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[DD3.5E] Dragon Must Die (light bulb comes on)

Started by coxcomb, May 24, 2004, 06:31:23 PM

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coxcomb

Even though I dislike D&D, I played a game this weekend as part of a birthday party for a friend. One shot, pregenerated characters, how bad could it be, right?

Things started out well. I played a paladin who had taken a blow to the head and sometimes thinks he is a thief. One of the other players had a gender-changed archon with a dog form. In the introductory part of the game, we had great fun: I played George like a slightly less intelligent Dudley Doright, Elly played Clementine (the archon) as a loyal dog.

The scenario was by definition simple: we go the the standard D&D adventurer's tavern to meet a man about a job. He tells us that a black dragon has taken over the nest of a mated pair of silver dragons. Three eggs are missing. We must go retrieve the eggs. There's a bonus if we kill the dragon. Yadda Yadda.

George is charged up about smiting evil and tears off. Lots of goofiness, lots of laughter. To give you an idea:

Clementine: Hey George! I found some tracks. And there's residual evil here!

George: [Charges forward, obliterating the tracks with his horse] Where!

Clementine: You trampled them, George.

George: WHAT! Sally [the horse] has trodden on EVIL?!? AH! There's evil mud all over her hooves! [turns Sally and gallops back to the rest of the group] Maria!!! [Maria is the cleric] Maria, quickly, I need your help! Sally has EVIL all over her hooves. YOU'VE GOT TO SAVE HER!

Maria: What?

George: [Leaps off of Sally and lifts one of her hooves] LOOK! It's EVIL!! Please, Sally, don't DIE!

Maria calmly takes her "sponge of goodness" and cleans the hooves...

Anyway, we had fun. And then we found the "encounter", started combat, and all of the fun went away. It's like the system sucks the character and creativity out of the players. Instead of coming up with cool ideas and witty banter, we spent our time picking spells from lists, or being completely blocked.

The thing is, the GM is a creative, fun person. If the resolution mechanics were less like a war game and allowed for some imrovisation and creativity, we could have had a great time. As it was, he realized that we had no recourse against the dragon when it showed up (one of the spells didn't work the way that he thought). So he fudged it in an unconvincing way.

This is a common problem with me and D&D: fun, fun, fun, then the mechanics suck the fun away.
*****
Jay Loomis
Coxcomb Games
Check out my http://bigd12.blogspot.com">blog.

John Harper

Well, obviously, this isn't a problem with D&D. It's just preference. You want one kind of fun, and D&D is good at delivering a different sort of fun. Wrong tool for the job, so to speak.

So... what's this thread about? What would you like to discuss?
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!

Zak Arntson

What John said. When you try to push D&D in directions that the system doesn't support, bad things can happen. I tried to play an effete archaeologist, and the most fun was between (or immediately before & after) combat. John Wick's observed this, too, with an article (which I cannot find a link to! Anyone have it?) discussing various character concepts and how you can't play them with D&D.

So, what you need to do is stay away from D&D. Notice how all those fun actions you did had little system incentive. Maybe you can convince the GM to give rewards for non-combat fun. Alternatively, go really out of your way to solve challenges without combat -- my archealogist (read: thief) snuck around a dungeon and creatively incapacitated a ton of goblins without a single combat roll.

Or enter it with the knowledge of what it is: A strategy-heavy combat game.

coxcomb

This was just the first time that I was totally aware of the disconnect between me and D&D. It isn't the style of fantasy portrayed so much, it's the focus of the rules and the style of play that they support.

I know it's not a big revelation here or anything. But it clicked with me. System does matter, and I knew it did, but I have never been so keenly aware of my own disconnection with the style of play that (in name at least) is the most popular. It isn't just that I don't enjoy it, but I can't even see how it is that others enjoy it.

So my point (if I have one) is that the rift between play style preferences is bigger and deeper than I ever realized. Not just is D&D not for me, but after about two decades of roleplaying I cannot even relate to the players that it is for.

To be clear, I  am not just slamming on D&D. Obviously lots of folks like it, and I can't argue with that. I am just amazed at the diversity of opinion and preference in the hobby.
*****
Jay Loomis
Coxcomb Games
Check out my http://bigd12.blogspot.com">blog.

John Harper

I had an insight recently. Most gamers don't distinguish between the rules and the techniques used to implement those rules. Thus, the old chestnut: "D&D isn't just about killing stuff! We do court intrigue and romance in our D&D game and it works great!"

To most people, that counts as "playing D&D" and that's all there is to it. And you can hardly blame them. Most games don't tell you when or why to implement most of the rules. That's something that you're just supposed to know already.

I think I would even argue that D&D as written doesn't qualify as a complete RPG. It tells you how to create a character and how to resolve some tasks. But it never tells you how to play the game. What do these characters do? Make Spot checks and disarm traps? Hit zombies with their swords? Why? Where? How much? Given the three core books, I can only roughly guess at the answers.

"Playing D&D" is a nebulous cloud of possible activities. I can imagine enjoying some of those activities and absolutely hating others. I don't think I can say at all if I enjoy playing D&D without lots and lots of clarification on what that even means.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!

b_bankhead

Quote from: coxcombThis was just the first time that I was totally aware of the disconnect between me and D&D. It isn't the style of fantasy portrayed so much, it's the focus of the rules and the style of play that they support.

I know it's not a big revelation here or anything. But it clicked with me. System does matter, and I knew it did, but I have never been so keenly aware of my own disconnection with the style of play that (in name at least) is the most popular. It isn't just that I don't enjoy it, but I can't even see how it is that others enjoy it.


A belated welcome to the club.  I became a member when I walked out of game 2 1/2 hours into a D&D combat around '82 and vowed never to play the game again.  Everyone says that you can do  court intrigue and romance etc. etc. when 'playing D&D'.

But actually D&D doesn't have rules for any of these things. When you are doing any of these things you may be 'playing D&D' but you aren't using any of the D&D rules to do it.  For the most part all this activity is conducted in pure freeform rp mode without referencing a single rule at all.
Its when you draw a sword that D&D tranforms your game into 'Chainmail with chrome'. Or cast a spell. Or do ANYTHING where there is a rule. By the watch most of the games of D&D I played up to 80% of the time was spent resolving combat.  And D&D combat is deeply bound into the physics-model,simulation oriented, miniatures gaming paradigm. Ironic, since the wierd distortions created, by scaling it down to the personal level (the strange logic underlying hit points for instance) produces an effect that is wildy unrealistic.  D&D is the perfect example of a simulation that only simulates itself.

Look ,somebody  either likes miniatures wargaming or they don't. (I find them much like watching paint dry....)  If you don't it's ridiculous to expects someone to like a game where that is in fact what you are going to be doing most of the time. Hell yes System Does Matter...

You know . I'd like to see a game with elaborate 'crunchy' interpersonal rules and TOTALLY FREEFORM COMBAT.  Then let them say system doesn't matter.....
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cognizantchance

QuoteYou know . I'd like to see a game with elaborate 'crunchy' interpersonal rules and TOTALLY FREEFORM COMBAT. Then let them say system doesn't matter.....

that's funny...

I've been playing a little bit of D&D in the past year and one of the things that I've noticed is that the more vanilla activities that I choose the more boring and difficult the whole process is (add up all the bonuses, make your percentile checks for whatever failure might occur, double check and roll..yawn) whereas if you mess up the rules a bit and do unusual things, I really find that the particular numbness I feel when I view my character sheet disappears somewhat. You would think that unusual activities would slow things down but I find that isn't the case.

As a rule, I try to interact with the terrain if at all possible, seek cover, jump into holes all that kind of stuff. Basically making a lot of the traditional "swing and a miss" of D&D unnecessary.

If there's a point to this observation, it's that if you take the least imaginative view of your actions in any system, it's going to be dull. D&D seems to particularly drive players toward unimaginative resolution, but is it really the rule system that does this? I'm wondering if it has anything to do with, for instance, that D&D is the initial roleplaying experience for many roleplayers. I've watched many first-time roleplayers struggle to not screw anything up, which naturally leads toward the easiest understood and familiar mechanics.  Is it possible that the early experiences create a gestalt, that makes D&D virtually unplayable for people who have looked beyond it?

Ron Edwards

Very important!

1. What level(s) were the characters?

2. What was the composition of the party in terms of character race and class?

3. What magic items did they start with, if any?

These are crucial questions whenever asking about playing D&D of any sort, but especially so in this case, because the explicit reward system of the game was obviously rendered irrelevant.

Best,
Ron

Sean

I have experiences similar to many of those on this thread.

The thing I think in D&D that's a draw for some people is the zany, crazy, 'anything goes' feel that the old messed-up rules and wild hybrids of imagery and genre wound up supporting.  (The split-personality paladin and archon characters definitely fit this, albeit with a slightly new-school flavor.) The problem is, as the game grows more complicated, that feel seems to evaporate in play, or get killed completely, for the very mechanical reasons you cite among many others. 3e doesn't support it at all; Hackmaster does, but is not a viable game for many groups in terms of prep and handling time. OD&D does, but OD&D is a toolkit for building your own game, and surely most of us have better things to do than create yet another OD&D homebrew at this point. I think Tunnels and Trolls might be able to support it too.

That feel is kind of cool, though. Completely unpretentious, highly goofy, and good for many laughs if you enjoy that sort of thing. "My guy is a big red-haired fighter with a battleaxe in each hand!" "My guy is a weird, bug-like space alien from another planet with a plasma rifle." "I'm an elven troubador!" "I'm a penguin illusionist-thief." "My guy is a Christian cleric who's trying to maintain his sanity after reading the Necronomicon." etc. etc. "Okay! You're off to slaughter the minotaur king in his maze!"

There are certainly a million other ways to roleplay besides this one, and this one can feel really lame at times too (genre consistency? uniform color? fuggedaboudit...). But I at least really enjoyed playing this way sometimes, and it makes me sort of sad that I don't see anything that really supports it out there any more. When I get wistful sometimes about writing a 'fantasy heartbreaker' this is really the feel I aspire to, the feel of the goofy late grade school-early high school style of many of my play groups, where people just bring any damn thing they think is cool to the table and it all gets cobbled together somehow. And weird stuff like owlbears and piercers and rot grubs (and shydra and bubble men...).
And the crazy DM at the local public library who let in a Fire Giant character, reincarnated my wizard as a Pit Fiend, and had us fight all 115 true elementals (or however many elements we knew about in 1977...hydrogen, helium, etc. on down the list...) to get to the final treasure.

I wonder if this is one of those 'you can't go home again' things, or whether it might be possible to write a game that really supported this goofy style. Donjon and Hackmaster come the closest among modern games I'm familiar with, but each is in its own way quite demanding, whereas OD&D and Tunnels and Trolls and some of those others were most emphatically not so.[/i]

coxcomb

Quote from: Ron EdwardsVery important!

1. What level(s) were the characters?
15th (The archon was 12th because the race is powerful)

Quote2. What was the composition of the party in terms of character race and class?
George: Human Paladin 12 / Rogue 3
Clementine: Archon Ranger 12
Maria: Human Cleric 15
Mole: Gnome (class uncertain--inventor of some sort)

Quote3. What magic items did they start with, if any?
Don't know about any but George, who had a Holy Longsword + 5, a ring of force shield, ghost half plate of spell resistence (with some magic bonus that I forget), and a few potions that never came into play.

QuoteThese are crucial questions whenever asking about playing D&D of any sort, but especially so in this case, because the explicit reward system of the game was obviously rendered irrelevant.
*****
Jay Loomis
Coxcomb Games
Check out my http://bigd12.blogspot.com">blog.

WiredNavi

The most fun I've ever had in any sort of D&D game was a sporadic campaign through Castle Greyhawk, a wildly goofy make-fun-of-ourselves old school D&D module.  I think it was 1st edition, though we ran it under 2nd ed.

The reason why it was so fun?  We had two agendas for the game:  First, exploit every ludicrous rule we could find to become more effective, and second, play characters so patently absurd that we couldn't take them, or anything they did, seriously.  Over the course of the campaign, I ran two characters:  Gotrak D'Andifer, a dwarven swashbuckler, and Stevedore, a kender monk-turned-crocodile hunger, who was designed specifically to break the 1st Ed. Oriental Adventures martial arts rules as hard as they could be broken.

Needless to say, it resembled traditional D&D only in the most tangential possible way.  We made virtues out of its vices by making fun of them, and the GM made on-the-spot rulings specifically designed to enhance the feeling.  In other words, we just used the system as a starting point to make fun of itself.  If we'd tried to play it straight up, it would've been dull.
Dave R.

"Sometimes it's better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness."  -- Terry Pratchett, 'Men At Arms'

Ron Edwards

Hello,

Nice post, Jinx - I trust everyone can see where the appeal of Hackmaster and the recent Munchkin d20 lies? They aren't satirical (unlike Elfs); they are recapitulating that key point in many long-ago D&D play, in which everyone said, "Oh screw it, let's parody this rather than actually do it!" And since the parody was fun, because the textual source material was indeed maddening, it's now fun to remember and repeat the parody, itself now textually supported.

I just played Munchkin d20 last night, and it's so much like what you describe, Jinx, that I can't help but point that out.

But we're thread-drifting slightly. I'll post again soon about why I think the levels, etc, are so important for Jay's game experience.

Best,
Ron

coxcomb

I wasn't clear about one of my realizations from this in my initial posts.

I don't think that Wes, the DM for this adventure, enjoys the play experience he provided via the "rules" any more than I do. But he has a habit of play that tells him that this is how it's done.

Also, Elly (playing Clementine, the Archon) was clearly engaged during the character interaction, not using the rules phase of play. But when we got into the combat, she dropped out. While waiting for her turn she left the table and did other things. Occasionally someone would tell her it was her turn and she would come back to her spot for long enough to roll her bow attacks.

Nobody was clearly engaged in the combat. We weren't excited about what we were going to do next. We weren't talking about how to overcome the situation. We were just going through the routine. Same as we have gone through many times before.

It drives home for me the effect of habitual dysfunctional play. And for some folks, really enjoying one hour out of four is enough to keep them going for a long time before they get totally fed up with the rest of it and (often) quit the hobby completely.
*****
Jay Loomis
Coxcomb Games
Check out my http://bigd12.blogspot.com">blog.

WiredNavi

Thanks, Ron.  Slightly more on-topic, I've found that a lot of the problems I have had with D&D combat (namely, that it's mechanical and routine) is more a matter of being unable to envision things interestingly than anything else.  It's entirely possible I'm saying things that have been said a billion times over here, and I don't mean to imply that this is a new or startling thought...

Warning:  Potential Misuse of Forge Terms Follows:

The way I've seen this dealt with is by changing it from a Fortune At The End to a Fortune In The Middle session.  I've often seen it happen quite naturally, without really thinking about it.  Instead of: "I hit him with my hammer!" and then rolling a d20, failing, and saying, "Oh, I miss.  Your turn," what ends up happening is something like "I drop my bow, whip out my warhammer, and try to clock him on the head as he's charging me!"  Then I roll, fail by 1 or 2 points, and either I or the GM will try to figure out what it meant that I missed by a tiny margin.  "I curse as my hammer ricochets off his pauldron and brace myself for a return blow."  It works the same way if I hit and do damage - if I roll high, I stave in the side of his helm; if I roll low, I might break my enemy's visor but barely rattle him at all.

Thinking about what the dice rolls represent in narrative terms is important.  It's a tiny change, it doesn't affect the rules at all, but it leaves some sort of control in the hands of the player _after_ the dice have been rolled, even if it's only the control to cinematically state how your character failed and how they're reacting to the failure.  Just a little shift from 'I hit him - but no, I don't' to 'I try, now let's see how I succeed or fail, and how I can make that interesting.'  Your roleplaying doesn't have to stop as soon as combat starts, even if that's what the rules seem to aim at.
Dave R.

"Sometimes it's better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness."  -- Terry Pratchett, 'Men At Arms'

John Harper

D&D is good for teaching this lesson about narrating events. No matter what mode you're in or what system is operating at the table, it's a fundamental act of roleplaying for the SIS to *change* from moment to moment. When the Shared Imaginative Space becomes a blank white emptiness, roleplaying stops.

This happens to the best of us sometimes, and some people (no one in this thread) are quick to blame the mechanics. How many times have we seen this exchange:

Player: [rolls dice] "I hit." [rolls] "16 points."
GM: "He's dead. Next?"

So... what happened? Nothing has happened in the SIS. Some guy is dead, but we still don't know what happened among the imaginary elements of the game world. It's not exclusively the fault of the D&D combat system when this happens. The participants are simply not creating or sharing anything interesting at the SIS level.

One session of Wushu is the miracle cure for this, in my opinion. Players in Wushu have nothing to do during their turn except describe changes to the SIS.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!