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Author Topic: [D&D 3.0/3.5] Skill combat and blood drinking  (Read 12726 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: May 01, 2006, 04:24:26 PM »

Hooray! After an intervening family vacation and a couple of other interruptions, Dan and Christopher and I reconvened for our second session of D&D 3.25. (Definition: I have one of each book and don't really trouble myself to check which is which when I look up a rule.)

For those who didn't tune in last time, the first thread about this game is [D&D 3.0/3.5] The kid two houses down. And uh, I got all snotty and planned to gyp my players of some XPs for two hyenas they didn't fight. But I realized other people were right and I was wrong, so hey, each character got 375 for the last session.

So what now? Well, remember, I'd actually prepped both a fight and a social situation for the first run, but the session was cut short pretty early and we barely manage to finish the fight. I had all my stuff with me for the social situation and extended it a little more, again with Clinton's help, and also with the help of the handy (and almost certainly obsolete character creation CD that came with my copy of 3.0.

Here's the situation. There is a land near the elves' home, where the people are friends to the elves and the main god is Hieronymous. Lord Khoros rules there, but his wife, Lady Khoros, has just died. Corin's human mother knew her, and he's come to the funeral on her behalf along with her other son, the half-orc Forin. Also, two religious types from the church of Hieronymous are there as an official presence, Vall and Joshua.

Corin: half elf, 2nd-level fighter, first level sorcerer, skills emphasize stealth
Forin: half orc, 3rd-level barbarian, skills emphasize rude pushy stuff
Voll: elf, 2nd-level paladin, 1st-level cleric, skills emphasize nature
Joshua: human, 2nd-level fighter, 1st-level cleric, skills are similar to Voll's but not identical

After their puzzling fight with the hyenas, I had them run a few Wilderness Lore and similar skills to find that the hyenas were out of their usual range and acting funny. They headed on to the lord's hall, and I pulled out a map I found somewhere, which we used for the rest of the session, just open on the table.

First scene: meeting the lord's son, the impetuous and rather pushy young Hathic; and Hathic's trouble-making, smarmy friend Eladd who seems to run things. All sorts of Diplomacy vs. Innuendo rolling commenced. The following scene with the confused, sleepy old lord put the characters into a fun position, as they tried to match their Diplomacy and other skills to the various Innuendos, Bluffs, and Sense Motives going on.

I didn't fully translate the rules into "social combat," for instance I didn't use Initiative but just had everyone say what they were up to and roll. It went well, as I say. In a couple of cases, they got their asses kicked sideways, and the players buckled down to saying, "This Eladd guy is no good. What's up?" Oh, and the Hieronymous shrine is all screwed up; figuring that out was a fun case of Religious Knowledge. I basically found a way to hit nearly all the social and knowledge stuff on their sheets, eventually.

The best part was that the players did a great job of looking over their sheets and deciding how they should attack the situation. They started with Detect Magic, but Eladd was way ahead of them with Misdirection, which led to an embarassing interrogation with a totally innocent serving dude ... and thank goodness for Sense Motive, which allowed me to cue the players that yes, the guy really was innocent, and Arcane Knowledge (or whatever it's called, Spellcraft?) that allowed me to tell them about Misdirection.

So they shifted to some fun skulking about the castle, and the payoff was Dan's character's familiar, a weasel, who tracked Eladd and found out he was ripping off the temple. More scenes confirmed to them that the old lord was pretty much kept off his feed by Eladd, obviously a unscrupulous wizard, who'd also bilked the somewhat dense son. They also learned that Old Beezah, an exile from the castle, would know more about the lord's history. (As you can see, I'm being reeeeeal subtle, here. I know it's crude. Stay with me.)

Oh yeah, they did manage to get their gifts from the lord: a gem to break for a Bigby's Clenched Fist (one use), Rod vs. Traps & Snares, and Scroll of Protection vs. Evil. I didn't see any reason not to give them a little edge and have some fun with low-level magic items.

The final scene concerned Old Beezah, who used to be the lord's children's nurse, but was exiled when she protested against the lord abandoning his daughter for fear of a curse. Old Beezah was now kind of demonic and scary, as well as a bit bitter. She was all scarred and so on, and in fact, she demanded Forin play a blood price for attacking the fleeing hyena in the last session. She got to halve his hit points by drinking his blood, which is the sort of thing I like to throw into my D&D games to keep them from being all about killing kobolds. The players did a great job of working with their skills in this scene and managed to do well.

My tired brain betrayed me at this point. I didn't really cough up the information I should have about the old grandfather, how he's still running around as an undead, and how he's going to bring the curse home onto the daughter. They did figure out that the girl they saw with the hyenas was her (Raetha), but I just didn't manage to give'em all they got. I also should have had Forin make a Fortitude Save to keep from fainting. But all of this can be rectified retroactively pretty easily.

more in the next post
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2006, 04:24:57 PM »

I like the basic role-playing that's going on as the two players work with and develop their characters. We all have a stronger idea of who's who. Dan is enjoying both Corin as the slightly stealthy guy and Forin as the out-of-place, out-of-race bad-ass; he really likes gettin' his half-orc on, both in terms of effectiveness and in terms of having to pay the social piper later. Christopher busted out a couple of fantastic speeches laying out the group's moral position to Old Beezah, especially from an 11 year old, impressing both me and his dad. He absolutely rocks at the whole cleric thing. I think he likes the idea of the "deal" going on for a cleric. At one point, he realized the temple had been profaned when his prayers didn't work well, and at another, he was interested in the possibility that his character Vall's god might be annoyed with him later, because after Old Beezah was strengthened by Forin's blood, she healed Vall's injuries from the hyena fight.

Now, as a verbal kid who's worked professionally (acting, voice acting) and is used to adults treating him like an equal, he interrupts something fierce, much to Dan's parental irritation. I can see why he did that, because he's (a) into it but (b) it was indeed a talky session. I should always be sure that his characters are doing something, to occupy him, so he can imagine stuff when someone else is talking.

OK, here's an important point - I deliberately set up this family situation for them to choose sides in whatever way they'd like. Well, not with Eladd, because he's just a dick, but regarding the old lord and the curse and the two children. Whom they support, who they like, and how this whole situation is supposed to turn out for the non-monster characters is up to them. That's why I'm not concerned with my straightforward "go see Old Beezah" moment, because it was merely scene framing, not railroading ... they still get to choose all the important stuff, especially setting up which conflict will occur, where, and with whom, and about what. (Hey Buzz! See that? I can't plan for that! They do it!!)

So what about next time? It's up to them, but I'm anticipating some fighty-fight, whether vs. Eladd or getting closer to Raetha and the undead granddad. But also, a funeral.

And as before, I do have some questions and request some help, again out of laziness mainly and because you guys seem to like it. And because right when I had XPs all figured out for fighting monsters, now I have to figure them out for socially confronting NPCs! All right, they socially "fought" the following NPCs:

7th level adept
9th level aristocrat
7th level wizard (and this was serious, although not a combat)
5th level level aristocrat

I understand that all of them are to be considered as one level less than what's listed. Therefore, for four 3rd level player-characters, all of whom participated fully, how many experience points do they each get?

Speaking aesthetically, I think that the challenges they faced and the problems they solved and figured out were easily equal to or above the fight with the hyenas in the previous session, so I'm pretty curious to see how this works out in points.

More to discuss: spell resolution as opposed to skills, in this edition of D&D. Very interesting.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2006, 07:47:25 PM »

For those who didn't tune in last time, the first thread about this game is [D&D 3.0/3.5] The kid two houses down. And uh, I got all snotty and planned to gyp my players of some XPs for two hyenas they didn't fight. But I realized other people were right and I was wrong, so hey, each character got 375 for the last session.
Cool, man, very cool! :)

In the last thread you thought they wanted a light narrativist game. Play seems to be about discovery of the big issues at them moment. Rather than a 'here's all the pertinent facts, now make a hard choice' sort of narrativist play. When it comes to them making their choice, will play switch to more of a 'pertinent facts' mode? I'm thinking of other accounts I've seen, where hidden facts (like 'the gun isn't loaded') aren't known by the player. If your players don't discover everything about the big issues, how will that effect things?

Quote
Oh yeah, they did manage to get their gifts from the lord: a gem to break for a Bigby's Clenched Fist (one use), Rod vs. Traps & Snares, and Scroll of Protection vs. Evil. I didn't see any reason not to give them a little edge and have some fun with low-level magic items.
Just a 'I like it' note: I think one shot items that have a punch, add a great dimension in terms of tension and strategy. Good stuff!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: May 01, 2006, 08:14:57 PM »

Hi Callan,

Quote
Play seems to be about discovery of the big issues at them moment. Rather than a 'here's all the pertinent facts, now make a hard choice' sort of narrativist play. When it comes to them making their choice, will play switch to more of a 'pertinent facts' mode?

Play is just a bunch of interaction, at the moment, some of it violent. What I don't think you're seeing is that the "pertinent facts" are showing up as they're discovered, in whatever order they're discovered. It's not a matter of me providing them all in a chunk, or trickling them out one by one. I'm holding them at the start of play, but I'm neither bestowing nor withholding them. The players are finding them out, that's all.

They found out about Eladd's treachery through their own efforts. They found out about Old Beezah through their efforts. They won her respect and found out about Raetha through their own efforts. I had prepped all this information, yes. But I do not bestow it and I do not withhold it. They win it, you see, just as they might win fights. But don't mistake me, as I'm certain 99"% of those reading this will. The information is not treasure, but as actually the opponent, in the form of the NPCs who benefit from it where it is. You win the information, like you win a fight. It's not the prize. It's the arena, and the foe.

Play will continue in this fashion. More informational and statust-based conflict will occur. Fights will occur - some pre-programmed, some arising organically. With whom? Will all these conflicts clear the way for the ghast and his zombie hyenas finally to visit the curse on everyone? Or will they strengthen the alliances and make the big bad's situation harder? I will not adjust the ghast and his zombies in response to these questions. He is what he is. However, everything they do will adjust the eventual arena of confrontation with him.

Really, it's so easy. It has nothing to do with pre-determining the timing of information flow. Nor does it have anything to do with walking them through fake-fights or planned step-by-step sequences of scenes. This way, they actually got a lot more info in that run than I anticipated, or more accurately, would have anticipated if I'd wasted the mental energy to do any such thing. Why you guys suffer and crack your brains trying to grasp "fun story, high risk, lots of strategy" is beyond me. How else would you do it? (rhetorical) And godamighty, why would you do that, when it flounders so badly? (ditto)

Best, Ron
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: May 01, 2006, 09:10:49 PM »

I have a question, actually: when are you playing more? Did you resolve the issue of taking play-time seriously, the one mentioned in the earlier thread?

I enjoy this thread very much. It sounds like you're running exactly the kind of D&D game I ran in 2002-2004. That one was extremely rules-modded (I couldn't participate in the discussion about xp or spells based on that, for instance) and benefited enormously from your essays and the Forge discussion I was internalizing around 2002. I find it interesting that the faux-D&D gamemastering I did based on your essays resembled your current techniques so much.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: May 02, 2006, 06:17:32 AM »

This session showed me that the social context of the game is now on track.

I think Dan must have taken the step to clear game-time and set up standards for the family. We were at his house this time, and his wife and daughter went to a movie when we played. They returned just about when we finished and the daughter asked permission before barging into the game-area. I could be wrong, but they seemed relieved that we weren't going to sit down there all damn evening (play lasted two hours even, as planned).

To their credit, Dan's wife and daughter were interested in how the game went, what happened with the characters, and so on. The  daughter's first question: "Are there any girl characters?" I said I played some but the players (shooting an accusatory glance at Dan and Christopher) hadn't made up any, although they could have.

I think Christopher's mom was surprised that this session didn't involve fighting and killing at all, and she was obviously pleased when Dan and I described how Christopher had taken a very moral, responsible stand as an author. She was also interested to learn, in response to Dan's comments, that play did not really involve "acting out" one's character unless a person felt like it at a given moment.

Best, Ron
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #6 on: May 02, 2006, 06:24:40 AM »

I have a question about how this is adjudicated in play.  Do the players roll for all this detective work, or do you say, "Hmm, you asked the Magic Bullet question to this guy (or close enough) and now he'll reveal a clue"?  If it's rolling, what are the consequences for failure, and when are such consequences discussed? 

Like, that whole "accusing the wrong dude" scene sounds like it was the result of a failed roll, but did the players know it could happen ahead of time?  What if they'd blundered any subsequent rolls?
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #7 on: May 02, 2006, 06:40:17 AM »

Regarding Experience Points -- well, the 3.5 DMG's advice is basically to ad hoc it.  If this had been a series of combat encounters, each character would have earned 3263 XP.  But the DMG suggests that non-combat encounters are a bit fuzzy, and require some guesstimation.

For social encounters, it advises only to give XP where something significant was at stake.  In such situations, you have to eyeball whether or not this was a respectable challenge for the group with serious risk.  If so, it's probaby a Challenge Rating equal to the Party Level.  (Sounds like that 7th level Wizard was a bad-ass, even if they didn't beat up on each other directly.)  If not, it's going to be a little less.  (Maybe those dudes who were lying, but not putting them at grave risk.)

With this in mind, maybe you've got 3 less-challenging encounters, so say, CR 2 for 150 XP each.  And 1 pretty serious encounter around CR 3 or 4 for like 300 XP each.  Thus, each character would get 1050 XP for the whole shebang.

At least, that's my understanding of how it's done.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: May 02, 2006, 06:51:54 AM »

Rolling dice! Rolling dice! This session was a constant rattle-rattle of dice, for every dialogue, for every unit of confrontation.

Now, spells don't require rolls, except Saves in some cases which didn't really apply much here. Detect Magic "failed" because another spell, Misdirection, trumped it. And the Familiar weasel of course was already present.

But otherwise, yes, the dialogues and discussions were all rolled in terms of consequence. Negative consequences were severe - for instance, Eladd has cemented his dominance over Lord Khoros due to the characters' social failure to reveal his treachery. That's why they turned to Old Beezah, and quite likely why ousting Eladd is going to turn nasty now. Only their successful Diplomacy with Hathic got them the gifts, which Eladd was having withheld. What, did you think I just gave them that stuff?

I take social conflict in role-playing very seriously, and have done so for many years. "Roll vs. role" was always an evident bullshit dichotomy in my eyes; I dodged that particular nest of cognitive dissonance that seems to have captured practically the whole hobby. The players role-play as they see fit. That sets up social conflict. Conflicts are resolved in consequence through rolling. Role-playing fuels the roll, the roll's outcome fuels the role-playing, absolutely and inextricably intertwined; neither can occur without the other. This Sorcerer/Dogs philosophy of such things is very old, but did not enter texts until recently.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: May 02, 2006, 06:56:23 AM »

Whoops, forgot ... yes, James, that sounds exactly right! A couple of the encounters involved risk - the guards in the case of Eladd, the hyenas in the case of Old Beezah. The other encounters were all consequential, but not really hit-point threatening in the immediate future. So your adjustments seem like they're in the right ballpark.

It's cool that a straight-up even-matched fight got them 375 points each, whereas a consequential but only mildly dangerous series of social conflicts got them three times that amount.

Best, Ron
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Will Grzanich
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« Reply #10 on: May 02, 2006, 07:07:56 AM »

She was also interested to learn, in response to Dan's comments, that play did not really involve "acting out" one's character unless a person felt like it at a given moment.

To my dismay, I have known DMs who would be "interested" to learn this, as well.

I enjoyed this thread from rec.games.frp.dnd some time ago; it really highlights the whole "roll-playing vs role-playing" problem, and how the requirement of in-character dialogue and so forth can really hurt.

Interesting game, Ron...keep up the good work.  :)

-Will
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #11 on: May 02, 2006, 08:00:09 AM »

This is a particularly timely series of threads for me, as I'm prepping to be a GM for the first time in, oh, ten years, and in a willfully generic high-fantasy setting, no less. (The Shadow of Yesterday, though, not D&D: D&D makes my head hurt).

Christopher busted out a couple of fantastic speeches laying out the group's moral position to Old Beezah, especially from an 11 year old, impressing both me and his dad. He absolutely rocks at the whole cleric thing.

What made the speeches so cool? What was the group's moral position? (And are you planning to push them on it -- the "even now? even now?" process, to use Vincent's phrase). You've really made me curious.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: May 02, 2006, 12:46:42 PM »

The most dramatic moment for Christopher was approaching Beezah, with his cleric Vall, and saying, in effect - we don't have any obligation on you and are not hostile to you if you don't want to help us. We have a problem, and don't know if you want to be involved. But let us lay it out for you, and let there be peace between us.

Not in exactly those words, but certainly in words which were well above what most 11 year olds could say, I think.

As far as a specific moral position is concerned, the real ethical core of the scenario hasn't quite developed into a conflict yet. But the characters were concerned not just with "catching a thief," but looking after Lord Khoros' welfare, and both Dan and Christopher are actually taking the funeral of Lady Khoros very seriously. It strikes me that I ought to provide her with some history and some interesting features, so that scene has some weight.

In other words, I'm seeing the characteres step into the roles of, well, Dogs to some extent. Since Dan's characters are a little more rough-and-ready, it's nice to see Christopher leading the way in this regard with his clerical ones.

Since neither player is so experienced with D&D to have internalized the classic [cleric = medic] equation, it seems normal to them that if clerics are like priests, why then, they should have a certain religious and ethical authority among the group as a whole.

Best, Ron
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #13 on: May 02, 2006, 01:00:52 PM »

Cleric = Dog. I love that.

I also love the implicit Magic Power = Moral Obligation = Legal-Political Authority, which is pretty much ignored in standard D&D (what the heck's a "magic user," anyway?) but seems to be central both to most mythology I've seen and to more interesting fantasy settings like HeroQuest.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: May 02, 2006, 08:15:04 PM »

Hi Ron,

I'm not worried about information hording or such and I do understand they are gathering the pertinent facts at the moment (that's what I meant, clumsily, by discovery mode - what else are you discovering but the juicy pertinent details! :) ). A quick example: A man is waving a gun at the PC's. They fail their spot roll and don't know it isn't loaded. They address the scene with the pertinent facts they know, ie, a gun was being waved at them.  Imagine they passed the spot, they address the scene with the pertinent facts that an empty gun was being waved at them.

So, I think, information found or not found ends up helping to stimulate different addresses of premise. If play gets to a point where a juicy address could be made, but they haven't found all the pertinent facts yet, would you go with that? I'm interested in the structure that determines when you switch from discovery of pertinent facts mode to 'We know all we we need to know, time to make a choice!'.
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Philosopher Gamer
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