simple combat. I know of others that almost make me forget combat and just enjoy the social challenges. The thing is, to these GMs, it may well seem like I am a gamist in the one campaign and a narrativist in the other. In fact, I am at least partly responding to the strengths and weaknesses of the GMs. Now add players and a host of other variables, and personal growth, etc. the idea that I or anyone else can be quickly and decisively categorized by our preferences becomes more than a little suspicious.

But that's more abstract than I really meant to be. Just taking the preferences of your players as you state them, I would say do what you can do to have your cake and let them eat it to. You can start by designing role-playing challenges around tactical objectives. The same player who balks at romance or political intrigue may well enjoy a few brief talking encounters if he sees clearly how they contribute to the battle.

So, one thing I would consider doing is giving them a tactical challenge they cannot handle on their own. Then let them talk to a few people to solve some of the objectives leading up to the fight. I don't mean getting NPC help on the field (I rarely want to go there), but I mean things like. Perhaps, they will only win if the city draw-bridge is up (or a particular dungeon corridor has been closed off). What if a potential ally of the enemies could be persuaded to stay out of it. You just have to give him a reason before the battle actually occurs.If the players who love combat so much KNOW, with absolute certainty, that part of what they hope to do in the next combat depends on role-playing the conversation right in THIS encounter, then (hopefully) it should be part and parcel of the game they want to play. The idea here is to keep the roleplaying close to the primary concern of the players (combat, if I understand you correctly), so that it is more vivid to them. As a side-benefit, the list of allies will grow in time and more complex role-playing options may flow out of this. You can take it further if the players are interested, or keep it light if you like.

Conversely, role playing challenges can be designed to play out in the combat scenario. Objectives other than killing all the bad guys can be fun. Let the characters protect a prisoner, fight someone they cannot kill outright for political reasons, or even face a foe that should have been an ally. (One of the wonderful things in the Mahabharata is the fact that the two most bad-ass warriors in all the world are both noble and good, and both absolutely committed by their own sense of honor to fight on the bad guy's side in the final battle. They really want the heroes to win, but neither can go back on their word to the principle villain. Makes for good in-combat drama.) Let your players fight someone like that and you get a thicker plot in the battle itself. (Maybe there is a good monster. Let him help the party once, and let the players talk to him and establish him as an ally. Then in a later session give the players reason to go through a door he has sworn to protect. They can even talk first, but their objectives are irreconcilable...)

Anyway, point being, if the players want combat and you want role-playing, then you can try shaping the role-playing challenges as closely the prospects of fighting as possible. If that doesn't work, then perhaps you do have irreconcilable preferences, but it might be the trick to keep you both happy. Maybe you're already doing that, I dunno It's just what comes to mind at reading the OP.
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AzaLiN
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #6 on: May 11, 2009, 02:36:26 AM »

Thanks for taking the time to reply everyone! I'll do my best to respond...

Quote
So I guess my advice is to not try to subvert of fix 4th edition D&D that your group is enjoying; better to start new games or work on enjoying the game yourself.

Actually I might start a side game or two; I'm pushing for a Sorcerer playtest; if not that, a Palladium Fantasy playtest, or, if I fail, it will be Exalted (whitewolf), which I'm worried will a bit of a trap, DMing a simulationist game/setting that I know nothing about with veterans who know everything about it. However, I'm still quite open minded about Exalted, and, depending on a first couple of sessions, it could go really well potentially.

Quote
Do some of the players that dropped out share your interest in proper narrative stuff?

Originally, I meant to divide the 2 groups into 2 separate campaigns based on playing style, but life got in the way for the one group. In a word: Yes, they did :D They may participate in the game I mentioned above, if everything works out.

Quote
My suggestion would be to cut back the frequency of your 4e sessions, as well as the time you play per session.

Agreed; too much RPG playing & prep in a week drains me lol

Quote
The thing with any  edition of D&D is that it is not a game. It is best described as an engine.

I only half agree with you on this; Actually, i blogged about it recently- I wish I used engine/game terminology however, I think those terms would have helped :D I think that a certain, tiny aspect of 4e is the engine, one closely related to d20, and that all the rest is setting/game, but that, unfortunately, it's presented as more dynamic an engine than it appears to be. The most basic example I can think of, is that, by default, I wouldn't have had several of the Player Classes in my world- the professions wouldn't have existed. Their inclusion was definitely my doing, its just an example in how almost all of the 4e rulebooks are game/setting, and only the bare bones is engine.

http://scrollean.blogspot.com/2009/05/rules-and-content-in-4e.html

Quote
the problem is, inspiration goes into this activity, but none comes out again. It's like a money pit.

I think your right- and good analogy, btw. But, I do need to add one thing: except for the avenger (no personality- yet), I really like everyone's characters and many of their choices in game are great.

Quote
On the other hand, if you object to their use in certain situations, such as against mindless foes with which they have no history, then cut those out of your campaign!

My thinking is that the mechanics are blatantly gamist, and that the players are thriving on them; in keeping with Euro's suggestions, I might just sacrifice any attempt at realism and just allow the gamist elements to function, and focus on narrative instead. However- I'm not decided!

Quote
I'm conscious that a lot of the details you mentioned so far sound more like sim than some of the joint narration, "dealing with issues" stuff that people might suggest.

Could you rephrase/elaborate that?

Quote
You can start by designing role-playing challenges around tactical objectives. The same player who balks at romance or political intrigue may well enjoy a few brief talking encounters if he sees clearly how they contribute to the battle.

Interesting... also:

Quote
Conversely, role playing challenges can be designed to play out in the combat scenario. Objectives other than killing all the bad guys can be fun. Let the characters protect a prisoner, fight someone they cannot kill outright for political reasons, or even face a foe that should have been an ally.

I'm going to try a bit more of this on Tuesday. I think I can work it in, the trick is gonna be balance, but more so, the trick is gonna be combining the two organically. I'm going to think about this, because it'll be really challenging to interweave the layers/threads- I'm imagining a scenario where the hack n slashers don't realize they're roleplaying, and the role players don't realize they're in a hack n slash. On this in particular, I wouldn't mind advice- I don't feel right forcing role playing tactics, I want to integrate it in a way that makes the option attractive.

Quote
What if a potential ally of the enemies could be persuaded to stay out of it.

and, a different reply:

For that latter point, why aren't you enjoying 4th edition?

Well, for example, the 4e encounters aren't dangerous unless they're also a grind, or else impossible. The encounter scaling is decent at what it does, but fights against groups outside the -1<x<+3 level range are either grindy, impossible, or uselessly easy, and within that framework, there's really no reason to avoid a fight unless it is impossible (railroading), or too annoying to deal with (several other options).

My players are excellent, btw, at the tactical combat/character building aspect of 4e.

=============================================================

Again, thanks for the replies everyone. I hope I didn't miss anybody, I'm tired and it's 4 am here lol. I'll post results from Tuesday's game if I can, and still welcome DMing advice along these lines {=;D
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AJ_Flowers
Member

Posts: 30


« Reply #7 on: May 11, 2009, 08:46:50 AM »

I fail, it will be Exalted (whitewolf), which I'm worried will a bit of a trap, DMing a simulationist game/setting that I know nothing about with veterans who know everything about it.

You know, hopefully not off-topic, but it's funny because I just got into this conversation last night. I'm interested in running something for a few of my friends and they seem skeptical about indy, and are really in to Exalted. The problem is that I have played it just a few times, as opposed to people who are... really IN to Exalted.  So I'm wondering how this would go.

As for your original topic, it does seem like you're playing a lot.  It seems natural that you'd burn out without variety if playing two or three times a week. 

One thing I noticed about your post is that in some ways, your stress might come from confusing the "why" of something in the system with the "what" in the system. So it doesn't make sense to you that the avenger wants revenge against a stranger... Eh, that's fine, the mechanical effect is the guy is marked for X amount of turns and the character has a damage bonus of Y.  Can you think of any other rationale for that mechanical effect?  Probably a million different ones that wouldn't cause cognitive dissonance in you.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2009, 07:36:38 PM »

Hi again, Azalin,

Just a quick add, I think what you call setting/game, I would just call setting. There isn't game there, in the way I'm using the word "game" and probably the way your players would use the word "game". So what they are looking for, there isn't any, really, as noted before. Which adds more creative drain as you can't just play till an inspiration comes upon you, you have to invent game straight away. But I've said all that already :)

Also, atleast from RPG.net, I've heard exalted is incredibly gamist. Or atleast "I stack this powa onto dis powa and also get DIS powa!". I'm not sure it'll be any sort of change from 4E.
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Wordman
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« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2009, 09:02:31 PM »

I fail, it will be Exalted (whitewolf), which I'm worried will a bit of a trap, DMing a simulationist game/setting that I know nothing about with veterans who know everything about it.

You know, hopefully not off-topic, but it's funny because I just got into this conversation last night. I'm interested in running something for a few of my friends and they seem skeptical about indy, and are really in to Exalted. The problem is that I have played it just a few times, as opposed to people who are... really IN to Exalted.  So I'm wondering how this would go.

Being an Exalted Storyteller is actually harder than it sounds, at first, especially if the majority of your GMing experience has been with D&D. Long time DM's develop a set of "reflexes" that, while serving them well in D&D, lead you in exactly the wrong direction in Exalted. Some of my advice along these lines here and here.

Also, be advised that, while Exalted has one of the most freaking awesome settings in gaming history, mechanically, it isn't that great of a game. If you keep its stunting mechanics and ditch most of the rest of it, you might be happier. There are also quite a few "ports" of other systems to Exalted's setting.

Lastly, there are a number of games out there that, intentionally or not, have an Exalted "smell" to them. The intent of Mist-Robed Gate, for example, has been mentioned in various places as "Exalted without the suck". A game like In a Wicked Age... is, like Exalted, heavily influenced by the Flat Earth books of Tanith Lee. And so on.
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What I think about. What I make.
whiteknife
Member

Posts: 122


« Reply #10 on: May 12, 2009, 08:31:37 PM »

I've had experiences running D&D that was not to my liking. Personally, I'm a big fan of simulation/exploration, whereas my players are hardcore gamists. Now I enjoy me some asskicking, and I have and do run quite a fair bit of it, but there's only so much you can take you know?

What I've tried to do in the past is make a setting (or in your case if you prefer a story) sort of ahead of time- know the major players, what might happen if no one interferes, etc. Then let the PCs loose. I've found it can be fun for a good bit to watch who they kill, who they team up with, and what they blow up.

That being said, 4e might not be for you. You might consider trying out other games for a bit.

Just a thought.
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #11 on: May 14, 2009, 03:37:34 PM »

I wonder whether you'd want to do a mix of exalted and "weapons of the gods". Partially because I like that games approach to stunts more; basically difficulty classes for stunts and for tasks don't stack, so you won't be randomly stunting around your kitchen for cooking bonuses, or something equivalently mundane, but the moment you get into a situation that can challenge you, the stunts come out! It also has a build-up feature in a fight that naturally makes them more epic as time goes on. Very smooth!

It also has a nice way of choosing what background to keep track of, as people can buy sections of "lore" they want to turn up in the game. This means that your players would be able to grab their favourite elements of the backstory and go "A game about this please!" Looking at it though the transition load is impressive, and it still doesn't really cover keeping track of the effects of your powerful people on the surrounding politics, so you might be more interested in this: http://tricktonic.com/ORExalted/ I know I was!
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AzaLiN
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #12 on: May 19, 2009, 02:50:46 PM »

Quote
That being said, 4e might not be for you. You might consider trying out other games for a bit.

Don't really have that option right now
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AzaLiN
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2009, 12:49:44 AM »

Alright, I tried to transition the game a little this last game, make it meld a little more into the gamist/narrativist mishmash I'm going for... oh god, the rogue decided to assassinate/rob the royal envoy and go hiding in the woods, joining the enemy forces while the other characters got arrested. I can only foresee 2 outcomes, and one is lame:

1)the rogue and the party become enemies by circumstance, and play goes back and forth until one group is destroyed. That's not bad- a GoOD story actually, especially since neither group really WANTS to fight eachother, its all factional. However, 1-3 PC deaths: I hesitate, because I regret the Ranger's death several weeks ago *

* though he couldn't have possibly done more to deserve it, he didn't really get 3 strikes either. His death was merciless, but in retrospect, he probably wouldn't have made the same mistake again if it had been a close call instead. Still: he murdered another PC, ate him, then tried to impersonate him after the party just finished fighting doppelgangers...

2) the rogue (different player than the ranger, actually) is forgiven because he successfully backstabs the Orcs in the forest, as he apparently plans to. In a novel or a movie, this would be what I consider a lame ending for a conflict.

3) the rogue is forgiven for some other reason? eh?

In the end, it will depend a lot on the PCs choices, but again, I do have a ton of influence as well. The biggest challenge will be letting the rest of the party get out of jail in a satisfying way.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2009, 05:18:52 PM »

Not that there isn't a golden rule and all that, but given it's a group activity that typically means compromise of some sort, or staying within certain rules (and the rules themselves manage the compromise). You sound like if it's a lame end to the conflict in your opinion, it doesn't matter if other people like or are okay with it? Same with whether a jail escape is satisfying. I think I've read you right, your undercutting your own goal of doing stuff as a group?
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