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Author Topic: [D&D] Good solid gamism?  (Read 24429 times)
Rob Alexander
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Posts: 76


« on: November 01, 2005, 01:33:50 AM »

Hi all,

I'm posting this in response to a request in http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17449.0.

I'm currently playing in a D&D game and actually enjoying it. Outside of boffer LARP, this is the first time I can remember playing a rolegame *as a player* and really enjoying it.

(In my previous post, I noted that I've had five years out before this, so this may be as much changes in me as a difference in the game.)

The game is D&D 3.5, notionally in the Ravenloft setting but I don't think this has entered into play much. We've had about five sessions so far.

It started when the GM posted on a (UK-specific) web forum asking for players in the local area. Three players signed up from that, and he already had a fourth player who was a longtime friend of his and lived (reasonably) close.

We play in the DM's house, so far on a Saturday but we're moving to Sundays. It's a comfortable environment, nice chairs etc. In contrast the location used by the club in my previous thread, there's only us there (so far) so no outside observers, members of the public etc. In the other setting, you were more-or-less in a public place so you had to keep your social guard up.

Playing at the weekend gives us plenty of time (I don't think anyone has children or other dependents), and the game sessions stretch from four to six hours. Intensity during this time is pretty high, there isn't much non-game talk once we're into it. I do, though, find this duration fairly demanding and I'm not sure how sustainable it will be.

The other players are all enthusiatic players (rather than drag-alongs), we have a rulebook each and are all happy to look up and understand the rules, which makes the complex D&D system more viable. It's worth noting that one player has been interested in D&D since he was a kid (he's now in his twenties) but never  got around to playing until this game.

In terms of in-game activity, there's lots of fights, more than in any rpg I've played before, and I think this is great. The games I used to GM (in my teens), involved a lot of fighting, and I suspect pretty tedious fighting at that, because the games we played tended to be Simulationist-oriented stuff like RuneQuest that was more concerned with 'realistic' outcomes than fun. RuneQuest was the first 'proper' rolegame I bought, and I tended to take a cue from there when deciding what rules to use in other games.

The fights in this game are quite good. We're not using a battleboard, unfortunately, but there still feels like enough tactical options to keep me engrossed, and of course if we fail we die, or don't get the treasure and XP, or whatever. The tactical choices come mainly from my choice of spells, use of feats or different weapons, etc, and how those coordinate with the actions of other players. We're also going up levels quite fast and so getting a regular supply of new toys.

That said, we've not had a PC death yet and I don't know how the GM will handle that. I may talk to him about it - I don't see any easy solutions. (I'll also have a search through the archives here).

(I also have a kind of metagame objective that makes my actions interesting. In my youth, nobody wanted to play a spellcaster because in the games we played they were always perceived as helpless (from a challenge-gamist viewpoint, I suppose). I've also seen lots of comments that D&D spellcasters become grossly dominant at high levels. So my self-imposed goal is to play a spellcaster who (a) is powerful and effective yet (b) supports the rest of the party rather than eclipsing them. To this end, I'm concentrating on learning to use all the non-blasting spells, and I'm enjoying this aspect.)

By contrast, the games I played in college seemed incredibly dull and talky. Much of it was a kind of verbal 'dressing up' (particularly for the women involved) - I think someone has mentioned this elsewere on the boards as a symptom of 'zilchplay'. That said, I was a pretty miserable person at that time and I probably didn't enjoy *anything* much.

As far as I can tell we're mostly on rails between dungeons, and talking with NPCs is mostly functional info exchange and mission assignment. But I'm fine with that at the moment because once we're in the dungeon we have a choice of which door to go through, etc.

(I should note that, so far, the dungeons have been contained enough that we can explore (and often clear) every room. I'd rather be in situations where we can't do this, and have to do the best we can, i.e. try to judge what the best path to take and then go with the results of that. I.e. as Eric said above, *meaningful decisions*.)

Actually, there was one point where we got a choice of where to go next. We had two missions underway. One was to investigate a plague in a small mining town, the other was to recover an important item from a ruined monastery. We came to a fork in the path, where we had to the choice of going to the monastery first or the village first (each would later turn into a full-session dungeon adventure). We chose to go to the village first, but I think we could have gone either way.

This doesn't sound like much, but it's the first choice of this nature that I can remember as a rolegame player ever! And I don't think that the games I ran were much better in this, alas. Linear routes were king.

There's not much roleplaying *required*, i.e. little need for social step on up, but there's room for my character to spout off in his flowery idiom. This amuses the other players....I think; once again, I'm not as alert as I'd like to be. I'll have to keep an eye on that - I've been in games with a louder, more eloquent roleplayer before and it's a bit intimidating.

The accessible world area is not Raveloft as a whole but a small sealed area of the DM's own creation. It's a low-power setting (so, at 3-4th level now we are getting respect and status) and it's small enough that it won't be long before we've been to all the areas on the top level map. (There is a map, it's hand-drawn by the DM and he hands it round sometimes. I like that map.)

This `world' feels unique and special even though (in the abstract) it's quite a generic fantasy setting. This is probably the best thing about the game - playing in a published setting (especially an actively developed one) just  seems so 'dead' to me. I suppose I don't feel the players or GM can affect the setting much without breaking the 'metaplot' or continuity with the published supplements that players or GM want to use.

One small problem is that the last two sessions have had just two players including me, which isn't really enough for a good intra-party dynamic, but hopefully we'll sort this out and get back to strength.

I'm going to get a 'guest DM' slot soon and put the DM plus other players through a 'non-plot' adventure. I'm actually feeling quite intimidated about the difficulty of achieving adequate challenge while avoiding both fudging and TPK risk.

I don't think I'd ever run this a campaign like this, tho. I wouldn't want to put the players on rails at all, and (as other people on the Forge have commented) the prep work required for effective D&D gamist play is heavy and difficult. Hence the need for rails and dungeons (or dungeon-like adventures).

I also don't think I'd want the commitment of running a session of that length week-on-week for an indefinite period. Kudos to the DM for trying but I think he'll find it pretty demanding over time.

So, what do people think? I'm of the mind that I'm enjoying this for good, straightforward challenge gamism, with clearly defined rails and areas where there are none.
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Rob Carriere
Member

Posts: 187


« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2005, 08:53:27 AM »

Rob,
I've read both your threads and the word that keeps ringing through my mind is "freedom". I think at this point it is more important for you to experience that freedom than to try and decide what kind of freedom you like most. Don't worry, that kind of choice will come of its own natural accord. For now, enjoy the wind in your face.

As for prepping a dungeon with real choices, one way is indeed to put some kind of clock on play so that it is not possible to reconnoiter the entire dungeon. Another one (that is rather kinder on the amount of prep required) is to make the dungeon stateful. That is, build it so it makes a real difference whether you visit room 13 or room 14 first and what you do there.

A classical example of this type of design is some kind of patrolling guard that goes on high alert if/when they detect intrusion. As long as the players are clever enough not to leave evidence for the guard, they'll have a fairly easy time of it. When the guard goes on alert, things get progressively harder and harder... (maybe the guards are there to protect the Big Treasure, maybe this is a "rescue the princess" type set-up, maybe the guards are there to protect the statue of Saint Bushwhacker the Kind and you want the stuff that buried underneath his temple, whatever)

Now, in such prep you shouldn't try to avoid both fudging and TPK risk. There are systems out there that can do that, but they're not intended for this kind of play. You can have the deal that the GM fudges and the challenge is to force the GM to fudge the least number of times, or you can have the deal that dumb actions and/or dumb dice means dead characters. That said, you can play non-fudging and try to minimize TPK risk. Doing that means reducing the challenges you put to the players, so there's a trade-off between safety of the characters and excitement. You (plural) should figure out where the optimum trade-off lies for you--it's very different for different people.

If you do want to avoid both fudging and TPK, yet have challenging play, there's really only one thing you can do: change the type of challenge to something the characters cannot die of. You can do that by changing the "genre conventions" (for example, nobody believes the A-team might get killed, but they could fail a mission), or you can do that by shifting the type of challenge entirely. You could build a game around political machinations, or around romance, or a legal battle, etc.

Hmmm...I seem to be rambling quite a bit. Hope it's useful anyway.
SR
--
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ScottM
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Posts: 221

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« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2005, 08:57:29 AM »

I think you're having fun, which certainly sounds like success to me.  It sounds like you found a game that gives you what you've been looking for and you're enjoying it.  The way everyone has a rulebook and is committed to the fun sounds like an important component of the enjoyment you and your group are having.

Is your guest GMing spot going to be a part of the main game's continuity, or is it a one-shot adventure without ties to the rest of the campaign?

Scott

[Cross posted with Rob, who seems to have more practical advice for your adventure design.]



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Hey, I'm Scott Martin. I sometimes scribble over on my blog, llamafodder. Some good threads are here: RPG styles.
Bankuei
Guest
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2005, 09:03:08 AM »

Hi,

Sounds like some good old fashioned D&D gamism to me.  And done fairly well- the DM may have rails between dungeons- but that means no wasted time between the action, which apparently is the part you guys like.  This is very much how I run my Iron Heroes games- cut to the encounters and the action happens.  As you mentioned though- D&D characters are built to be a part of a party- missing players quickly leads to problems in play.

Chris
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ffilz
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« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2005, 12:43:02 PM »

Sounds like good gamist fun. I'm interested to hear how your self chosen challenge to avoid the spotlight stealing spells actually plays out since that is the fundamental thing that eventually turns me off from D&D play somewhere between 7th and 10th level.

Frank
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Frank Filz
John Harper
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« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2005, 01:52:54 PM »

Sounds like a pretty solid game. I think I would enjoy it too.

A note about meaningful choices in dungeons:

I realized recently that wandering monster rolls and tables are a big factor in good dungeon-crawl play. They represent what Special Warfare theorists call "friction" -- i.e. bad stuff tends to happen if you hang about a place for too long. Put a clock (or round-counter) on wandering monster checks, and make sure the players know when you make them, and when they're coming up. This puts all sorts of choices back in their hands.

"You want to thoroughly search this room and take 20? Okay. I'll make two wandering monster checks during that time, you know."

"We could go back to the second room to get that weird carpet we found, but it's pretty far back there. Probably 3 wandering checks, at least, and Bill's guy is still hurt from before."

You might also give players tools to control the checks, somewhat. Like spiking doors to cut off routes that wandering monsters could take to get to them. Of course, spiking the door takes 2 minutes, and the DM gets a monster roll during that time. You can also let them use dungeoneering skills (like Knowledge: Dungeons, which is vastly under-used, IMO) to determine safer paths through the dungeon:

"If we take the left fork, we should encounter less resistance. Even the Barrow Orcs don't like to go down here. They say it's cursed." (wandering monsters rolls are reduced to one per 20 minutes)

A problem develops when you get lots of wandering monster encounters in a game with a slow combat system (like D&D 3.5). There are a few fixes. One is to put a cap on the number of actual wandering encounters per real-world hour. I think classic D&D does this. Another is to do wandering monsters as a "three roll" encounter, to abstract the fight with the monster. Everyone makes a saving roll, an attack roll (or spell substitute), and a skill check vs. various DCs. Failure on each carries certain consequences, most likely damage. This keeps the pace up, and still creates the spectre of a resource-depleting problem if the characters dawdle too much.

Hope that helps.
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Rob Alexander
Member

Posts: 76


« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2005, 02:15:36 PM »

Hi all,

Thanks for the hints, I'll try to put some of them into play. In particular, I notice that two of you talked about wandering monsters, and Rob Carriere suggested about escalating defences over time. These were things I was already considering, so I'll give them a try. The players will meet the last survivor of a previous expedition, who'll warn them about the escalation.

Some stuff though, like the three-roll encounter, is interesting but I don't think I'll try it because it's not my campaign. (In answer to someone's questions - yes, I think this game will be part of the main campaign).

Regarding fudging and challenge: okay, point taken. I'll just do my best to pitch it so that I don't have to fudge that much.

Frank:
Quote
I'm interested to hear how your self chosen challenge to avoid the spotlight stealing spells actually plays out since that is the fundamental thing that eventually turns me off from D&D play somewhere between 7th and 10th level.

I'll report back on how it goes. Funnily enough, I only started with this idea because I remember that when I was younger I had no interest in non-blasting spells...they just didn't seem to be any use. Of course, now I'm older and have a grasp of basic math I appreciate how they can be very effective if used well.

The "not stealing the spotlight" goal came later, when I read some posts on here.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2005, 09:45:21 PM »

Just a quick GM'ing tips post (I'm mulling over my game analysis).

- Beware escalating defences: This is largely the same as a death spiral...the more you lose, the tougher things get, which means you lose more, etc.

Quote
I'm actually feeling quite intimidated about the difficulty of achieving adequate challenge while avoiding both fudging and TPK risk.
- I fully agree. One way around is to shift the lose status to something other than PC death. For example, they get into a fight with some goblins. The PC's wont die, of course. BUT, there is a gobo at the back who has grabbed and is running away with the tastiest piece of treasure. If you don't figure out some tactic to stop him, you LOSE that treasure.

- Wandering monsters: Just thinking about this, here's an idea: Make it a roll every round (use percentile and choose a low percentage) so as to make every round/choice count even more. And instead of monsters, make it TRAPS. Traps usually only require one roll, so are damn quick. Further, you might like to (randomly?) pick just three or so trap types that are in the dungeon and tell the players there are only three types. This lets them learn the trap types and try and engineer defences/resources against them, rather than just suffer random pain and anguish with no way to respond.

You might like to have a sub roll that determines if the trap goes off straight away, or whether a PC has noticed a trap and has to freeze and figure out what to do, since any move might set it off. That way they become more than just a dice roll and something to explore. But it would take up more time.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2005, 01:30:03 AM »

Quote
I'm actually feeling quite intimidated about the difficulty of achieving adequate challenge while avoiding both fudging and TPK risk.
- I fully agree. One way around is to shift the lose status to something other than PC death.

My group abolished PC death some time ago, ruling that a PC who would technically be dead just wakes up from a coma later or miraculously shakes off the petrifaction or whatever. He is then considered "shaken" (-2 to most rolls) for the next encounter.

It's a weenie approach, but we've found that we just don't enjoy it when experience levels are at risk (and are lost, sooner or later, of course).

The other week, we've decided to do away with the "shaken" thing, too. Basically, the only drawback of going beyond -9 or failing against a "Save or Die" effect is that you are out of the fight (and have to play familiars and such or, in a pinch, a monster).

This mostly focusses the competetion on the GM-vs.-Players level. I'm already exclusively using what the rules call "overpowering" encounters (Encounter Level = Party Level +4) which should be a fifty-fifty affair, but isn't. Due to action points (we play in Eberron) and 4 brains matching wits with 1 brain, the PCs win about 90% of the time.

Regards,

Hal
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ffilz
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Posts: 468


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« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2005, 09:43:35 AM »

Hal,

I don't think that's a "weenie" approach. As you mention, you run EL=APL+4 encounters frequently. So do I. I think Chris Chinn (bankuei) does similar with Iron Heroes. I think running EL=APL+4 makes for a better gamist challenge. Of course a good gamist challenge has real risk. All you (and I) have done is made losing a single game (one encounter) not mean losing the series. If you play in a chess tournament where everyone plays in every round (so you wind up with complete ranked list), they don't dock you a pawn in the second round if you lost the first round (and similarly, they don't promote a pawn to a bishop for the next round for the winners). Of course in D&D (as I play it), everyone rises with the tide.

And it doesn't make people not care about their defenses. It's clear that players still feel a loss when they "die".

In my campaign, I would make them spend the resource to get unpetrified though. If I played to a level where they could cast raise dead, I'd probably make them spend the spell on that also (even though Arcana Evolved doesn't do raise dead the same way D&D does - I'd just make them burn one slot of the appropriate level, not the 7 required by the rules).

Frank
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Frank Filz
Halzebier
Member

Posts: 216


« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2005, 01:28:40 PM »

I don't think that's a "weenie" approach. As you mention, you run EL=APL+4 encounters frequently. So do I. I think Chris Chinn (bankuei) does similar with Iron Heroes. I think running EL=APL+4 makes for a better gamist challenge. Of course a good gamist challenge has real risk. All you (and I) have done is made losing a single game (one encounter) not mean losing the series.

You're right, Frank. This just shows that I feel kinda defensive about the approach, but there's really no reason to. It's fully functional and when it's met with incredulity the next time ("But where's the thrill in that?"), I'll explain (probably using your chess example).

Best Regards,

Hal
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ffilz
Member

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« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2005, 02:21:13 PM »

You could also point people to my blog, where I discuss this idea in more depth: Challenging the assumption that death of character must be at stake in D&D.

It took my players a little while to accept the idea.

Frank
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Frank Filz
Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2005, 10:02:53 PM »

It's a weenie approach, but we've found that we just don't enjoy it when experience levels are at risk (and are lost, sooner or later, of course).
I think you may mean "we don't enjoy it when were forced to put experience levels at risk", which I fully agree with.

However, you can always let that gobo with the treasure, just get away. Sure, it's a loss, but hey, you can just take that on the chin. The thing is, if a player says "I will choose to risk my experience levels on plan X, because I'm THAT confident of its success" it's quite a statement. The 'no death' thing removes the opportunity to say (along with the GM force - which you do want to get rid of).
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Philosopher Gamer
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b_bankhead
Member

Posts: 259


« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2005, 03:10:49 AM »

You could also point people to my blog, where I discuss this idea in more depth: Challenging the assumption that death of character must be at stake in D&D.

It took my players a little while to accept the idea.

Frank


I find that interesting. One of the things that made me give up D&D permanentlty (since 1982) was the endless cycle of character mortality. I never got a character out of 5 level without metagaming because of it. One bad roll and the product of months of play goes down the drain.

It's interesting to note however that almost all long term D&D games eventually develop into defacto no-mortality, or redically reduced mortality games.  D&D in fact has many in game mechanisms for this.

1/ Healing spells:  These are in a sense a kind of 'mini-resurection' in that they regenerate the character's capacity to avoid mortality and thuse removal from the game. Another mechanism is making healing potions easily available.

2/ Out and out resurrection
a/The  Clerical healing spell is another mechnism for mortality avoidance. Characters who save enough money can simply have their friends carry them to the local good temple and pay for a resurrection, sometimes group members loan each other money for this task, I have seen groups where each player sets aside part of their loot into a kind of group reserrection insurance fund specifically for this purpose.
 
b/ Magic items that perform resurrection
In addition to the above a number of magic items duplicate the resurrect spell. Many GMs are sure to make such items available in the treasure hoards they stock because of the need for more and more resurrections as characters face deadlier monsters.

c/ The 'party' cleric
Once the 'party' cleric gains enough levels to perform resurrection, the whole death thing can go pretty much out the window. I have seen groups where they 'donate' experience points to the party cleric to increase his

In fact If a 'good' D&D game needs player death why are there so many mechanisms to avoid it?  I have seen plenty of D&D games where players get resurrected almost as much as video game characters.

This of course is mostly long term games where the players achieve high levels.  With all of the above working for them , I like to compare high level D&D charaters  to crocodiles, when they are hatchlings (low level) they are prey to all but the smallest animals, but once they pass a certain critical size they lack any natural predators, with the exception of each other!

Indeed there are reasons why this happens:

Basically they all fall down to the  It's too late to start over.
Lets say a group has played for a while and gotten up to an average of 10th level. A character, In spite of the above factors manages to get killed, now what do you do?
You can't start him over at first level, he can't game effectively in a group of tenth levels.
Ejecting someone from a long term group can be socially impossible! Not to mention what if iit's the party cleric himself?

So what do you do if this happens? Create a new 10th level character?  What's the point then? Of course doing so could be quite a bit of work even with OD&D, with 3E I understand the paperwork can take well over an hour.....

Given than not killing a character in a long term game can be a matter of social survival for a GM.  Given that doing so is disruptive in so many ways,many GMs simply play 'roll the dice and ignore result' rather than D&D (this is a specialized form of black curtain gaming). which is why they love those GM shields.

I have become increasingly antagonistic to the idea of character mortality as something created by a random mechanic. I have come to think of it as a holdover from wargames, a kind like the veriform appendix, an evolutionary holdover  whose primary function seems to be to kill you....

I don't see much value for it myself. It seems to me a wierd kind of self-defeating sim priority that checkmates, Exporation of Color, Exloration of Character, Exploration of setting and Exploration of every damn thing, which you's think would be important to sim players.

In short I think the insistence on the value of character mortality in D&D , is the result of willful blindness to what actually goes on in most games.

.(by the way you can post this to your blog if you wish)
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Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2005, 09:56:21 AM »

After reading Frank's blog article, I think think that it is misnamed.  It should be "Challenging the assumtion that permanent death of character must be at stake in D&D".  There's still death within a scene at stake in Frank's examples and that is what maintains the proper atmosphere for good Gamist play.  Who cares if at the end of the scene all the "dead" characters are "resurrected"?  The social context for Stepping Up and being able to say, "I rock because I didn't go down during this encounter!" is still intact. 

This would not be the case if the DM fudged the dice rolls to keep the player from dying.  In that case, the player's skill is irrelevant and Step On Up is impossible.  There is a whole heap of difference between "You died but it isn't permanent." and "You can't die because I won't let the dice kill you."  As a Gamist, I'd be happy playing in the first case but I'd find the second completely unfun.

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