The Door

On to third level! This time I’ve expanded the scope of play to where I’d originally conceived it should be, with a number of different characters and unstable situations which interconnect. The point is for the players to decide whom they want to help or kill, and for them to assess the potential dangers of doing so. Time will play a role too, more so than its minor way last time – what they don’t confront or interact with directly, and when they choose to take an Extended Rest, is going to matter.

I’ve also set into place a number of fixed Skill Challenges, to proceed without much time-limit (except insofar as events may render them moot), so players now have mysterious boxes to fill in with tallies regarding successes and failures. I like the message this conveys, that they’re feel they’re in the middle of doing things and finding stuff out which at the moment don’t make much sense.

I’m using a couple of maps by Dyson Logos. One of them is “Mirelyn’s Skyrealm,” reproduced here, for the whole of my quirky Our Realm, pretty much the setting for the adventure at third level. Also check out his series of posts beginning here. I’m not using any of his setting or other concepts, just running with the picture on my own.

I’m also using another map by him for the inside/outside/wherever of the crystal shard, but I can’t show it to you, or explain the entirely off-brand thing I’ve done with it, because Urri has not shown Runt what it’s like from the vantage of her shard. So the map you see here is not really the map, but a misleading piece-together based on what the other characters could see or do via Irru’s shard. I’ve even written up what I’ve done and can’t wait to explain it here, but grrr, I cannot.

As for any big thoughts … well, not yet. I like the slight shift in our play to player-driven movement, and what is clearly the chance for opposing viewpoints among them, or for the reconciliation of same, however they end up. The Heavy Metal ish concept for this game doesn’t lend itself well to nuanced characters (see by contrast the RuneQuest game), but now that a little raunchy fun has crept in, I’m finding that I want to make more out of a couple of the characters than I’d done in prep. Part of the point was to play a fantasy adventure rather than merely “play D&D” as an abstract thing with specific expectations, so considering I was aiming at the players having that response, the fact I’m doing so is probably a good thing.


19 responses to “The Door”

  1. This was a fun session.  I

    This was a fun session.  I always like it when my character suffers due to my own bad decisions, and if the timing of the session had worked out a little differently I think one more round would have gotten me. 

    I feel bad for Urri for several reasons.  She's going to end up unhappy.

    Over email, I issued a very mild apology to the other players for setting up what might be a PVP situation.  Runt has now committed himself to helping Urri rein in Irru's ambitions.  To the extent Runt's word can be relied upon, that MIGHT put him at odds with the other PC's, and since I haven't played with Ross or Gordon before, I just wanted them to know that I'm totally okay with them taking hostile action against Runt, should it make sense or seem fun. 

    Direct PVP is probably something that I'll attempt to avoid, as (a) I don't know Gordon and Ross's tastes in this regard, (b) making up a new a character in 4e is burdensome, and (c) I have a hard time imagining Runt doing such a thing in-fiction; Ehzelya and Eneku are friends & lieutenants, while Urri is at this point merely a potential source of cannon fodder. 

    But if the knives come out, that doesn't mean I won't participate feroiciously.

    • “PvP” … magic words in the

      "PvP" … magic words in the context of D&D. I think that in most of my other current games, Sorcerer or RuneQuest, no such negotiation or even mention would be found. Or if someone did mention it, I'd be able to say, "no need to discuss it, play will take us where it takes us." Yet there's a whole culture in D&D of nailing down exactly where the group stands, in terms of joint action and common interest, with an implied true risk at hand if you don't. There seems to be an unspoken belief that not only the reality of direct player-character conflict, but the fear of the reality, is a game-breaker.

      Champions and other superhero games provide an interesting parallel case, partly based on genre conventions, but also – interestingly – pure cooperativity and guaranteed reconciliation are not mandated by any of the texts. Some of them can be awfully picky and directive about genre faithfulness, too, but that particular issue is left alone.

      What's weird about it … well, I think the 4E rules are surprisingly robust in terms of story/goals stuff, especially with the DMG2 in hand. The Quest and Skill Challenge rules provide immense scope for individual goals, and no reason at all for different characters not to have opposing ones. Such things don't even have to result in death-match resolutions; after all, lateral thinking in the face of multi-faceted and seemingly-impossible challenge is in my eyes basic to play. Naming a Minor Quest doesn't lock you down into completing it like a robot. So it's fun to get ourselves into as much of a pickle as possible, including "wait, you're on his side?" and stuff like that.

      Possibly, I'm missing a key hobby component in that I've never played multiplayer online games in which murdering noobs is part of the landscape. My experience with anti-PC-conflict comes from being stuck in one too many GM's Master Sagas for which our Doughty Adenturers must visit every damn spot on the map, together, and for which minor bickering is lovable color but must never be disagreement. So the more bloodthirsty and genuinely abusive form of the behavior may be more present in the culture than I experience.

    • So this situation is getting

      So this situation is getting interesting, and I'm really not sure which way Ezhelya is going to jump yet. At the moment though, I see the characters being more at cross purposes rather than directly antagonistic. Although I don't think Ezhelya shares Eneku's belief that if we all just sat down and talked about it we can sort it out but you never know, since we do appear to be talking about flower children fighting over their crystals, maybe they will give peace a chance.

      My gaming background is pretty much all one-shot indie games so you may imagine I'm not coming to this game with any great aversion to PvP and here its all being driven by fun in character reactions to the situation (and foolishly letting Ron split the party up) so I think however this shakes out will be fun. I think maybe James' (a) and (c) are good reasons to steer away from anything too direct though, and also, as Runt found, the characters are potentially pretty vulnerable on their own (did we learn nothing from all that discussion of cross character effectiveness?)     

    • Urri is at this point merely

      Urri is at this point merely a potential source of cannon fodder.

      You cad! She likes you.

    • You cad! She likes you.

      You cad! She likes you.

      We have not discussed this yet, but Runt is not, shall we say, Unaligned.

    • Please use the Contact link

      Please use the Contact link in the menu to report stuff like this, not Comments.

  2. Languages in Stock 4e

    In our game so far, what languages our characters speak has never come up.  This puts the game within a very wide mainstream of D&D play throughout the decades.  If an NPC is relevant to the plot, he speaks "Common" or whatever serves that role.

    I have absolutely no problem with this, and it's a very satisfying way to play.

    But one of the minor design choices I really like in 4e is that they have only 10 languages in play (earlier versions of the game had 20+), which–per a sidebar in the rule book–means that, in theory, your adventuring party MIGHT be omni-lingual.

    But the converse is true as well: your group might not have someone fluent in Draconic, or some other rare language.  Which means that if you run into some lizard-style monster-men, you're not going to be able to talk to them. 

    I really like the idea of, "Oh damn, we can't talk our way out of this one–and we're not in great shape to fight.  Do we risk it?"  I want that to be an occasional problem, because it emphasizes the convenient fact that more often than not, you CAN talk to the monster-men, which means that (a) the GM gets to role-play one group of monster-men as distinctly different than another, (b) the monster-men may have an agenda which can be co-opted or manipulated, and (c) you have a tactical choice about whether to handle the encounter via social skills or ass-kicking.  (Which is a way of saying, which is better: immediate XP for killing these guys, or XP for getting tagged with a Minor Quest after talking to them?)

    (Annoyingly, in the Monster Manual just about everybody speaks Common anyway, but wouldn't if I ran.)

    Anyway, while it's not an issue in our game, I do like the concept of a language barrier very much.  It's a rare enough occurrence that it'll seldom matter, but a very serious hurdle when it does crop up.

    The mainstream play, however, has the advantage of, y'know, actually getting to talk to NPC's and not sweating the whole issue of which character understands what conversation.  On the whole it makes sense to play this way, but I do see the gamist appeal of the other approach.

    • I’ll tell you where I’m

      I'll tell you where I'm coming from with it: a combination of preference and incompetence.

      My preference for our game would be to treat the canonical languages as names without too much content ("Draconic" not having anything to do with dragons, e.g.), but definitely existing. I'd also like Common to be a bit limiting in content, having emerged as a practical pidgin that takes on different details in different interfaces.

      Since I'm almost absurdly rejecting the notion of a real-and-true setting for this game, I wouldn't bother with mapping or designating or finding any logic at all for who speaks what. I'd just say so per character or group.

      I hesitate to explain the model in other media because each one I'm thinking about has undergone massive fan-canonization with the usual stupid justifications, to replace and efface the actual source material I'd like to emulate. But I'll try.

      The original Star Trek and Star Wars used the same model: everyone speaks audience-English (complete with its idioms and puns and whatnot), even those for whom any imaginable justification is impossible, except for specific characters and groups who do not for purposes of being fun and/or difficult and/or dramatic. There's no logic to it at all except for those latter purposes. You find the same thing in Heavy Metal type fantasy such as the Den stories.

      A lot of the time an apparent language difference is just cosmetic: Han and Chewbacca use their respective languages and understand the other's, and it's good characterization as well as a little bit of the enjoyable illusion that this whole thing is taking place in a setting. Once in a while it's a bit more apparent because the particular person or group or region is being tagged as exotic and the filmmaker is using the effect of subtitles to nail that down.

      Most of the time, it's not a plot point, e.g., someone not knowing Wookiee which results in some sort of misunderstanding. But very rarely, it matters a lot, e.g., it's central to the story "Arena" that Kirk and the Gorn cannot understand one another.

      Ideally, I'd like both of these in play. It'd be cool if someone spoke a different language a lot and we used "mental subtitles" as the other characters understood it and responded in Common. It'd be cool if Eneku's telepathic speech were notable specifically because it could bypass some language barriers. Neither of those would be hampered by the almost universal, completely unjustifiable use of audience-English. And the conflict of impaired communication could show up once in a while, for fun, or for conflict, or for drama.

      So that's the preference. The problem is my incompetence and complete failure to establish any such things in an easy way during our first adventure, or in the present one. … and yeah, that's exactly it, no real need to explain it further. I'd like to do exactly all that, but we haven't been, because I'm bad at it.

    • I don’t know, I think it’s a

      I don't know, I think it's a bit like the fabled "underwater combat" scene or the scene where a dwarf being able to detect sloping passages actually comes in useful.  Everyone sees those rules, thinks, "I should use those someday," and then the effort doesnt seem commensurate with the amount of fun.  I wouldn't sweat it.  I'm just observing that 4e makes it easier to do the thing nobody ever does.  Which I guess is good design in a way?

  3. Quests


    Great session! The PCs are growing. Inspiring, fun and mysterious landscape with lots of interesting GM/prep techniques. I would be extremely interested to get an in-depth look at the preperation procedure!

    I am looking through the 5th edition D&D dungeon masters guide with the hope of finding anything similar to the quest system that has been central to your 4e game. To no avail. 

    My first question: are minor and major Quests that award experience points part of 4e rules as written? I only have access to the internet in regards to D&D 4e, and a couple of searches on the subject gave me nothing but headache. Second: if that’s the case, does the rules say these quests could be player initiated? Meaning, announced by the player like James did in this session?

    In regards to D&D 5e, there are something called minor and major Milestones that award experience points equal to easy respectively hard encounters. Meaning, milestones the GM choose during the preparation, as steps or mini goals towards the ultimate goal of an adventure.

    • Hi Love! Yes, the quest rules

      Hi Love! Yes, the quest rules are plain and simple rules from the DMG. They're rated in experience points. A minor one is worth a foe of your level; a major one is worth a full-party encounter of your (collective) level. The text recommends providing them in an adventure but also permitting them to be invented on the spot by players.

      You can bet I sat straight up when I saw that in the book.

      I maintain the skill challenge rules are related. They're presented in the DMG but are much better developed in the DMG 2, especially in terms of shifting in and out of them relative to combat, e.g., escaping from a too-dangerous foe becomes a skill challenge. Some of my thoughts on them are extrapolated, for instance, beginning an encounter with no standing commitment on the DM's part concerning whether it "is" a fight or a skill challenge, except for designating the relevant individuals on the simple hostile-to-friendly spectrum.

      Therefore not only goals (quests) can be initiated, but how much violence ensues and what sort of "deals" or relationships may develop are also subject to player judgments, or at least an understandable chance to do so based on circumstances.

      I cannot think of anything approaching this kind of character-driven flexibility, literally story-making power that is conducted entirely through play, in any other version of D&D. Nor anything, incidentally, less like the common accusation that the game is simplistic and/or stupid.

      Also, the follow-up session has been played and will be posted soon. I'll talk a lot about prep because finally Certain Things have been revealed.

    • You can bet I sat straight up

      You can bet I sat straight up when I saw that in the book.

      Yes! I did too when I saw the mechanic in action in your first and subsequent sessions!

      Some of my thoughts on them are extrapolated, for instance, beginning an encounter with no standing commitment on the DM's part concerning whether it "is" a fight or a skill challenge,

      Skill challenges have been the only real draw for me regarding D&D 4e before. Me and my friends had the notion that 4e was more like a complicated board game than a role playing game, but there was some cognitive dissonance because the skill challenges didn’t match that picture at all. I’m glad I could see them in use here for the first time. I see that they are a lot more powerful with that extrapolation of the rules, when those decisions can be made by the players from moment to moment. One thing comes to mind though. The challenges seem quite hard to keep track of on top of everything else, both in preparation and play. I guess the possible challenges in a given session (or landscape) have to be prepared beforehand?

      Can’t wait to see the follow-up session!

    • About skill challenges in our

      About skill challenges in our game: in the first adventure (Kzekk's mind), I wrote parameters for a skill challenge in each encounter, as part of prep. So the section about the malevolent floaty-shooter monsters included their stat block, as one might expect, but also the level of the skill challenge, what skills were involved, and what victory and defeat meant (and in some cases, like the monks, what a given single-victory per skill roll meant). In most cases the outcome included concluding the encounter for victory, and some interesting consequences awaiting them upon returning if they lost.

      The idea was that the skill challenge was initiated simply because someone tried to do something – e.g., a perfectly understandable Arcana or Insight roll to figure out "what are these things," "what do they want." If it was a skill that wasn't involved in that skill challenge, then that didn't count. And some of the skill challenges included contra-indicated skills; e.g., trying Diplomacy on the monks was a very bad idea because then they'd adopt you as a "leader," and constituted a failure in that skill challenge as a whole despite being a successful roll.

      That's in the rules too, by the way. You can't just shift to your best skill to try to control or to get out of situations every time; sometimes the situation simply doesn't allow for it and will blow up in your face.

      In the second, current adventure, I have a couple of "sitting" skill challenges at work, similar to the first design. You'll see in the next bit that I post how the group fails at one of those, with explosive consequences. I'm also allowing for emergent skill challenges based simply on someone trying/doing something, which I think is either explicit in the DMG 2 or so strongly implicit that it might as well be explicit.

      The rules are a little too vague about exactly how quests, skill challenges, and encounters are parsed relative to one another. It may be most functional to let a given relationship among them be subject to current circumstances, e.g., whether a skill challenge is a subset of an encounter or vice versa, or whether a minor quest encapsulates as many encounters as the situation of play seems to warrant.

  4. The Initial Approach

    I was surprised that you didn't make landing on the sky-island a skill challenge, Ron. Conceivably, the PCs could have met up with the denizens of the monastery–or the island's other inhabitants–anywhere, and if they'd dinged up their sky-galley on the approach, or even crash-landed somewhere, then the resulting need for repairs or some other alternative method of departure could have been a great point of negotiation between the party and the NPCs they encountered, increasing the tension of their interaction. Conversely, if they'd succeeded, then their skillful approach would have established how bad-ass they were, and the difficulty of the approach would explain the isolation of the sky-island. "We're in some turbulent airstreams, all right!"

    In either case, it would have been a dramatic opening to the level. I haven't finished listening, though, so was it important that the PCs arrive at the sky-island through the ledge entrance?  

    • I remember rejecting the idea

      I remember rejecting the idea while we were playing, and I'm putting together the rationale for it a bit after the fact. Viscerally or experientially, I considered the "tension" side of the issue, meaning, whether the arrival was of itself problematic or dangerous, and I found it very uninteresting.

      But I think the pieces of the rationale were in place at the time.

      • The whole time of working with this setting ("playbook?"), I've harbored the idea a given cosmos-fragment ("island") isn't floating in a homogeneous void which can be navigated as one will, but more of an astral-sea type space with its own weird currents and depths.
      • That ties to my notion – which I recall considering during play – that someone had built that dock where it is because that's the only reliable way "in." So this way in wasn't itself problematic,and in previous times, it had been routinely used and considered safe.
      • Those points fit well with my scenario-concept that Our Land had been unusually isolated for a while, and that it would be strange to see such a well-developed landing site and related structure that was obviously in such disuse.

      Anyway, at the moment of play, some part of me insisted very quickly "no! no problem landing right there!" and I went with it, and apparently that part of me had reviewed that list and didn't feel like debating about it or throwing in a skill challenge that wasn't consistent with anything else I had in mind.

    • As a player in the game I’m

      As a player in the game I'm currently thinking of the Gondala / sky ship as really just a plot device to move us from  one locale to another. I don't think it has been described at all yet for instance and from a rules point of view we probably didn't invest the amount of treasure in getting it that would justify using it for cool stunts and exciting escapades.

      I could see this changing in future if we pay it a bit more fictional and / or rules attention, maybe see if there are some suitable ship handling feats? "Spend" more "treasure" on it or even give it a name. Or it could as easily stay in the background. 

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