Sunday, March 15, 2009

I draw my sword and... Wait, it's a what?!?

I think the old school crowd is starting to rub off on poor Chatty. He's thinking of mixing things up a bit in Thunderspire Labyrinth:

So I’m going to make one small change to that encounter.  While the adventure mentions that the first NPC the players are likely to meet should ‘attack the PCs on sight’, I’ll give the NPC some motive to prefer to deal with them and have them remain alive in the complex...

If this works out, the NPC may point out toward the second set of NPCs in the area and propose some sort of cooperation to advance a common agenda.

Ahhh who am I kidding? The PCs are likely going to be rude to the NPC up to the point where I’ll say something like ‘it grips it’s sword in anger’ and all everyone will reach for their d20s.

This is one of those areas where old school and new school players diverge and not in the stereotypical ways. The new school knows that orcs is for killin'. Veterans of the Caves of Chaos, the D series of adventures, and Danger at Dunwater have a more circumspect relationship with humanoids. I think this is one area where 2e really pushed the envelope, with lots of adventures in Dungeon magazine that had players doing such things as rescuing a green dragon's eggs from magmen. Planescape not only had the PCs playing races that had previously only been monsters but made dealing with demons and cross-dimensional horrors just another day at the office.

There is something the 4e DM can do to shake things up and make the players adopt a more cautious attitude towards encounters, and that is to throw in something clearly beyond their level. Things are so clearly delineated by levels that tossing in a monster that's beyond the PCs' ability to fight straight up is fairly easy to do. Heck, to really throw them for a curve, make it a monster above their tier. If the players know anything about the MM and are paying attention, that should be all it takes to get them to stop and weigh their options a bit more seriously. Once they've had a taste of that sort of play, hopefully they'll look for more opportunities to play like that in the future.

If, instead, they look puzzled and ask, “Is this a combat situation or a skill challenge?”, well, I dunno how to help you there. I really, really doubt, though, that most players are to that point.


ChattyDM said...

I've always had at least one foot in the Old School, having played various versions of D&D since the 1st edition of Advanced D&D have. Although the 3rd edition really brought me back in the fold after a 10 years hiatus.

What you propose to do would not work with my group because I'm the only one with a copy of the Monster Manual and we're still in our first 4e game (level 6 now).

That's why I want to add a little more options to other wise combat only encounters... My players will likely chose to fight anyway... but at least it WILL be a choice.

Thanks for musing on this, your proposal would totally work in a group with many 4e DMs... harnessing metagame knowledge to shape player decisions... good idea.

trollsmyth said...

Yeah, I'm so used to having players who have at least thumbed through the monster books. It's just an assumed thing these days.

That's why I want to add a little more options to other wise combat only encounters... My players will likely chose to fight anyway... but at least it WILL be a choice.

Are you doing anything to let them know about the choice? Posting in your blog about it certainly counts, but are you going to do something at the table to reinforce the notion?

One thing I'll say about 3e, though it wasn't my cup of tea it was an excellently crafted system that really did bring a lot of old gamers back into the hobby. The timing was certainly right, and I think players like yourself were ready for something more complex that you could really sink your teeth into.

ChattyDM said...

I'll likely have the NPC try to parlay with the PCs before we roll for initiative. Usually that's a sign that there's an other option than combat.

Yeah, at the time 3e came out, I was growing frustrated with the nitty gritty one second by turn detail level of Gurps. The 3e ruleset was a refreshing return to the all the things D&D I had missed so much.