Saturday, May 17, 2008

Danger, Adventure, and Bologna Sandwiches

Mike Mearls is finally getting to play D&D 4th edition just for fun. He's running a twice-a-week lunch break game based on the old standby Temple of Elemental Evil. And he's posting summaries of the adventures on his Gleemax blog. You can read his behind-the-scenes comments here. (And thanks to the Chatty DM for the links.)

There's a lot of good stuff here, like, for instance, this comment about handling traps without a thief that will sound familiar to regular readers here:

The PCs ended up exploring some long abandoned chambers beneath the towers. They found a chapel dedicated to elemental evil, in which stood a pair of statues that rotated to look at the PCs when they entered the place. Each statue had gemstone eyes that flashed with arcane energy, slowly turning the characters to stone. Meanwhile, two skeletal dwarves emerged from a side passage to attack the PCs, and an altar in the room summoned two creatures formed of mud and a living mote of wind energy to defend the temple. These beasties were all monsters of my own invention, so don't be surprised when they aren't in the MM.

The party lacked a rogue, so here's what they did with the trap:
* Marken threw a cloak over one statue to prevent it from using its eyes to attack. The statued rotated back and forth to throw off the cloak, but Marken threw a rope around it to hold the cloak in place.
* Kot used mage hand to tie the rope in place, preventing the cloak from flying off.
* Marken bull rushed the second statue, damaging it and revealing a series of gears in its base that rotated it.
* Kot used mage hand again to grab the rope and wrap it around the gears, while Marken ran around the second statue, drawing its attention. As the statue rotated to attack Marken, it pulled the rope taut and tore the first statue off its base.
* With one final push, Marken toppled over the second statue.

All the while, the rest of the party fought the monsters. The PCs were able to resist the petrification attack, though Kot came very close to becoming a statue himself. Only Cornelius' magic saved him.

If I can goob about the game a little here, I felt like I had the best of the 2e/1e/basic D&D and 3e worlds. On one hand, I had a robust, flexible rule set, and on the other the players were thinking in-character about the trap, rather than looking at their skill lists or trying to figure out the mechanics behind the trap to beat it. One of the things we tried to emphasize in the 4e DMG is the idea of rewarding good ideas. If a PC does something sensible, clever, or imaginative, set a DC, think of what would happen on success or failure, and roll a die.

Or this bit about skill tests:

The PCs talked Xarn into allowing them to help guard the caravan, mainly by indirectly applying pressure on him through the guards (successful Diplomacy checks) to complete the challenge. The interesting thing to me was that everything flowed through roleplay, with the occasional skill check. The players never knew I was running a skill challenge, but from my side of the screen the mechancis worked out fine to determine if Xarn would let them come along.

But to my mind, the most intriguing thing about this is the idea of running a twice-a-week game of one-hour sessions. This, I think, is magic, especially for older players who can't afford to carve out six to eight hours to drive across town, game for a bit, and then drive home. Most of us can manage an hour or two, though, and if the gaming is online, then there's no need to drive around or anything like that. You just log in to the virtual table-top of your choice, or Skype, and get to gaming. Instead of farming gold or XP in a MMOG after putting the kids to bed, you can play for an hour or two in a pen-and-paper RPG and not have to feel like you're abandoning your family or throwing your social life under a bus. And who wouldn't agree that MMOGs are just a poor substitute for pen-and-paper gaming? ;)

And, in the interests of equal time, here's a recounting from Gygax about a session he ran in which the PCs explored the dark caverns beneath Castle Greyhawk.


Sham aka Dave said...

Three Cheers for real role-playing! Mike also seems to have embraced the fact that while rolling dice for success or failure is acceptable, it never actually replaces logic and role-playing.

Good stuff.


James Maliszewski said...

When the "culture" of 4e, that is, the actual play of the game by guys in the RPGA etc., embraces this kind of thinking, then I'll believe that Mearls isn't just using smoke and mirrors here. Any RPG can be played this way, contrary to the intent of the rules, and everything we've seen so far suggests that 4e is about overcoming mechanical "challenges" perfectly scaled to your party's power, which in turn is perfectly scaled to a predetermined level and rate of progression. The fact that a good DM can run it in a vaguely old school fashion says nothing about the game itself, only the DM.

JimLotFP said...

"and not have to feel like you're abandoning your family or throwing your social life under a bus."

Getting together with like-minded people to play games you enjoy doesn't count as having a social life?

Sham aka Dave said...

The fact that a good DM can run it in a vaguely old school fashion says nothing about the game itself, only the DM.

I can't argue with that. I agree that the tendency for most DM's will be the opposite, since the modern D&D rules encourage and support such a trend.

trollsmyth said...

James: I'm hardly rushing over to Amazon to pre-order the collectors edition. But I'll also gather pearls where I can find them.

jimlotfp: Oh, heavens, no! Of course it does. But while I was in college, I could declare every Saturday between 2 PM and 10 PM (and more often we went on till Midnight or later) D&D time and still get together with folks during the rest of the week. If I did the same thing today, D&D would be my social life. And since I have friends who are odd and don't game, I have to sacrifice a bit of gaming to maintain those connections.

- Brian