Author Topic: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action  (Read 7863 times)

Ron Edwards

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[D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« on: August 24, 2014, 05:59:37 PM »
Does anyone remember [D&D 4E] Psychedelic ectoplasmic barbaric 4E? Well, I've finally got our game off the ground. The players are Megan, Mark, and Brian, and here is the document I built to start it off, a better version of the one I drafted for the older thread.

After we met for character creation, I built this utility document, which is intended to bring ... I'll call it, criss-cross effectiveness into the spotlight.

In my occasional browses into on-line 4E discussions, one of the things that forces me to flee instantly is when people start yapping about this-class vs. that-class in terms of effectiveness. 4E doesn't work like that. It's all about which sub-sections of which classes, plural, are acting toward a common end at that moment. Tons of powers affect one another and can interact for unique effects.

That also switches up fast based on hit-point status and other currency too; there are situations or character types in which you want this or that character to be taken down to low hit points whereas this other one should be kept above half-total at all costs.

Managing tactics about this stuff, in the moment, is a skill, and I want to get that skill ramped up right away. The sheet is built to let everyone see what everyone else's powers are. Everything under the gray line can't stack directly, i.e., if two or more powers are contributing to Armor Class, you take the best one only. But above and below the line can stack, so if Asteron charges heedlessly while subject to Zazenna's Mantle of Clarity, then he has +5 Armor Class against opportunity attacks. I think the sheet also allows for appreciation for what one another is doing with the current array of options, which is something I really enjoy in games like this.

After character creation, I got the willies. The spectre of *D*AND*D is always a dark and heavy force at the table, composed of collective yet diverse assumptions and expectations. It goes way beyond merely one person's thoughts or expectations regarding a particular rules set for any other RPG.

I find myself falling into "must do it perfect! it's D&D!" in a sort of hazy contradictory-but-sincere haze of (i) it must work because D&D is perfect and original and pure and fundamental plus (ii) it can't work because D&D (if you see what I mean) so I must make it work with every creative/manipulative tool in my kit. Clearing this haze is what my essay-in-development "Finding D&D" is all about, but it's interesting to feel it welling up in the midst of what should be a relatively easy task.

My agenda, as deeply felt and irrational as any, is at least clear to me: I want D&D to express its utterly counter-cultural, utterly psychedelic, and utterly balls-out nastinesss - in the context of purely uplifting, exciting, even transporting heroism. Yes, I want a really good guy to emerge, or several of them, doing a good thing, quite likely for completely selfish or not-well-informed motives, in the most out-fucking-landish and completely amoral landscape possible. Some of you know what I'm talking about, it's all wrapped up with Elric and Den and Almuric and Night's Master and the original Elfquest, but goes all the way back to Barsoom too.

So of course I started second-guessing the character concepts and worrying that there wasn't enough snap-together among the combined options in a couple of them. I sent emails asking two of the players to reconsider their ideas and as much as accused them of "not getting it." They quite rightly replied, independently, to say "get bent, Ron," pretty politely, and I took a deep breath and got over it.

Back to system and "let's play this game together" considerations. My prep concept is described in the handout, but briefly, the point is to have many encounters available, with lots of choice about which ones to address, as well as unpredictable contingencies about which to address, and most important, the complete player-control over whether to take an extended rest or to press on. Without this infrastructure, the entire meta-system above the skirmish tactics vanishes - you can see in the handout how I tried to outline all the important variables that tie into this meta-system.

What's all that mean in practice? I conceived of a valley accessed by a narrow and complex mountain pass, ringed with steep mountain ridges. On the side opposite the entry pass, on other side of the far ridge, is a yawning void (all cosmic 'n shit). On the valley side of that far ridge, overlooking the valley, is an awesome-looking monastery embedded in the cliffs. From the pass, you can go down into the valley or you can take the contour road to the right, staying high on the ridges, until you come to the monastery on the opposite side.

Ordinarily a nice little pocket of normal, one of the many scattered across the ruined and shattered remains of the cosmos among the much more common horrific wildernesses. The characters are all part of the monastery culture in some way, and they decided that Asteron and Shrakk lived there, had been out adventuring and doing stuff, and were now bringing the newly-born Zazenna home with them. But unfortunately a huge vortex has opened up just above it, hanging in the air and being psychedelically disturbing, even impinging on the road about halfway around.

So my first layer of encounters concerns a trio of weirdly half-phased out of reality half-undead ghoul ex-Shifter women, who are disagreeing about what to do with the Obviously Powerful Artifact they have just stolen from out of the vortex. They're supposed to be delivering it to a person who's arriving soon to attack the monastery, and one of them wants to keep it and flee the area instead. So ...

1. Bliss and Delight, the two who want to give it to "he who comes" (a scary robot captain-knight; I decided to keep the look and name as well as the mechanics).
2. Ecstasy, the one who wants to keep it and have her sisters join her in fleeing the area; she has a few floating brains in jars to help her too.
3. The Warforged captain and his group of automata minions, about to arrive.

So whom to support against whom? I also had XP available for quests, such as 1000 for getting the artifact thing and using it themselves, or for resolving it all peacefully somehow. This is my way of avoiding providing either a linear or branching series of canned fights. I don't want play to be merely an array of Mortal Kombat fights one after the other ...  or more accurately, I want their strategic choices about how to throw themselves into it to become actual plot, a consequential through-line for fun and further prep.

Oh yeah, and I used pretty much exactly the creatures right out of the Monster Manuals, re-purposing and defining as needed. The ghoul-women were Fell Taint Lashers and a Fell Taint Thought-Eater, the floating brains were Xivort Darters, and the automata were Goblin Cutters. I decided to stay with the textual imagery and concept for the Warforged Captain.

Session #1
Then I went off to GenCon, came back, and we got to play! I am a little surprised that all seemed to go quite well, but that is the D&D spectre hovering again. After all, why shouldn't it have gone well?

The three-corner conflict turned out very fun in play, as they first agreed to help Bliss and Delight, then ran into a little problem with Ecstasy and for a bit had to fight all three, then totally switched sides and helped kill the first two to help Ecstasy.

Now it was time for one of those rest/press-on decisions. Basically, either way they'd have to evade the Warforged Captain, but under different circumstances. They decided to press on, meaning they could spend a healing surge during a short rest but they couldn't recover fully.

Well, the characters aren't very stealthy especially Asteron, and the next fight swung into action. Although they swiftly disposed of his automata, the floating brains reverted under his control, so they had to fight all those guys as Ecstasy tried to activate the Thing (it was an orb-egg cosmic thing about the size of a basketball, of course). I had conceived of that as a series of rolls, with a critical bringing it to a successful early close and a fumble cracking it open.

Much to my pleasure, I rolled a 1 on Ecstasy's second attempt, and the orb-egg cracked open so now we had cosmic chaos ooze to contend with too (which consumed her entirely, ending that subplot). Long fight short, the Warforged withdrew now that his objectives were no longer possible, which means they now have an enemy.

The next session concerns dealing with the vortex, which is affecting the valley below it and blocking their way to the monastery.

I swear to God that I did not make up the monster name "fell taint lasher" nor did I choose to use the fell taint monsters on any basis except that they were perfect for my concept of the ghoul-woman creatures who have names like Bliss, Delight, and Ecstasy and who value ritual sex only second to getting corpses to eat. Megan does not believe the latter claim and only believes the first in the face of incontrovertible evidence.

This game's a lot like Champions in that the first fight lets people feel out their abilities and judge their effectiveness, especially if you played Champs with attention to hexes and distance modifiers. The session as a whole also let me as DM judge how well the "encounter levels" in the books matched to our experience at the table.

1. Psionic characters are pretty tough against psychic monsters. I think the Fell Taint templates would have been much nastier against, say, rogues and wizards. Not that it wasn't cool! Lots of danger and defenses giving off sparks. But I don't think any of them suffered a direct damaging hit from their basic attacks - well, in fairness, I rolled a ton of shit results too, so maybe that's the main thing.

2. Dimensional Scramble basically waxes minions, "wax off," wham. Yikes!

3. The minotaur-battlemind-barbarian concept is stupid effective: Speed of Thought sets him up wherever he wants for the optimal starting point for any one of his insane charge / press / bowl-over attacks, and Blurred Step shifts him away from retaliation. At first level, Brian slightly de-emphasized the barbarian rage in favor of psionics, which works perfectly with the character's backgrounds of Silenced Beast and Rageborn - since third level will require a Daily power from the Barbarian class, that'll awaken the rage and I think some role-playing fun will ensue on that basis. Wants me to start thinking about the tribe he comes from.

4. "Murder hole" situations as presented in this case by the scary ooze are pure catnip for two players whose characters have Wormhole Plunge and Dimensional Scramble.

One thing we really needed was to have all the powers on individual cards. I didn't get this done in time for the first session, but with a little work at a handy website, I was able to set up these power cards on an Adept page. I'll print them in color from there and cut them out for play going forward.

We'll probably have to play a bit more before seeing strategy about Power Point and Action Point usage. If I'm not mistaken, people simply forgot about them, not having the power cards in front of them to see how the latter might be used.

The only system concern I have is that character death seems borked, at least relative to the larger arc of play with the Paragon and Epic tiers. It seems built for the characters to enter the new stages simultaneously, or at least that's my reading, or at least that's what the text seems to assume. Which would mean that no one is to die.

It's not at all clear what you do when your character dies, not in any of the texts I've seen. Play a new one from first level? (not really viable if everyone else is at 24th) Bring in a new one at the current level? (seems to trivialize the stay-alive priority) Or? With just three characters, there's no much room for error here.

Then there's alignment, which hooboy, the more they try to make it non-problematic, the odder it gets. In 4E, it's not Planescape at all, not the three-by-three matrix. Instead, there's Good with the subset of Lawful Good, Evil with subset of Chaotic Evil, and Unaligned, which isn't "in the middle" but way Over There somewhere. It's way diminished in concept too, being basically merely a character's own ethical opinion without any metaphysical details like planes or languages. I think we aren't even settled on what alignments the characters are, or at least not all of us, choosing to wait until a session of play to see what they felt like.

Best, Ron

P.S. If anyone was about to ask "But wait, isn't 5th edition out, why aren't you playing that?", my answer is, in at least five years from now. I prefer my D&D well after the subcultural blast marks are fading.

P.P.S. I did get a replacement copy of my old/first RPG for Christmas, the J. Eric Holmes D&D from 1977 (a 1979 printing actually). I'll be playing that one of these days too.

edited to fix a little spelling - RE
« Last Edit: August 24, 2014, 06:16:02 PM by Ron Edwards »

Moreno R.

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2014, 03:49:51 PM »
You....  you created an unholy mix of Steve Ditko and D&D? This is SO wrong that I think I will have to roll a sanity check...

(Somebody should call the Hoary Hosts of Hoggots on you)

I don't know much about D&D4 (never brought, never read, actually repelled by the "D&D" in the name) so I didn't think I would have anything to post in these threads, but reading you description of the setting and the characters I was hit by two aspects that I wanted to ask you about:
- the amount of work: these days I am the most lazy GM imaginable, so probably I am exaggerating in my imagination the time it did cost, but...  how much time did you need to do all that? And if that time is much less of what I am imagining, how do you create, in practice, that material? You wrote all of it from scratch, or you did take notes for weeks thinking lazily about it and at the the end you simply copied a lot of scarp of paper in a readable form, or what?
- The amount of that work that was dedicated to make it "not D&D" in terms of setting, color and expectations, coupled with the way you talk about the psychological effects of the name "D&D"....  In practically every other discussion and actual play about D&D (any edition) that I have read the effort is to make it adhere to a "mythical D&D-ness", the search for "the true D&D experience", like trying to be more D&D than D&D. This is I think the first time I have seen someone go so radically in the other direction...  You did consciously try to get as far as you could from that, or it's simply that reading the manual simply fired your imagination that way?

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2014, 05:02:28 PM »
Hi Moreno,

Those are really good questions. I might have to rearrange them a little to answer, so let me know if I missed anything you asked about by accident.

I didn't deliberately set out to avoid D&D tropes because they never sank into my mind very well in the first place. I'd read The Lord of the Rings at age 11 and re-read it a couple of times, so I knew it pretty much by heart. I was an avid reader of Howard, Moorcock, and Leiber, especially right at the moment I was most invested in D&D (say, the exact middle of high school), so I could see all the direct influences that let me know the author was merely a fantasy-reader like me. And remember, the D&D books I was reading were the late 70s mash-up, not even the semblance of a setting. I had no interest in Greyhawk, didn't read Dragon, and even the very idea of "setting" in the modern sense was unformed in the whole hobby, or at least it was for me. Even Glorantha was supposed to be a work in progress via play.

I've learned since that people who encountered the hobby and specifically D&D first in the 1980s, especially those who used D&D as their gateway into fantasy fiction and pop culture, have a different view. To them, the githyanki and githzerai are rock-solid setting features, canonical history and all, instead of a couple of half-assed throw-it-in bits of flotsam from some Brit's game. To them, the planes of existence are not only real "for D&D" but mapped. Whereas to me, the game books never had that kind of canonical power.

(I could go on about my attraction to the more build-it-yourself games like TFT and Champions, or about my far more visceral connection with Gloranthan material, or about the way I disagreed with at least half of the game-interpretations of fictional things which were now "rules" in D&D, considering myself at least as qualified to comment and create based on this material as anyone else, or at least as some wargamer in a small midwestern town.)

So ... well, as far as I see it, I am being faithful to very old-school D&D play-culture with this project, very much in the vein of the Naked Went the Gamer essay. It merely happens to be an old-school that seems to have vanished historically. To me - and I am beginning to think I am the single last person on Earth who feels this way - D&D was always a personal tool to bring your already-existing and preferably extremely whacked fantasy visions into a group-play context.  I'm square in the Arduin Grimoire tradition of saying, "Ooh, you play like this? And make stuff up for it? Cool! Lookit what I'm making up, taking some of your stuff as a jumping-off point."

Or to put it another way, I can always ask, "Do orcs have pig-noses?" and if someone looks at me in the eye and says Of course they do, the original ones anyway, then I know I should stop talking to that person. Or to put it another way, I didn't reject the elves or whatever, I merely started with a strong aesthetic and grabbed whatever popped up out of the books that fit.

And don't get me wrong, the races and classes I chose are absolutely bursting with potential for exactly the content I'm talking about. I haven't had to revise one single rule or power or anything, it's all steaming and raw and right in your face from the text. The paragon and epic material especially ... forget what I wrote last year about the primal and psionic supplements being fluff. They are coming right out of the motherlode of LSD meets gore-porn combat.

That sets up my answer to the rest of your post, a little, which although it was definitely work, it didn't feel like work. After we play some more, I'll post a lot of the stuff I used to build the current situation, and if I do say so myself, my vortex is pretty damn amazing. I hope it proves itself during play, but I have high hopes.

The process probably matches your description of note-taking for weeks-and-weeks. It shifted around among tasks. I found Dyson Logos' pages merely by running searches for custom dungeons, and for whatever reason, I work really well with his little geomorphs - especially partly randomly. So for a while I merely enjoyed messing with them, and later, I enjoyed noodling through the Player's Handbook merely to figure out what "leveling up" means in this game, and it was like that - trying out some other minor task or reading up on another idea, without much stress in any particular one of them.

That's part of my own D&D process, I think - to enjoy picking lazily from others' quality work, strictly in accord with some limited aesthetic notion of mine at the time, and putting various parts together. It definitely doesn't involve reading everything and then trying painfully to construct what I want (in fact, I still don't really know how ordinary wizard stuff is supposed to work in 4E, because I wasn't and am still not interested). So when you see the final result, it looks so awesomely unified and coherent that you think, My God, this guy's vision was so elaborate to start, how did he do that, but the fact is that I only had a reasonably pure and consistent notion to guide me in what I was going to ignore.

Let me know if that makes any sense.
« Last Edit: August 25, 2014, 05:08:33 PM by Ron Edwards »

Moreno R.

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2014, 11:36:15 PM »
Well, it definitively make more sense than the way I did it when I played AD&D....   (studying all the "canonic" material, and then trying to turn it into something I could use, ending up using very little of what I had brought and read...)

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2014, 02:34:01 PM »
Second session! I'll start with a brief but thought-provoking observation: running 4E isn't tiring at all.

Who says this isn't art?
I believe I forgot to mention that during the first session Mark's character Shrakk had sex with the ghoul-woman Ecstasy while Megan's character Zazenna watched. (cue Heavy Metal theme song)

When we reflected upon that event at the beginning of this session, a spate of whole-group free association determined that there is indeed a band at work here, whose name must be Necrosexy. (Imagine a 90s, post-Nirvana, awkward monotone at the microphone) "Our next song is ... Fell Taint ... from the eponymous album."

The situation beyond the fight
When playing a game in which you basically have to be in the dungeon, there's no point in playing around with "you have a choice but make the right choice." In this case, I think I could have been a little more nuanced, but there'd already been a nice set of who-to-fight-with decisions, and more such decisions await in the vortex, so I didn't bother with a false choice about getting in there.

After a bit of interction with the local Shifter people to clarify the damage and weirdness the vortex had brought to the valley, I provided a magical sending from Kzekk, their boss effectively (and who I introduced out  of nowhere) from the monastery, saying, "get on in there and make it stop." Using him as the remarkably well-informed NPC (tm), I was also able to clarify some of the bigger picture so that they could understand that the warforged captain and associated scary invading army, the vortex, and the cosmic orb (now cracked and oozing) were all different things.

Fights, tactics, strategy, system
We found a chessboard did really well for the necessary squares during a fight, but I think I better get a larger grid so there's more squares to play with. I'm kind of weird about grid or hex based game mechanics - I prefer not to use representative figures or map features, but to keep these game pieces as abstract as possible.

In fact, they were lots less lucky during the fights this time, so a bit of caution was a good idea. The characters are pretty wicked on movement and opportunity attacks, but not quite as good in straight-up hit-the-AC terms. So mobile, high-AC opponents were really hard on them.

In general, I think just three characters is a little tough in 4E, because the group's effectiveness depends so heavily on tactical movement and especially on the emergent properties among their different powers. As I understand it, the number and range of these properties jumps up fast per added character, so that with five or six, and with savvy players, the combat options become extremely adaptable among defensive fighting, traverses through a dangerous area, all-out-assaults, or in/out/sideways tactics.

On one hand, I am impressed at the players' rational use of interaction skills and strategic retreats to work their way through difficult encounters, but on the other, it's not really netting them a lot of experience points. They only got XP for the eels and for getting into the vortex, so they're advancing a bit slowly, but that's testimony to the need to strategize fights. They actually ran into two (2) of the biggest, meanest creatures in my whole setup so it's probably good they strategized accordingly.

It turns out Zazenna is hell on wheels when it comes to talking to animals and Asteron's the same when it comes to people or people-like things (he's the one who managed to get Ecstasy on their side in the first session, when for a moment they had all three sisters attacking them). Shrakk, being a grim psionic Githzerai ranged-attack vengeful seeker, does better to keep his opinions to himself. Rounding out our understanding of their personalities.

Such interaction isn't a complete dodge from conflict, though. I'm keeping notes on loose ends, among them the ooze-born golden man, who's wandering around in a daze of self-discovery, and the warforged captain, who's certainly marshalling new troops and plotting his new foray into the valley.

Dungeon prep
Here's how I made up the vortex: first, my plan was to have a flat map with entrances on all four sides, then conceptually force it to wrap laterally, like this. The same-color arrows in the diagram connect to one another, "like Pac-Man" as Mark said later. I know the distances don't actually work out mathematically so shut up.

I found Dyson Logos' geomorphs and printed a bunch of them, maybe thirty or so, at random. Then I thought about the size and decided on 4 by 4 geomorphs, figuring that "one square" in them (one of the small rooms) would be a 3 x 3 square in 4E skirmish terms. I chose sixteen that I kind of liked, with no more in my head than that I wanted more rooms & corridors than twisting earthy tunnels, and arranged them 4 x 4, almost entirely at random. I then taped them together and photocopied it a few times to play with it using colored pencils.

I'll post some of the scribbles when I get them scanned, but you'll see how sometimes I was getting an idea of relative depth (as if it were flat, so subjective depth as far as the characters were concerned), and sometimes I was figuring out what details of doors, levels, and other things led to "spheres of control" for entities that might be in there. I find stocking a pre-made dungeon one room at a time to be exhausting, boring, and uninspiring, but doing it this way, using the physicality of the map to set up zones or spheres of influence before deciding who's using them, is energizing and fun. Oooh, look, this little temple-like thing overhangs this cavern, so let me color the temple thing back to whatever doors or entrances seem like a useful or defensible boundary, then then color the cavern the same color and take it to the terminus of the various tunnels ... Only later do I figure out what's actually in these places, guided by my primary aesthetic and concept of what this whole thing actually is, in this case a psychedelic chaos-rift vortex.

I'll scan and post it as well as my monster/critter pages when we're doing playing with it, because there's a lot they don't know yet, but I hope you'll appreciate how much intrinsic logic leaped out between (i) the interactions of the geomorphs' passages/depts and (2) my concept of wrapping it all and conceiving of the inner four geomorphs as closer to the center of the vortex.

I'm sort of struggling to explain this, because what I really need is a 3-D hologram that turns in the air, and expands and contracts as I wave my hands around, like the tech in current movies. Given a flat sixteen-square map, the idea is that if the tunnels and passges go deeper, then we're going closer to the center, and also that the four inner squares are closer to the center. The first effect is perceptible by the characters' ordinary senses  but the second only to the Dungeoneering skill. I mean, regarding the latter, they can tell they're closer to the center but they can't perceive the shift of "up" or "down" as they go.

Ah screw it, I'll explain it again when I post the images and see what you say then.

I wasn't too surprised, but was pleased that the wraparound vortex proved impossible to map - have to rely on rolls to stay sort-of oriented

We ended at the start of an extremely significant encounter, which we played just enough for them to realize how important it might be, and when the initiative and rolls kicked in. So next session begins purely into-the-action from the start.

Due to all sorts of hassles during the day, I forgot to print out the damn power cards. I've done'em now, and we'll have them next session.

Best, Ron

RangerEd

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2014, 07:28:53 PM »
Thanks for sharing. Although tangential to your reasons for posting, you are opening the mind of a mid-western, victorian-minded, 1980s-indoctrinated D&D player. Much appreciated.

Ed

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2014, 09:49:52 AM »
Hi Ed, I'm glad you like it.

Moreno, I read your post again and suddenly thought of something: 4E isn't AD&D at all. It's definitely a different thing, far more attuned to the squares and skirmish-maps of 1978, rather than the setting-sprawl and metaplots of a decade later. It's a throwback to a particular application or meaning of Dungeons & Dragons, when "advanced" was being tossed around as an anticipation but with little text to define it.

I wasn't a fan of this kind of play back then, and I remember all too well that the texts and play-culture of that time led it to become profoundly not fun. Kill-crazy, power-up D&D had a bad reputation already as a consequence-free playground for fourteen-year-old boys, especially among the more mixed-age, mixed-sex role-players I knew. Also, much better mapped-skirmish rules were already available in Melee/Wizard, , RuneQuest, Champions, and (am I remembering this right?) DragonQuest ... as well as much better abstracted rules in Tunnels & Trolls.

I bet a look at the intervening design-space of electronic and digital gaming would tell us a lot. I may be the least competent gamer ever for that task because I have never played a console game, a CRPG by any definition, or any of those things. I haven't the faintest idea of how World of Warcraft even works or what it's like to play. My point about this is bigger than that, though - I'm saying that the intense focus on powering-up, getting to harder and harder places, ruthless tactics,  trading off resources lost vs. those gained, and strategizing primarily about character survival and resurrection are not intrinsic features of this medium or this technology of play, but rather the features of exactly that sort of tabletop D&D, moved into a screen environment. Obviously it was the perfect design environment to refine those variables in isolation.

So from about a thousand other teeth-grittingly stupid claims about 4E I've stumbled over on-line, I'll choose "it's just World of Warcraft!" as my first choice to beat to death with this +1 axe I happen to have found recently. They've got it all backwards: 4E brings one of the original ways to play back around to the table, and I think it's not "just a video game" but brought around all the way. It completely "circles" the history of AD&D.

A related point: regarding treasure, in what edition did D&D stop counting money for experience points? As late as 3rd?

[Tunnels & Trolls did this from the beginning, tying weapons use to Strength and Dexterity and spells to money and level to create a neat interplay among levels, attributes, spells, and equipment, with experience points in there only to fuel levels.]

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2014, 02:41:26 PM »
Ron, this is all completely awesome and wonderful stuff.

I'd be interested in hearing more about how you think the rules are working. Your comment about running this being not-tiring is interesting. I think these rules are doing some smart things with delegating certain bookkeeping things out to the PCs so the DM doesn't have to worry about them. I actually rather enjoyed running 4e more than any other version of the game with this name.

The chess board sounds like a pretty clever way of abstracting away from the tactical miniatures fetish! I'm sorry to hear it's not working out in practice.

The whole "It's World of Warcraft!" criticism always pissed me off. It's pretty clear to me that 4e was drawing upon a great many things that were going on in the broader spectrum of "RPGs." Some of that is party-interaction mechanics from online video games, sure. Some of it is using techniques developed in indie RPGs, or even trad games that aren't called "D&D". Some of it might be coming from board games. I think it's using a fresher palette of color inspiration too. The authors are happily drawing practical inspiration from all kinds of gaming and entertainment. To be able to say "4e is just World of Warcraft" would imply that D&D 3e and World of Warcraft are one's sole cultural touchstones.

My observation is this is the first game called "Dungeons & Dragons" which was actually designed and near-coherently supports an actual creative agenda. Do you think I'm off on that?

-

As early as AD&D 2nd Edition, XP for non-magical treasure had been relegated to an optional rule in a tiny sidebar. Although thieves and bards get double XP for treasure acquisition. (I had to look it up, do not fear for my sake on this thing.)

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2014, 11:10:04 AM »
Quote
I'd be interested in hearing more about how you think the rules are working. Your comment about running this being not-tiring is interesting. I think these rules are doing some smart things with delegating certain bookkeeping things out to the PCs so the DM doesn't have to worry about them. ....

That's definitely true. The baseline rules for conducting a combat encounter are straightforward and require only "management," rather than orchestration, with just enough variables for each fight to be quite different. One is about "shit this thing hits hard," and another is about "damn this thing moves sneakily." The language for the DM's monsters and characters is extremely simple and laid out in an organized way, so you can play him, her, or it without any mechanics reference except its card. From there, the players are expected to know the movement/advantage rules and to use their sheets and power cards as instruments, "breaking" the rules with individual spins.

It's also crucial to play that you know what everyone else can do, and also to understand the three levels of resources that I outlined in my sheet and discussed above, and how to work with the per-round initiative order including holding and delaying actions. In other words, the players have to play the game and there's absolutely no nonsense about it. No implication whatsoever that the DM does all the game-play and translates it to narration for the players, then they narrate back, and the DM translates that into game-play behind his mysterious screen.

Given that, it's incredibly easy to run. Each session so far, I've arrived pretty tired but found myself rarin' to keep going by the end of the session, a bit disappointed that time had run out. I've been in plenty of sessions of D&D, Rolemaster, and others (those two stand out) in which the fatigue set in early and then increased to the point of trauma, so that I left each session wondering what in the world could ever make me go back. This is nothing like that. It really does allow for us to focus on why the characters are fighting whom they're fighting, and on the strategy in a way which makes the resulting plot quite enjoyable.

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The chess board sounds like a pretty clever way of abstracting away from the tactical miniatures fetish! I'm sorry to hear it's not working out in practice.

It works great; it only has to be bigger. I'll come in with lots more grid next time.

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I think it's using a fresher palette of color inspiration too.

I think that's true, although I also think D&D publishing has done this several times, especially with Planescape, or the very WotC aesthetic that informed 3.0/3.5. I'm wary of praising the 4.0 aesthetic too much because (i) it matches my own tastes and (ii) I may be cherry-picking, as I'm paying no attention whatsoever to rogues, wizards, trolls, or anything like that.

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My observation is this is the first game called "Dungeons & Dragons" which was actually designed and near-coherently supports an actual creative agenda. Do you think I'm off on that?

That's a complex question. You know my take is that textual D&D has almost never been the relevant topic, so lining up the texts and thinking about what they say is really interesting, but not useful for generalizing about what "the game" is like or had been like.

I mean ... is Arduin "D&D" or not? I'd maintain that the original Arduin's Grimoire is a play-coherent text. And nothing's unclear or murky about the 1977 Holmes version, the 1985 Mentzer, its most developed heir, is strong this way too.

It's almost impossible to nail down what people seem to be claiming about the trajectory of D&D design, as it's primarily religious logic and every spin presupposes a different kind of purity or vision relative to history. My position is to examine not only the text but also the prevailing mythology about the game at any given moment or region.

James_Nostack

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Re: [D&D 4E] Psychedelic ectoplasmic barbaric 4E
« Reply #9 on: October 01, 2014, 11:28:28 PM »
So this is an old topic and I hope it's not gauche to ask about it:

Ron, is 4e managing to stay "fresh" in the minds of you and the players? 

I ask because the few times I've played it, I absolutely loved trying to figure out the way to be optimally effective within my group: what do I do with the action economy; when do I tap my Daily Power; if I stand over here, does that open stuff up for the other players?  And that kind of thing.

But I only played it 3-4 times.

What I've heard from some players who've had much more experience is that, once you've crested the learning curve, there's not much else out there: it's just a lot of incidental color to explain moving some ridiculously named monster back four squares on some battle-map. 

Perhaps as a related player-side complaint, sometimes battles take a hell of a lot of time to resolve, which is sometimes phrased as, "This monster has too many hit points," or "there need to be morale rules," or whatever; it seems to boil down to the amount of mechanical grinding is producing less and less novelty in the imaginary space

What I'd also think is that, from the DM's side, creating nifty combat set-pieces could get pretty tiring.  My go-to action movie set-piece is in the second Pirates of the Carribean movie, in which the antagonists fight a three-way duel for a McGuffin while also trying to stay balanced on a water-wheel that's come detached from a mill and is now barreling through a jungle.  It's absolutely preposterous, but then again, I've never seen anything like it before or since.  The combat depth of 4e seems like it really cries out for that level of creativity.  I'm skeptical that I could ever improvise that well reliably, and working that stuff out ahead of time feels like it would take a lot of effort...

But this is still a really inspiring project and has me kicking around some of my own ideas. 

[this was originally posted to the older thread - RE]
« Last Edit: October 02, 2014, 08:08:36 AM by Ron Edwards »

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2014, 12:11:21 AM »
Hi James,

As you can see, I moved your post from the older thread, and I think at least a little of your question has been addressed here. It's also well-timed because we played again just last night, and the player-characters leveled up.

Granted, I have not played very much. All of it's posted here, so you can get a look at what it was and is like for me so far. But that said, I think the opinion you're referencing is completely full of shit.

The question at the character level is, what are we here to do? "Fight" is the given, so that can't be the answer. And also important, what are the opponents trying to do - you can't have them all be murdersquatters waiting for the murderhoboes to come calling.

I'm not saying have a story in hand, a sequence of events, or even a plan like "the player-characters must try to save the village." All I'm saying is to make up interesting NPCs who have stuff they're trying to do, and to scatter adversity liberally across the landscape of possible activities. And make it a landscape - doesn't matter if it's a huge meticulously mapped Village of Omelette ... I mean, it could be, that can be helpful, but that's not what I mean as the definition. It has to be a landscape in everyone's mind, the way my valley is, map or no map.

I can't see how that's hard at all! The monster manuals are loaded with evocative color, turning every single familiar monster category ("goblin") into a whole salad of interesting types (cutter, blackblade, warrior, hexer, sharpshooter, skullcleaver, underboss), each with its own little rules-tweak, like the way cutters scurry a bit when they're missed with a melee attack. For me, this diversity offers opportunities to think about what they might be trying to do in a particular situation.

I look at something like this, and I think of stuff like ... ooOOohhh, what is the goblin hexer up to? And not, not the bullshit about trying to live a normal goblin life so then the PCs come in to "clear the hooch," either. I mean doing something, characters being involved and aggravated or inspired, with threats and/or opportunities that players find interesting to know about, or to fear the consequences from. As I wrote about before, my favorite is when there are plenty of fights available, but the players have a lot of freedom about whom they're going to fight ... and sometimes, which might be allies rather than enemies, at least for a while.

I think of that stuff not because it makes it more "real," or more "sandbox" (yes, that essay is in prep), but because it makes situations. And in a situation, characters are going to want to fight, or not to fight, or to try some other way, or to get out of there ... all depending on who they are, how things go, and without the need to plan it - or especially, without the need to define every damn encounter ahead of time by outcome. One type of outcome-planning is story-planning, "They'll mee the Azure Wizard and get the key to the Frog God temple, but it's the fake key, so then we'll have a whole adventure where they don't know the real key is in the halfling's back pocket where the Azure Wizard's imp hid it, and that'll be so cool ..." (kill me the fuck now) OR the other kind of bog-stupid fighty-fight planning, "OK, they'll fight and everyone'll win, or everyone'll die, or something in between," with nothing to do next but wait for the next fight.

I think that's the key. Although 4E really is about the fights, and sometimes quests, the only way to make fights fun is for them to be in, and sometime be, situations.

Thinking this way is certainly no more work than planning your saga and maneuvering the characters through it for twenty sessions, either in the "GM is God" way or in the "gee we'll massage it together at every moment" FATE way (which I find exhausting in play, incidentally). I happen to think it's a lot less work, actually. People often say "seems like too much" when they really mean "seems like something I don't really know how to do."

My very jaundiced suspicion
Maybe D&D - by which I mean that unexamined "ur-game" people are convinced really exists, in the past or in the ether or in the future - doesn't work unless it doesn't work. I'm not talking about the "built to tinker with" idea, which is a lovely confection, but instead, literally, the idea that if it works, then it must not be D&D. And D&D is good, so working ... but it's not D&D ... uh! Brain melt. As in all these dialogues I get into in which the person turns into Gollum and starts talking to themself: "4E sucks!" "It's a great game." "But it's not really D&D."

... but maybe I said all that simply because it's been a tough day.

What happened[
They met a shifter shamaness who'd opened a portal to the past, an idyllic wilderness, and wanted to save people from the modern-day Ditko-esque wasteland-whackedness. So that's what the weird ghoul-shifter women were, the husks left over when someone did it. Since the party consists of a Wilden (a race recently born in the current whackadoodle setting), a minotaur (beings evidently formed intrinsically within vortices), and a githzerai (former slaves of the Very Bad Beings who fucked up the world) ... well, she didn't think much of them. She offered to "save" the wilden basically by turning her into a turnip, you know, a real plant that doesn't walk and talk and stuff.

That went south pretty fast. She was a surprisingly tough opponent for a creature with no (0) actual attack powers. That whole dominate-fight-your-buddies thing is nasty.

After that, they decided upon an extended rest and some thoughtful rolls to suss out this weird 3-D vortex and what was wrong with it. They went into the center of the vortex and had to try to shut it down while awful chaos creatures wriggled through the cracking walls and fought them.

Coming soon: scans of the dungeon and how I did it! (which will make it a lot easier to explain what happened)

Thinking abou the session lets me consider your set-piece issue - a solid half of their effectiveness and niftiness is what the players make of it. Who says the DM has to say beforehand, OK, now it's time for the mill-wheel fight? What if all he or she did, in prep, was having a millhouse there, and the whole rolling-wheel fight emerged from various actions as they proceeded right there in play? Maybe that particular bit was the brainchild of one of the players. or maybe it was no one's specific brainchild and everyone was delighted with it as the events produced it, only "deciding" to do it (i.e. put rules attention into it) very late in its development.

I really think we're not talking about a certain kind of prep and how much labor it is, but about a certain kind of engagement and how much fun it is. Maybe when someone says "I don't know if I can do it," they're really saying, "I don't know if the people I play with can do it." Which goes back to the old Forge point, which began as a Sorcerer point, that there's no real reason to play with people who aren't into doing it, or aren't capable of doing it, when "it" is what you want to do.

Some rules thoughts ...
1. Without treasure XPS, the D&D advancement system is fucking stingy. The characters have been through hell and a half, completing a major and a minor quest in addition to lots of fights and skill resolutions, and I still had to spot'em a few points at the end to complete the 1000.

I know I'm late to this issue, because according to this very thread, 1 GP = 1 XP was apparently diminished in importance all the way back in 2nd edition (1989), and I bet a whole ton of gamers have no idea that used to be a thing - even one of the games's defining things. It's certainly affected my own judgment in prep, because I hadn't really processed how much leveling-up in my past D&D experience was money-based. It was a lot. In 1978-1983 play, the only way to keep your character alive at levels 1-3, DM fudging aside, was to get a mountain of loot - preferably magic items - and level up once a session until you hit the survivable sweet-spot of 4th level.

It's sort of interesting that without the money being XP, suddenly a huge void yawns forth labeled "why the fuck are we doing this again?"*

I'd very much like to see a big chart summarizing all the current self-styled old-school games' criteria for XP. Lamentations is brilliantly focused almost solely toward acquisition of funds, of a specific sort, for example.

2. I do rather agree that morale rules should be involved in some way, or more pragmatically given the existing rules, that how one might use the Diplomacy, Bluff, and Intimidate skills in a fight (possibly with Insight folded into their effectiveness) should be addressed in the books.

In our game, so far, Zazenna (ardent-shaman) was able to cut a fight short - effectively defeating the opponents - because she successfully figured out what the aberrant-mutated animals' problem was with her skills (and Megan's asking the right questions), used appropriate powers involving talking to animals, and finally used Diplomacy to convince them she would "free" them from their torment.

I stress that this was not some baked-in solution to the encounter. I didn't have "if Zazenna blah blah blah" in my notes. It was a straight-up encounter, similar to a wandering monster as far as the fiction was concerned, although not randomly determined in mechanics terms. Megan simply role-played her character dealing with a problem, we had all the relevant mechanics available to us right there on the sheet, and the outcome of various options and rolls worked out the way it did.

Does that mean you can always "talk your way out of a fight?" The answer is "No," but as for how and when,, well, that would be something they should have put in the DM Guide, which they didn't I have my own standards for it, but instead of hyping those, I'm saying that having such standards is crucial for DMing this game well. Effectively, I do think morale checks exist, but you have to know how to do it.

3. I don't like the 50-50 saving rolls at all. Granted, many things which were saving rolls in the past are now defense target numbers which are customized per the characters' attributes, but still - just 50-50? Always? What the fuck? I'd rather jettison the "saving throw" terminology and stay with the d20 + attribute bonus vs. TN system, or treat the effect as an ongoing attack of some kind, ended when it finally fails.

4. Initiative is also interesting. You roll it anew every round. Strangely, we didn't do that when I played in the store game last year, and I have the impression from other discussions that a lot of people roll it once, then keep that order for every round during the encounter. I very much prefer rolling it every time, because it seems to reflect, to me, that people in a big fight don't wait their turns to "go," and that the vagaries of the moment might give you two turns in a row once in a while, or everyone else gets their licks in before you can get into it. Or to put it more in game/tactics turns, it keeps everyone on their toes, GM included, regarding which tactics make most sense at the moment. At first level, the initiative rolls are not modified by much, especially compared to the monsters, so the rolls make the difference, hence the characters' order relative to one another is quite randomly distributed per round. I expect that it's a bit different when the modifiers shake out more extremely later, when the fasties have +10 or more while the slowies have +1 or +2, resulting in more consistent results per round. (fuck - I totally got this backwards, just checked)

Another idea
Even with all my talk above, I still cannot face the idea of 7-8 encounters per level, plus quests here and there, for thirty fuckin' levels. I love the Paragon and Epic path idea. But no way, OK? That's like 100 sessions. Which is a fine design actually, given that people do happily play 100 sessions of stuff, and I do see that it would work, but not for me, at least not with this game.

So my solution is to do some skipping. I want to play as follows:

- Levels 1-2, so the characters are legitimately "started," and the whole feel of play from one level to the next is established
- Then levels 9-11, during which they choose their Paragon paths (maybe 12 too because the Paragon path includes an important 12th level power)
- Then levels 19-21, during which they choose their Epic paths
- And finish out with level 30, for the final Awwee-Zumm blowout games

I think that'd still be a hell of a lot of creative play, with the fun of seeing really solid advancement, and a chance to feel the path increases "for real" without playing 100 sessions.

Best, Ron

* I submit that in balls-to-wall dungeon bashing games like Tunnels & Trolls in which the money isn't explicitly XPs, it is still a key component of the currency, especially as long as you stay with the listed costs of stuff and the assumption that the main or only way you get the stuff is to pay those costs, which is extremely explicit in T&T.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2014, 12:56:17 AM by Ron Edwards »

Eero Tuovinen

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #11 on: October 03, 2014, 04:07:05 AM »
2. I do rather agree that morale rules should be involved in some way, or more pragmatically given the existing rules, that how one might use the Diplomacy, Bluff, and Intimidate skills in a fight (possibly with Insight folded into their effectiveness) should be addressed in the books.

The game has a rudimentary mechanization for this already in the form of a "surrender" rule/action. It's not thorough enough for practical use, particularly because it practically requires that the character specializes in Intimidate, and the existence of a common language, but it's not difficult to expand on the principle.

If memory serves, intimidation to surrender is a combat action you can take against a Bloodied opponent with an Intimidate check vs. the opponent's Will defense. The opponent gets an innate +10 to the check for the situation being hostile, and the Intimidation takes a -5 penalty if there is no common language in play.

I personally would create a morale rule for monsters by postulating that a Bloodied or overmatched (there are more of them than there are of us) or overawed (they killed Bob) opponent may be intimidated to run instead of surrender, without penalties for hostility (so at +10 compared to trying to force a surrender), provided they have a feasible venue of retreat. I'd allow using this on multiple enemies at once (every one in a group susceptible to intimidation at the moment) by e.g. allowing a successful result to be applied at -2 against another opponent who is also vulnerable to intimidation at the moment. Presumably there should also be a distance limit of some sort.

Finally, while I think the intimidation is normally a standard action, to make it into a proper morale rule, it needs to be available as an opportunity action at certain junctures, so the enemies can decide for themselves to make a break for it. Perhaps simply say that Intimidation in combat is available as an opportunity action against an enemy attempting to face you; I don't think that's particularly unbalanced, as you'd be intimidating instead of taking an opportunity attack (although intimidation would be available in situations where an opportunity attack would not).

All in all I'm somewhat lukewarm with the idea that intimidation should be a skill at all, but the idea of an intimidation action that can trigger escape or surrender is one that has legs in 4th edition; it's definitely something one should use to avoid that boring last third of a combat when it's already been won but the enemy's too stupid to realize it.

Christoph

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #12 on: October 03, 2014, 06:52:14 AM »
Hi

I've been wanting to chime in a long time, but just to say I really enjoy reading these AP reports, and that "my favorite is when there are plenty of fights available, but the players have a lot of freedom about whom they're going to fight ... and sometimes, which might be allies rather than enemies, at least for a while" is exactly what I'm interested in when I think of fantasy roleplaying in a gamist approach. Neat stuff.

James_Nostack

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #13 on: October 03, 2014, 12:29:56 PM »
The question at the character level is, what are we here to do? "Fight" is the given, so that can't be the answer. And also important, what are the opponents trying to do - you can't have them all be murdersquatters waiting for the murderhoboes to come calling.

[snip]

I can't see how that's hard at all! The monster manuals are loaded with evocative color, turning every single familiar monster category ("goblin") into a whole salad of interesting types (cutter, blackblade, warrior, hexer, sharpshooter, skullcleaver, underboss), each with its own little rules-tweak, like the way cutters scurry a bit when they're missed with a melee attack. For me, this diversity offers opportunities to think about what they might be trying to do in a particular situation.

Oh, no, I totally understand this point, and it's a spot where every Forge game I know, and OSR best practices, are in complete agreement: factions and agency for (named) NPC's.

Quote
Thinking about the session lets me consider your set-piece issue - a solid half of their effectiveness and niftiness is what the players make of it. Who says the DM has to say beforehand, OK, now it's time for the mill-wheel fight? What if all he or she did, in prep, was having a millhouse there, and the whole rolling-wheel fight emerged from various actions as they proceeded right there in play? Maybe that particular bit was the brainchild of one of the players. or maybe it was no one's specific brainchild and everyone was delighted with it as the events produced it, only "deciding" to do it (i.e. put rules attention into it) very late in its development.

If that's what happens, it's extra awesome, but the idea is to make sure there's mill-wheel there in the first place.  Or vines to swing from.  Or adamantine jesses hanging from the feet of a Roc bred by a Titan, that you can then grab onto and climb around on to leap off the Roc and stab the Titan in the eye... It seems like 4e really comes alive when every fight has at least 1-2 elements like that, to make a fight feel tactically unique.  I guess by my own past experience those elements tend to get introduced by the DM, but in earlier editions I've been okay with players suggesting elements that "ought" to be there, so maybe authorship is more distributed than I was assuming.

Quote
my favorite is when there are plenty of fights available, but the players have a lot of freedom about whom they're going to fight ... and sometimes, which might be allies rather than enemies, at least for a while.... I think that's the key. Although 4E really is about the fights, and sometimes quests, the only way to make fights fun is for them to be in, and sometime be, situations.

Yeah, I'm curious about what this looks like in practice.  It seems like the big choices for the PC's are when to rest, and who to fight next (and why).  One thing on the resting - you might consider setting deadlines for certain quests if you haven't already. 

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1 GP = 1 XP

[snip]
It's sort of interesting that without the money being XP, suddenly a huge void yawns forth labeled "why the fuck are we doing this again?"

Eliminating the lust for gold was, IMO, a terrible decision, but that's a different topic.  For weird variations, check out the 2e DMG's optional rules on class-based XP awards (the fighter gets so terribly hosed, yet again), and also Adventurer Conqueror King, which is a B/X retro-clone fanatically dedicated to working out all the implications from 1 GP = 1 XP.

Quote
I do rather agree that morale rules should be involved in some way
I quite like Eero's suggestion.

Quote
I don't like the 50-50 saving rolls at all. Granted, many things which were saving rolls in the past are now defense target numbers which are customized per the characters' attributes, but still - just 50-50? Always? What the fuck? I'd rather jettison the "saving throw" terminology and stay with the d20 + attribute bonus vs. TN system

This seems to be how 5e handles it.

Quote
So my solution is to do some skipping.

I actually have a hard time imagining anything outside of a specific tier of play, but your solution looks pretty interesting.  The one trick is that, if you're suddenly gaining ~7 levels or something, that means picking a bunch of new powers that you haven't had a chance to gauge properly on their own terms, let alone how well they mesh with others' equally untested powers.  I don't think what you're doing is bad - it'll inject a lot of novelty, I think, which would be healthy - but I'd be real flexible about letting people swap out stuff that ain't working.

Ron Edwards

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Re: [D&D 4E] Barbaric psychedelic et cetera in action
« Reply #14 on: October 03, 2014, 07:45:36 PM »
Hi Eero,

That makes a lot of sense (all of it).

You might be interested in an 80s Champions GM veteran thinks about the issue of grind-down fights. I think I'll post about that when I get the chance.

Hi James,

We seem to be of similar mind about a lot of this. However, I beg to differ regarding this point:

Quote
If that's what happens, it's extra awesome, but the idea is to make sure there's mill-wheel there in the first place.  Or vines to swing from.  Or adamantine jesses hanging from the feet of a Roc bred by a Titan, that you can then grab onto and climb around on to leap off the Roc and stab the Titan in the eye... It seems like 4e really comes alive when every fight has at least 1-2 elements like that, to make a fight feel tactically unique.

How do I say this nicely ... I think that whole perspective, especially your contrast of "introduced by player" vs. "introduced" by DM, is wrongheaded. If I'm reading you right, your posts are all hung up on the whole idea of intentional "this is a thing to use" prep or introduction.

What I'm saying is very different: that colorful or even merely plain sensible details are introduced profusely all the time, ad lib or in prep, whatever. If you want to say "by anyone," or "by DM only," or "suggested by anyone with DM vetting," again whatever, it doesn't matter. The point is that stuff like this doesn't have to be introduced as a set-piece element as such, and indeed to do it so often often grades fast into railroading (the bad kind).  In my example, the mill-wheel wasn't introduced so people could fight on it while it was rolling, but because it was introduced as part of the local color. Think of describing the backdrop to a Mortal Kombat fight, and consider the difference between the actual video game in which characters cannot do anything with or to that backdrop, and the role-playing version in which they can. So you describe and include that stuff only for color, and then, whoa, once in a while you or anyone goes ahead and holy shit, do you remember that time we fought on the rolling mill-wheel?

Quote
One thing on the resting - you might consider setting deadlines for certain quests if you haven't already.

Absolutely. Each time they've taken an extended rest, there has been at least one off-stage development of various monsters' situations.

Regarding the level-skipping, or super-level-ups, I plan to follow the rules very carefully, so that retraining one thing per level is retained. That will allow plenty of customization to the new status - in fact, I think the retraining is one of the finest mechanics of the advancement rules.

Best, Ron