The editing beast is slain at last, and I get 1500 XP for defeating a 7th level Solo Brute, meaning the editing task. The truth is that I need those XP to improve my play skills, because this four-hour online session displays my limits at least as well as anything about people enjoying a single convention session of play.
I don’t know if anyone will last through eight half-hour videos, but here’s what you need to know. Some role-players have begun to showcase D&D 4th edition as its own enjoyable phenomenon, calling the endeavor “4eR” or even “Fourth Edition Renaissance” in clear comparison with the more famous initials floating out there. Ross let me know about their first online get-together for sign-up play, called 4eR Con, and we both set up slots to run, with him taking on the 4E Dark Sun and me with my little spin on the content that I like to call “Barbaric Psychedelic Psionic Cataclysmic 4E.”
The videos begin with my discussion of preparation, so I won’t summarize the details here beyond thanking the Dyson Logos and Afternoon Maps Patreons for the maps I used. Well, a little maybe: it’s a bottle situation in which the characters are trapped in the psychic moment of their own deaths, battling the psionically embodied manifestation of the villain’s intent to slay them. More or less a psychedelic hippie version of a dragon in a dungeon. I also used my casual method of subverting geomorphs by turning them into tesseracts.
I’ve attached all the content: the summary of what I planned and conceived as given to potential players, the summaries of the characters that the players could turn into character sheets (and include names and gender identity as they see fit), my notes and references for play, all sorts of maps, and the cross-character summary that I’ve found necessary whenever playing the game. I simply passed out individual files for the characters (all in one file in the attachments, but separated at this point) to the players at random. I also sent everyone scans for rules pages that they didn’t own.
A sudden change-up in players, lost one and gained one, happened a few days beforehand and that led to a little bit less preparation than I hoped as the new player didn’t have time to internalize the Barbaric Psychedelic content as well as the others, but it wasn’t disastrous.
Before we started, I pointed out to the group that online play is very tiring for me, and I tend to hit a hard limit at or just before two hours. I was pretty wary of a four-hour slam-bang time slot. I’d tried to work against that by letting them know I needed them to know their various rules and powers by themselves, as I would not be cueing or encouraging them during play, at least not consistently.
For two hours, that went fine. I even felt pretty good as we approached that time … and then one player’s connection failed out entirely, and I lost at least 50% of my stress buffer. The one thing I didn’t want to do, and did not have the paperwork to do it, was to reference any player-character’s sheet about their rules details, and now I had to do it unexpectedly, as well as try to maintain contact by chat. Little things wore it down further, e.g., despite my efforts during prep, one of my maps’ grid notations was off by a row, which would be easy to correct mentally with the stress buffer in place, but now just ground it down hard. You can see me wear out fast in the 5th video, losing the ability to use the right word – for example, I knew I meant “slowed” but kept saying “dazed” or “stunned” instead as my mind staggered around.
I want to call your attention to the point when a player or two started asking random rules questions, and I stopped play to explain just how dazed, stunned, slowed, and weakened I was feeling, and what I needed from them in order to continue.
By that point, I was powering through, hoping to stay with the fiction and enough of the system, e.g., the initiative order, to the point I could at least say “we played this,” and in that we succeeded. The rules reflections file lists all the mistakes I made, mostly during the final 45 minutes of play. The mistakes were not trivial, so the second half of what was until then a pretty good nailbiter of a fight just carved the adversary down like a Thanksgiving turkey instead. I kept my eyes and mind on the overall scenario and it finished out pretty well, if a bit quickly based on the time constraint.
The players were great, adapting to the unusual and trippy fictional context with enthusiasm, and steadily coming into more and more identification with or at least interest in the character concepts they were playing. At that halfway point I think we were building potential for some rather good and unexpected interactions during the fight, and at the end, people seemed cheerful and appreciative. I’d like to follow up with a group converation and reflection, but I am a little suspicious that the latter third of play might have drained away enthusiasm from at least a couple of the players, and they might not want to talk about it.
I am all about recognizing the virtues and opportunities of the D&D 4E rules concepts, as well as some features I would like to change or adapt, with Gamma World as a model for the extent one might employ. There’s a lot of room there, which I hope the 4eR continues to celebrate and investigate.