Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Death and Tea Parties

I've been too busy lately, and I've just yesterday got around to listening to Canon Puncture episode #63 where they start off talking about not just one but two of my posts. The first they mention, “Fair is Fair, but don't Expect Any in the Land of Moldvay/Cook” is something that's been tumbling in my head because I can feel I'm circling an idea I'm having trouble expressing, and the reaction of the folks on the podcast makes it clear I'm not there yet.

Yes, character generation is easy in my game. No, no one has given me pages of character history. But learning to live with high character mortality is only part of the equation, and the lesser part at that. So far, we haven't actually killed any PC or NPC hirelings or henchmen. The point I think I'm trying to get across is that you don't have to kill every goblin you meet.

The party has met two groups of goblins. One had captured a cleric and was torturing him. The PCs attacked with surprise and slew most of them, though one fled and escaped. The second group they met was minding their own business in the ruined villa they've been exploring. Neither side got surprise. The PCs backed off and closed the door. The goblins had bigger fish to fry and were not terribly interested in fighting the PCs. And so no fight happened.

In regards to the gefirir, the critter mentioned in the fair-is-fair post, not only did the PCs not fight it, but they actually ended up being given a quest by the elemental. That's what I hoped would happen, but I was ready to throw down with the d20s if they'd decided to try and fight it. So far, caution has been their watchword, and the emphasis has been more on exploration than murder. That's not the only way to play Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord, but it certainly makes for a fun game.

And it's important to point out that talking and retreat aren't always options. Hungry tarantellas are more than happy to chase young, juicy dwarves and clerics, no matter how fast or far they run. “Automated” magical defenses will attack anyone who enters their “activation zone” and often destroying them is the only way past.

You have to pick your battles in this sort of play. Some things are difficult to defeat. Others are nigh impossible to slay. Sometimes you need to be clever and lead the monster into a trap. If you're lucky, you might be able to bypass the monster all together, or, if you're really good, you might get the monster to help you.

It's all on the table. Up front, I tell my players that I won't feed them fair fights, and I don't expect them to fight fair either. I am, as the Canon Puncture folks say, fair to the world. This also means that the players can learn how the world works and use that to their advantage. Any challenge can be tackled in a variety of ways, depending on the tools the PCs have at hand.

On the flip side, I also don't toss them into inescapable deathtraps. There's always a warning, a way out, a chance to back off or escape. Sometimes you need to be clever to find it, and it's almost always better to not get into the situation in the first place.

That's a lot of words to try and describe something I understand at a gut level. That means I'm still probably not there yet. Don't be surprised if I revisit this theme again in the near future. The title, by the way, is a reference to something one of my players said to me. She'd had a rough week and was looking forward to bashing some heads. “So light on the tea parties this time, got it?”

UPDATE: Lord Kilgore riffs on a similar theme:

I prefer PCs see wandering monsters as something to be avoided (or parleyed with) if possible. I want players to see their characters on a mission and unwilling to risk derailing themselves by getting sidetracked (or killed) by those bugbears who just happen to be passing through. If you greatly expand the combat XP awards, now there’s no reason NOT to fight. In fact, heading out and HOPING for wandering monsters could become a decent strategy. How is that “good decision making”?

3 comments:

sirlarkins said...

On the subject of wandering monsters, for me this is the iconic image:

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v728/sirlarkins/Fantastical%20Fantasy/dnd02.jpg

DM: "You're out riding through the wilderness when suddenly, through a gap in the trees, you see a hissing, spitting dragon!"

PC: "OMGWTF."

I really don't see the point of making sure wandering monsters are balanced against PC ability. If I wanted that I'd play MMOs and kill rats outside of town.

Spike Page said...

*nodnod* Yep, the world is a big bad and don't give a tinker's cuss about party challenge levels or fairness.

Last night, our party of 2nd and 3rd level characters, while passing across the snowy plains of (you might call it Finland), we suddenly found ourselves up against a snow-worm (like the purple kind, but whiter and colder). And yeah, we ran like scalded dogs.

Oddysey said...

In regards to the gefirir, the critter mentioned in the fair-is-fair post, not only did the PCs not fight it, but they actually ended up being given a quest by the elemental. That's what I hoped would happen, but I was ready to throw down with the d20s if they'd decided to try and fight it.

It ate a bunch of elves! Elves we knew were badass because we saw them beat a bunch of people up! Well, sort of. Point being that handing out clues about how tough things are is helpful.

Also: When Rukmini gets back to civilization, she's going to have to go get some tea. Because Team Cleric + Tea Party = Awesome.