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Kumbayah, oh no

I do not plan. But it doesn't hurt to visualize the odd individual mechanical outcome. In this case, I thought, well, since they muffed the Skill Challenge and unleashed the crystal creche thingamabob, then Our Land is not just currently compromised by an invasive mystical-crystal birth event, it's basically lost out to it. So if either Urri and Irru gets through the Door, then they'll merge into a horrible anti-purpose un-Our-Land cosmically-retrogressive aberrant threat of their own, as Our Land comes apart all 'round and our heroes will have to cope with a new mini-setting. Maybe even get transmuted into shardminds, for two of them; that oughta be fun.

That was before the Arcane Mutterings, recently acquired in Eneku's level-up. It lets him use Arcana to substitute for other social skills, once per encounter. Pretty cool, right? And in play, yes it was, as Gordon was born to deliver the appropriate dialogue, such that the rest of us would go what the fuck? ... oh wait, that sort of does make sense. It also did a dandy job of getting the twin-demi-deities through the door in concert with reconciling them to the crystal influence. As in, if either one or the other had happened first, then whammo, see above.

I'm good with whatever happens. But you can bet I had my bookmark already set to the displacer beast, which is what I planned to re-skin for the above-mentioned horrible et cetera, with a nasty addition or two from the DMG2 options as well. Suddenly shifting to ... wait - it worked? left me without a handy visualization. Playable, yes, but I had to scramble for a moment, you can probably see it on my face, as I was forced to admit that instead of New Weird Crisis, it was time to play Mysterious Serene Denouement.

Don't let that distract you from the details. I was pleased to see their reactions to my characterizations of Urri and Irru swing back and forth between "these two are nuts!" and "maybe they aren't so bad." The fight against the crystal cobra brought in some great moments, although it also showed me it's time to start using solo foes of their level or just above, rather than single foes well above their level. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the latter are less difficult if you can get past their basic trick. Eneku displayed Karnak-worthy martial strikes and Runt pulled off one of those roll-to-hit-again barbarian combos, neither of which would have brought down the cobra alone.

And if I'm not mistaken, all the players are now feeling well into their characters' skins, er, integuments, running with the weird and providing energy to make it go rather than relying on me. Runt is turning out to be a very complicated fellow, as you'll see.

What's next? The plan was to shift up to 11th level to see what Paragon play is like, but upon reviewing the process, I'm thinking a one-level stop-off at 7th is a good idea. That's a key point for hybrid-built characters, where you start being able to choose things freely instead of making sure you have one of each class for each type of thing. It also, as I see it, is just about the point where you look ahead to Paragon tier to see what might be most interesting or the best fit.

Actual Play


James_Nostack's picture

Plain and simple.  Nothing complicated about him.  "If it's too much trouble to murder it, you gotta freeload off of it; if you can't easily freeload off it, maybe it's better off dead."

And yeah, by the late period in 4e, you really want Solos for a Big Bad, not singletons of Level + 4 or whatever.  The solos are deliberately designed that way.  

I'm kind of puzzled why we haven't gotten our asses kicked repeatedly.  That was a staple of my few forays into 4e, and I figured if we didn't have a healer we would get trounced.  "Dang it, Ron's set up the classes so that nobody's a full-on leader, and everyone is at least partially a striker glass-cannon type.  What's he doing?"  Either we've been very lucky, or the skill challenge merger makes the encounter much easier to handle, or I'm just a fool.

Ross's picture

I think we have got lucky but I wonder also if part of it is the small group size. A lot of encounters in the monster manual would be a tough monster with a few minions; I know Ron said challenges aren't necessarily scaled to our level etc. but dropping the minions off an encounter to match the xp budget of three instead of four characters might explain our surprising survival. Then you only have one thing attacking each round, it gets all the damage and all the side effects. It certainly seems like the bigger monster groups came closest to handing us our arses, the frog creatures and the fanboy monks for instance. And I suspect we wouldn't have lasted long in the fight we started between Urri and Irru's mini armies.

All that or we are just awesome. 

Ron Edwards's picture

Hey Ross, fortunately the design is transparent enough that I'm able to see what's going on. The combat outcomes have resulted from four intersecting things, in ascending order of importance.

  • The three-player-character constraint, as you describe, although I have been beefing things up and twisting their tricks in ways that work more often than not. The issue here is that once you get a primary opponent on the ropes, the encounter as a whole is getting resolved too, rather than having to deal with multiple competent threats. This is going to change as you reach higher level and might face, for instance, twice your party number of foes just two levels below you, maybe led by an elite.
  • My emphasis on foes who want things, most of the time - even those awful monks just wanted to be your best friends (the results once you emerged would have been horrific, but it was possible). So fights are typically about more than merely whether you live or die.
  • Your collective emphasis on tactics, as I described in the handout and have been careful to reinforce throughout play. Thinking players and characters with a diverse range of effects can end-run problems rather than overcome them directly, which is clearly a design feature of the game.
  • Completely emergent convergent mechanics, usually between two characters whose players are simply riffing off of what's happening rather than puzzling out a combo. I love these moments but they do terminate or subvert straight-up physical fights, usually with big plot consequences that are maybe hard to understand are outcomes, rather than the DM spitballing something cool at the next juncture.

That big confused fight in the last-but-one session definitely could have gone badly for the characters. It was a dangerous mess. Initially there was some leeway granted because the two sets of minion-types (not Minions) were mostly after one another. But that had just changed as soon as Irru took damage from a player-character, and the whole displacer beast problem would have appeared as well given several different possible routes. It was possible the whole adventure might have converted into a "oh shit! flee this joint!" skill challenge, whether to get back to your boat or to untether the fragment with the tower on it.

I think a great deal of 4E play history has been a self-fulfilling prophecy, as people are told it's all about skirmish-assault, so they play accordingly. Therefore the fights are conducted as two gangs in onslaught mode, each seeking to annihilate the other at the mid-line through attrition, so no wonder they need constant major healing. Whereas when the whole angle of attack is changed toward strategic end-runs and an eye toward what the player-characters want from an encounter, the player-characters' baseline surges and one thoughtful Leader-type are sufficient.

I focused Eneku on the original crystal formation, the pieces "wrongly" held by Urri and Irru, and eventually on "ignore the creature-battle, it's all about the crystal-reaction" pretty instinctively. The "unity" he sought was for the crystal - I am amused at just how well his Mutterings ALSO applied to Urri and Irru. Eneku is deeply, DEEPLY disapointed that no mysticrystalvision resulted, no interaction with the crystalness post-serpent at all. Right now, I'm thinking some combination of "father" issues and monkish obsession with ontological metaphysics explains his choices, but he may yet surprise me.

I was a bit surprised that 19 was a hit vs. Dex for the Crystal Serpent, but my new Springing Drake Encounter power was perfect for the situation, and I rolled well on damage, triggered my Flurry ... too bad Runt and Ezhelya didn't see it.

As a player, I imagine Runt may find his quest for revenge upon/leadership of his tribe requires something more than a murder-hobo - but I'm not sure that's a GOOD thing ... especially depending on what lessons he takes from Ezhelya's b(B)ackground(s).

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