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Author Topic: [D&D4E] Some WOTC encounters  (Read 7274 times)
Callan S.
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« on: May 22, 2011, 04:35:11 PM »

For awhile now I've been playing at one of those D&D game nights WOTC kind of organises and provides the adventure material for at various game stores. I have to say the play isn't a done deal/definate win as alot of people seem to report? Monsters who when they hit almost do my characters bloodied damage? Ouch! I've actually had a character die at one session - though I think the GM wasn't running the enemy ghosts insubstantial by the book, making them always take half damage. In the last session another GM ran and when the ghosts were hit by radiant damage they lost that insubstantial quality until their next turn, making the ability far less powerful. Though maybe it was a different type of ghosts, not sure?

The game sessions primarly come down to a battle grid and one battle. Sometimes there are perception rolls or skill rolls before the battle, as if that links up to the idea of a living, shifting imagined world - but really your not engaging (verbally) someones imagination. The only imaginative element is that dice roll X against target number Y is called 'perception' or whatever. It always makes me think the designers can only work in some sort of binary state - either they have the GM in charge of controlling all elements (which essentially means the GM controls the outcome of the session) or the make it an utter board game with imaginative sounding names for the mechanics. No in between.

There have been some elements urged by players, which works in that outside the written system 'Ah, he's really excited about this and the enemies almost beaten anyway so...I'll just let it fly'. In some previous sessions it was a player urging to use their intimdate - though it seems there are some rules on doing that to bloodied enemies and it working. In another game a player used ghost sound to distract the final(?) ghost who was going to finish him off (this is where my PC had died and the ghosts had continual insubstantiality). Basically I could almost hear the scales in the GM's head, weighing up the total TPK, whether that really mattered (it's a drop in game) vs the drop in games overall story and how do the characters return to the next game (side note: Everyone got ressurected for free at the end of that...whatever, we lost the session either way - it's not like we got ressurected mid session AND for free so we could pretend nothing had happened). Anyway, the ghost sound worked. In the latest game one PC (different player, but again a wizard) was facing off with a ghost, using ghost sound and illusion to try and make it think it's boss was telling it to stop. Again at this point it was the last ghost, so the GM just basically let go of fighting mode (ie, where he actually optimises their moves - like he had them skirting our attack of opportunity areas and flanking us before) and let the player toy with it for a bit (both somewhat successfully and somewhat at a failure) before having it give up and march off.

Back to that binary of 'GM decides everything' Vs 'Total boardgame', I think it'd be interesting if an RPG had the option for both written into it, and players simply vote for which they want to do at the time. Perhaps it having such a vote at the first half of the session, then again at the middle for the last half of the session. The GM being a player himself, he'd also get one vote. There are other things that could be done to blend the two so they effect each other. But I think the main thing is if players always wanted a 'GM decides everything' game, then they would always vote for that, wouldn't they? I think it'd show up for various groups just how much players want their GM determining everything, while with a traditional game that can be obscured and then that obscurement used as a 'reason' to continue to write GM decides everything designs.

Nice game sessions - mostly a board game, with some deferment to some pre game decided imaginative element (ie, there's a ghost army attacking), then sometimes at the end the GM simply letting go of pressing the conflict, which in spite of the written texts allows some imaginative elements to become concrete game resources/points/effects/a change to the board.

I don't know why they just don't build in some points which the GM (or somebody) has, which are useful and the GM hands them out 'when the situation warrants' (which is to say when the GM wants to, but were enjoying the illusion (like we do a magic show) that were interacting with a situation). Instead it always seems to be the binary design, never a blend?
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Vulpinoid
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« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2011, 11:30:46 PM »

Sounds like a very similar experience to what I faced at Gencon Oz when I played the prewritten "Heroes of Rokugan" L5R games.

I had some great expectations that simply weren't met. Lots of promise about character driven narrative, then everything comes down to a simple combat or conflict where very little of the character's choices actually make a difference. I could have sat listening to someone tel me a story, then flipped a coin.

Heads my character dies.
Tails they save the day but someone else gains the honour/prestige (but that's just the L5R way).

The most fun element of the session was watching the GM try to railroad us, while one of the players kept flipping through the rulebook showing ways that he had managed to abuse the system to prevent the GM from railroading us. The rest of us basically sat around listening in, then talking about the sessions we'd be playing next.
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A.K.A. Michael Wenman
Vulpinoid Studios The Eighth Sea now available for as a pdf for $1.
Jeff B
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Posts: 35


« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2011, 01:40:34 PM »


Quote
I don't know why they just don't build in some points which the GM (or somebody) has, which are useful and the GM hands them out 'when the situation warrants' (which is to say when the GM wants to, but were enjoying the illusion

Callan, can you elaborate a little?  What kind of 'points' are you thinking of?

Quote
I think it'd show up for various groups just how much players want their GM determining everything, while with a traditional game that can be obscured and then that obscurement used as a 'reason' to continue to write GM decides everything designs.

I agree, there are many players who like the GM to have all the power.  Well, at least until characters die.  Then it's kind of like ancient kings who were honored as gods until the harvest went bad, and then they were beheaded.  Heh heh.  But what do you mean by 'traditional game'?  I consider D&D4e to be traditional in format.

Re. Vulpinoid's experience with L5R:  My thinking is that L5R creates more opportunity for character-driven action and story but doesn't require it.  One could easily run a game of L5R with the same feel as a 4e game, if they don't actively incorporate the roleplay potential.  Sounds like you weren't engaged in the game.  As with Callan's experience, above, i wonder if both of these "failures to provide great roleplay" can be traced to something missed at the social contract level:  Setting and (hopefully) agreeing upon expectations prior to play.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2011, 05:46:06 PM »

Hello Jeff,
Quote
Callan, can you elaborate a little?  What kind of 'points' are you thinking of?
It's a modular mechanic I'm refering to - it could be a rule that says the GM can hand out X number of gold, or X number of experience points, or X number of bonus to hit points. It's modular, you can plug any game currency into it. The main thing is A: The GM can hand out some currency based on his reaction to spoken fiction and B: It is a limited amount, so the GM cannot override the conflict built into the games design by handing out as much of the currency as he deems fit (eg, if a game is supposed to be around not having alot of money...and the GM can hand out as much money as he sees fit...then he can overide the design). Alot of traditional RPG's do A, but fail miserably at B (usually by pursuing some simulationist goal (or by pursuing an explorative goal so much it overshadows their N or G goal)).

Quote
I agree, there are many players who like the GM to have all the power.  Well, at least until characters die.  Then it's kind of like ancient kings who were honored as gods until the harvest went bad, and then they were beheaded.  Heh heh.
Wow, that such an accurate parralel? I wish I'd observed it - I'll remember it for future discussions!

Quote
But what do you mean by 'traditional game'?  I consider D&D4e to be traditional in format.
Yep, D&D4E is still a traditional design, despite how many players try and dismiss it as a boardgame/boardgamey (I kinda feel sorry for the thing - it's neither boardgame, nor is it that 'GM decides everything' thing that many gamers use as their definition of an RPG). You have to remember that the game shop session I went to are prewritten modules - this actually gets rid of vast swaths of 'GM decides everything', literally breaking it from the traditional design. In this case the pre written modules make it largely a boardgame with set ups inspired by fiction (much like some wargamers have their battle set up based on ficion).

Quote
As with Callan's experience, above, i wonder if both of these "failures to provide great roleplay" can be traced to something missed at the social contract level:  Setting and (hopefully) agreeing upon expectations prior to play.
I don't think roleplay, great or otherwise, somehow rests in the bosom of social contract. If one overlayed the spritual attribute rules from the riddle of steel on to D&D or L5R, you would find more character play occuring and not because 'We had a social contract agreement!!', but simply because it's fun and people will gravitate to the fun that is enabled in play (by the written SA rules). To be honest I cringe at social contract agreements - they suck the fun out of stuff. I can't have fun doing something that I've agreed to do or otherwise I accept social sanction? On other stuff, like agreeing to bring food or agreeing to split the price of a pizza or stuff, that's fine as a social contract. But in terms of having fun, the game has to actually be fun to roleplay in, by it's very mechanics. The product has to actually be good (in some way or other) in it's own right. Rather than what's happened for around thirty years, where people have had fun despite the written rules.

As is, with the prewritten module bolted onto the game engine, these game sessions are fun without any social contract agreement on how to have that fun. Simply coming into contact with the gameplay does it. Sure, it's gamist boardgamey, but for myself I'd prefer a fun that comes naturally over great roleplay that came at, atleast to me, great character roleplay that came from any amount of social contract wrangling.

Yeah, I went on a bit about that - it's hard to describe it in a shorter space, otherwise I could have just made a short note.


Hello Michael,

How long was the preamble before the fight in your L5R game? In the game sessions I've been going to, it's very very short (in RP terms) - prolly five to ten minutes. Which is to say it doesn't screw you around thinking all that stuff matters for thirty minutes to two hours, then really you find out it doesn't. Also is L5R mostly gamble based combat? So even when you get there, your not going to even be making short term tactical choices?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2011, 06:45:08 PM »

To update, played a few more games...by gum, for drop in games, WOTC have designed the modules with the most kick ass monsters. I was sure we were defeated about half way through.

Indeed I felt quite dispondent after a few of us went down like ninepins. I had to think about that - am I whinging about losing?

Probably, but I think classic whiff was the issue. I think in the whole battle of the night I hit...once? We were facing druegar...or as I think of them now, fantasies answer to preditors (as in the fuckers turn invisible then become visible again next to you, for massive bonus damage).

But basically what is the difference between missing and having utterly done nothing on your turn/skipped a turn? At an emperical level, nothing! Given that some powers (mostly dailies) in D&D 4e have an effect even if they miss, I am almost willing to bet money 5th edition (of course there will be) will have miss effects on nearly all powers, or miss effects on absolutely all powers.

Because honestly it reminds me of this, where the dog is tied down and shocked and then even after it's not tied down, it just suffers the shocks, having given up hope of anything else. I think that's where the dispondency comes from - can't do fuck for missing and oh, now I can't do fuck for being unconcious as well...so just give the fuck up but sit there all the same. As you can see, people don't leave the table when things start to turn sour - especially if it turns sour over a time period (instead of in a short, sharp snap).

Indeed an idea came to mind that would be too radical for 5th edition and breaks simulationist norms a little too much. But the idea is that no one goes down when they hit zero hitpoints - everyones still in the game. BUT, the moment the last pc is put on or below zero hitpoints, instantly the monsters win. That way you lose as a team. Doesn't make sense much in simmy terms because surely it's 'realistic' for people to go down one by one. But as usual that's the divide point, since what I'm talking about doesn't hold realism or genre faithfulness as a number one goal.

Somehow, we won in the end, some heal effects raising myself and others (I think to a lucky nat 20 recovery roll by one player, to a large part helped the win occur too).

But seriously. Drugar. Fuckers!

And fuck whiff as well - time to get rid of 'Roll to see if you do nothing' mechanics. Atleast in what I design.
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Anders Gabrielsson
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Posts: 100


« Reply #5 on: July 01, 2011, 12:38:02 AM »

This is all sort of rambling but at least tangentially related to your last post.

The whiff factor is one of the least enjoyable aspects of 4E, and one of the reasons other than pure effectiveness to hunt for as many to-hit bonuses as possible. (There are more of those than there used to be, I think, but I'm not sure - it used to be pretty hard to get anything beyond a +1 in a specific situation until they tried to fix the math problems with the Expertise feats which was a bad, bad way to go. But I digress.)

But the way that most combat encounters create that "Oh shit we're gonna die!" feeling even though you're almost certain to pull through okay... they've done that extremely well. My players say they almost never feel a combat is a sure thing until the last couple of turns, and that can be with a +1 encounter that I know will at most knock out one of them, and probably not even that. (They're running double leaders in a five-person team, with one of them being a healing-focused Cleric.) That makes it fun both for them, in that they get a real sense of danger and get to feel that their choices matter, and for me, since I don't have to hold back but can go all-out with the monsters. And very occasionally, in a tough fight one of the PCs will die which keeps the players on their toes. (I think it's happened twice in something like 40-50 encounters.)

I think one reason why missing is so frustrating compare to not being able to act is that when you do get to act you have the potential to do something really cool and meaningful, but when you're knocked out that's that - there's nothing you can do so there's nothing to be disappointed about when your turn rolls around and nothing cool happens.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: July 03, 2011, 01:07:50 AM »

Quote
But the way that most combat encounters create that "Oh shit we're gonna die!" feeling even though you're almost certain to pull through okay... they've done that extremely well.
Wow, that actually just made me really wary? I'm all too aware of how the feeling of danger and actual danger are not just linked together. Given that, to me it calls for seeing if you can actually fail or whether it just feels like you can fail...hmmm, well, if a TPK is classed as a fail, that happened once in about ten games at the store. That's not a good sign, by itself. Bummer.

If I could measure what the actual challenge is, then you can just check if it's being delivered each game and then even if it's beneath your skill level, atleast you know it's being delivered. Like if a game was about remembering sequences of numbers of five in length, then if it delivers five length sequences, you know it's presenting that challenge (even if your so good at it you beat it all the time). What challenge is the current iteration of D&D providing? It's hard to test if it's delivering anything and instead simply obsfucating through myriad flow chart choices a predetermined result. And no 'the need to be tactical' isn't what it's presenting - 'tactical' is an empty, unmeasurable word.

Gah, and I was enjoying that...or more to the point, what I had gone and assumed was there.
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Anders Gabrielsson
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« Reply #7 on: July 03, 2011, 03:42:55 AM »

I'm not entirely sure I understand your last post, but I'll try to answer the question "What challenge does 4E actually present compared to what the players experience?", assuming that's what you asked. If not, please correct me.

In my experience, the actual danger is still there, it's just not as big as the players experience it. Part of this is probably that much of the actual danger is front-loaded: many, probably the vast majority, of the monsters' most dangerous attacks are single-use or recharge abilities, meaning they will be used early in the fight and then maybe once more (unless the GM rolls really well for recharge). When a monster's first attack takes away a third of your hitpoints that makes you feel it's very dangerous, but when that attack is "Recharge when bloodied" and the monster's at-wills do much less damage it's actually not that bad.

Another factor is the "he does what?" experience you get when a monster triggers an unexpected ability or a (seemingly) very powerful effect you haven't seen before. That often makes the players feel they've been thrown into the deep end without warning, even if the ability is actually quite limited (through limited uses as above, or because it can only be triggered when fairly specific conditions are met).

I can take a specific example of the latter from a recent encounter I ran for my group, which involved an Umber Hulk (probably one from the Monster Vault but I'm not sure). It can attack with both claws as a standard action, and if both hit the same target it becomes grabber. If the Hulk has a target grabbed it can do an attack against it that does a lot of damage. Since the UH is an elite it has an action point, so in the encounter I ran I used that AP to trigger the conditional attack when the UH managed to grab someone. The attack did a bunch of damage and my players were freaked out - "That thing's really dangerous!" And that's true - kind of. If you get grabbed and if you don't get out of the grab you're going to take a whole bunch of damage, but it's fairly hard to get grabbed and fairly easy to get out of a grab so if you're playing reasonably well - putting someone with high defenses up against the Hulk and having someone in a position to do forced movement on one of them if they still do get grabbed and don't manage to get lose - the danger is minimal.

So yes, the danger is less than it may seem, but it's still there. A group that mismanage their resources and don't cooperate will get wiped out by encounters that a group with identical characters but who use them better will have no problems with. In other words, whatchoices the players make matter.
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Chris_Chinn
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Posts: 280


« Reply #8 on: July 03, 2011, 08:50:21 AM »

Hi,

4E's default philosophy is that each encounter should eat up about 1/4th of the party's resources.  This is actually a pretty safe margin for encounters overall, and basically fits what a lot of players are looking for- "risk" that isn't terribly risky.

Given that D&D Encounters and similar organized play thrives on having continuous participation - there's more incentive to do low risk play than high risk challenging encounters (such as classic tournament D&D, or "deathtrap dungeons").

That said, it's not inherent to the system itself by any means- you can look up tons of stuff online where people are talking about upping the challenge - players using better tactics and teamwork, DMs using challenging setups.   

Tactics and teamwork do make a major difference in effectiveness- though it requires full group buy-in as part of the Creative Agenda of play- the DM has to build encounters with that in mind to challenge the players, the players need to work together for gamist strategies.

I tend to see it as a spectrum - on one end you have the high challenge gamists, who want to think hard, and play hard to win, down to the low challenge gamists who are happy if they figure out a slightly more effective tactic, here and there, and aren't much in danger of losing, and the very end being players who want Illusionism with zero threat of risk at all.   All of these folks want very different games, and usually find themselves frustrated when they encounter something other than what they were looking for.

Anders is quite correct in the psychology of perceived danger, though.  The nice thing about perceived danger is that it makes the players feel like the stakes are much higher than they are, which is usually great for low-challenge gamists or illusionists, and non-existent for high challenge gamists.

Chris
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: July 04, 2011, 07:10:02 PM »

As I said, in terms of two people communicating with a relatively high understanding of what each other mean, the words 'tactics' and 'tactical' are quite empty words. Or atleast with me, I wont know what your talking about.


Anyway, it's ironic, because the situations possible easyness is really hard to overall grasp.

Basically, looking past TPK's for now, there is no yardstick to judge performance by. Of course in a direct PVP board game, the yardstick is did I bet Kevin or Bob. In a PVE (player Vs environment) game, there needs to be a mechanical yardstick.

Or when you look at a TPK as a yardstick, it's entirely binary - you all die, or atleast one of you lives. Unlike many board games where you have points (often with a point total you must reach) and thus you have a gradiated yardstick. Here with D&D, you could not TPK against a group of minion goblins or not TPK against a group of dragons and therefore...not TPK'ing is nothing in terms of a yardstick. The supposed importance of 'Do you liiiiiive!!!!???1!?' is, at the very least, illusionous. It wouldn't be illusionous if D&D had no levels and all monster encounters were of the same challenge rating. Then you would have a definate yardstick of how good you are at the game.

Perhaps I should ask the GM what the WOTC's modules challenge rating was? Perhaps, in terms of a gamist CA, it's vital I ask?


Anders,
Quote
Another factor is the "he does what?" experience you get when a monster triggers an unexpected ability or a (seemingly) very powerful effect you haven't seen before. That often makes the players feel they've been thrown into the deep end without warning, even if the ability is actually quite limited (through limited uses as above, or because it can only be triggered when fairly specific conditions are met).
Yeah, I think I know exactly the feeling your talking about.

Hmmm, it strikes me as an obsfucation - you assume the monster can keep doing so and so. Why is it an obsfucation? Because once you realise the pattern, your immediately able to see it from the outside (instead of being stuck inside "He does what!!??").
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Chris_Chinn
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Posts: 280


« Reply #10 on: July 04, 2011, 08:57:19 PM »

Hi Callan,

Quote
Basically, looking past TPK's for now, there is no yardstick to judge performance by.

Actually, there's quite a bit of yardsticks you can use, when you're judging combat:

1. How many rounds did it take to defeat the opponents?
2. How many hitpoints did the party lose?  Did the party have to use any Healing Surges?
3. Did the party have to use any Daily Powers?
4. Did the party have to use any consumable resources (Healing potions, "Fire Bombs" via alchemy, etc.)?

All of these form simple metrics you can use to judge a party's ability to deal with an encounter.

"Tactics" involve specific choices, round to round, to improve these metrics.  If you're actually at all interested in gamist D&D tactics, just take a look around the WOTC D&D boards and ENworld forum as well - there's plenty of folks talking about better or worse tactics to use in play.

Chris
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Anders Gabrielsson
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Posts: 100


« Reply #11 on: July 04, 2011, 09:50:14 PM »

I agree with Chris that there is more gradation to victory and loss than TPK or not TPK. The characters could flee (with some left dead or not), different amount of resources could be used etc.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: July 04, 2011, 11:51:17 PM »

Guys, it's not a mechanic/a mechanical component just because it comes to your mind!? These are all made up evaluations! Or if your going to leap to argue that, then tell me what an actual built into the mechanics yardstick would look like? Would it be written in the physical text along with some 'this is important' text near it?

That even cuts both ways - even my assertion that a TPK is a fail - is that written in the text as a fail? Explicitly? Even I could be said to be making that up, given the wording that I recall in the texts.

Anyway, regardless, I'd like to talk about yardsticks that are written in the physical text itself. I want the yardstick the authors have to give (if any!), I don't want to turn around and ignore them in favour of something I made up. I wouldn't bother reaching out to someone else if in the end I was just going to turn to myself for that.
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Chris_Chinn
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« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2011, 05:33:31 AM »

Hi Callan,

That's a rather ridiculous narrow definition of what qualifies for talking about D&D gamism and success, here.  Plenty of games from most sports to chess measure more than simply win/loss ratios as important measurements of ability - even though "no mechanics for tracking such things exist" as part of the game.

Were you actually interested in talking about D&D and challenge or just to grind your axe about D&D?

Chris
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2011, 02:26:38 AM »

Chris, with the right set of eyes they would find your own preferences ridiculous. C'mon, the human default is to think oneself has won the magical belief lottery and has the right belief/preference and so is qualified to determine what is, overall, rediculous. If were working from the default, well then my dad could beat your dad anyday...

C'mon, take two! No default! Or you can instead just say my preference is so rare and held by so few (or just me) you'll skip talking on it, fair enough.
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