Situational questions

Twelve sessions in, I’m comfortable with the concept I’ve outlined earlier: any permissible combination of fighter, thief, cleric, and assassin; half-elves, half-orcs, humans; the mega-Law and mega-Chaos churches and the implied shadowy-city fantasy. To review, check out You had one job!, Goodness, and Shady deeds in shadowy places.

At this point, again between-levels and between-adventures, I decided to ask every player, “what do you want to do” and to expand the situation accordingly. I want to contrast this phrasing from “prepare the scenario,” because although it’s technically the same thing, the latter typically implies specific confrontations and in many cases a sequence of events to play “through.” The idea is not set them into “drop-in, you are here” moments as much, and to relax the active measures of various NPCs in favor of developing a more ordinary life-and-times for them.

In the previous adventure or level-unit or plot-unit or whatever you want to call it, I found that playing across multiple locations was less successful than it usually is. But since I’d like to favor them playing their guys and not alleged mad skilz prep by me, that probably means more of the same. The text does not help in arriving at means and procedures for any of this; indeed, it’s notoriously contradictory between squad ops vs. separately-proceeding, naturalistic locations and times. A lot of my ten-minute musings address this using different variables. If you haven’t seen the musings, here’s the playlist.

I guess I’ll try to summarize the situational concern; it’s highly specific to this text. Think of two aesthetic “drives” which prevail and compete, and think about how The Dungeon Master is somehow supposed to be maximizing both.

  1. Several intrinsic systemic procedures demand specific content, which is neither automated or capable of magically appearing – it has to be put there, and it needs to be quantitaively organized according to the specific sorts of player-characters and their current profiles.
  2. Decisions and contingent outcomes throughout play result in “what happens,” unknowably prior to their occurrence, and therefore the outcome variables present a unique, consequential record – consequences – of whatever has happened. Many preparation and procedures contribute to this unknowable contingency.

I know these can’t be reconciled, and I’ve taken #1 about as far as I can stand it. And I have some basics to work with so that I can shift toward #2 and not merely be improvising in the fog – things which are completely integrated among past events in play, current preparatory content, and system in action:

  • Multiple level-ups, such that everyone is at least third level in everything now, and Hazel is now a fourth-level thief.
  • All the little friends, including deciding that Hazel’s plant shoot was a baby treant, working up some details about Marden Krown’s new goblin squad, formalizing Robert’s status in the Blood Hawks with a blood hawk, and, most actively, landing Alexian Dusk with an ever-so-helpful quasit.

Erik drew one of the goblins!

The preparation was still not too good, and I went in feeling like I wasn’t in a good place to honor what they’d told me.

Fortunately they were totally on-task as you’ll see.

I’m still not sure how well I’m going to do, as a lot of preparation for this game is so embedded in #1 type thinking, and I’d rather use as much of the textual procedures as I can, or at least, choose from what’s there rather than designing my own. In this case, in fact, the saving grace of the session for me was taking exactly what Alexian said he would do – use the quasit to spy out nearby people in trouble – then going to the city encounter tables and rolling, sure enough, a perfectly fine source of trouble (as opposed to “nothing going on tonight, no big deal”), looking through my pick-up-whenever maps for an appropriate spot, and using the treasure results from the Monster Manual for what turned out to be a rather striking and appropriate result. So maybe some more of that for a while.

, ,

5 responses to “Situational questions”

  1. SESSION 13

    Direct link: Owing more to the dynamics of real play than to any mad plan-and-prep skills, much is happening, at the “ranch” of the Little Good God, as it were, as well as under Loorimax’s mansion in Zynos.

    Here are my preparation notes, and here’s the same map I used in the Lincon AD&D session, which you will be seeing in a post soon. Please note that although they use the same map and name, the contents and nature of the Center for Universal Munificence are very different between the two games.

  2. SESSION 14

    Milo and Erik couldn’t be with us for this session, so we concentrated on the ruckus inside the Center, figuring that we’d play out the events there before Robert would have the chance to arrive. The result was highly concentrated mayhem, including multiple deaths – although miraculously, and not by any protection on my part, none of the player-characters, yet.

    Here are my preparation scribbles and also the stages of development for the “dungeon” plus the key. If you checked out the Lincon game, you’ll see that this one is much less of a classic dungeon or showdown-arena, and more of a naturalistic location. Significantly, the “dragon” in the middle is less antagonistic. But it’s full of dangers and responsive nastiness, and I am afraid poor Hazel walked her crew into the exact place where her survival and mission were least favored.

    Here’s the direct link to the session inside the playlist.

    I have some thoughts about all of this, the foremost being that play requires far too much helicopter advising on the GM’s part. I recall this from the old days; the group cannot play without a certain “voice from above” providing the rules, options, and contextual information which would be the most helpful at the moment. I don’t think it’s merely about habits and therefore one can simply avoid doing it; it’s baked into many, many aspects of the experience. Exactly how and why remains a point of reflection.

  3. From the start my weak point in role playing has been fighting. I have great difficulties to imagine and narrate fights or my characters actions in fights and I really admire others abilities to graphically describe all the glorious gory details of the action. Playing this game and Proteus (see for example the post “Smelly scuffle”) back to back has given me the chance to train fighting under very different circumstances and helped me to much better understand the dynamics and how to phrase my contributions. Here one unit of action is a minute long and both the moment when it is my characters turn and their failure or success are intimately connected to who else and what else is part of the action during this time. A lot of things and a lot of thinking will have happened before the next minute starts. In Proteus you know the exact second your character acts, and the next second it somebody else’s action will be resolved. It may sound confusing but it actually results in very dynamic fights where an actions success or failure are the result of a moment. That feels very differently and the need to handle those two different approaches have helped me to think about and to process fight sequences with a little bit more confidence.
    On a more general note: I really enjoy playing this game with this group(sharing the table with so many people is amazing) and I am very thankful that Ron is willing to invest so much time and energy into making advanced Dungeons and Dragons playable for us.

  4. SESSION 15

    Here’s the link, for the session which probably concludes most of the business with four of our five characters, with the fate of the Center for Universal Munificence. The point I made above about having to feed “this is how we deal with moments like this” comes through in full, although I tried to stay in line with what players had said they’d like to accomplish.

    I do feel pretty good that nothing was contrived in terms of where any given person or creature was at any given time. It was all determined through sensible decisions everyone made given what they knew, including the tirapheg peering through the cracks in the old door.

    Preparation wasn’t much, as my key for the Center was well in place; it’s merely some notes on what the baboons were up to.

    The latest musing continues some thoughts on alignment, as a comparison among versions of the game. I didn’t have time to show off by ticking off Tolkien, Anderson, Vance, Leiber, and Moorcock as incompatible, jostling influences. You can probably do that already. I also didn’t quite manage to articulate a point which is probably too complex for just ten minutes. It’s generally accurate to say that Holmes-B/X-BECMI are one thing, at least as a trajectory, and AD&D (and maybe AD&D 2nd) is another, but alignment presents the exception. The alignments in original D&D (1974), B/X, and then BECMI are kind of alike in being a linear sequence; and Holmes and AD&D, although not the same, are kind of alike in being a cross-referenced grid.

    That latter point is kind of weird too … I actually think Holmes makes more sense:

    Be careful, because that’s not nine, it’s five. The “good, evil, law, chaos” terms are axis labels, not sectors of behavior. And, if you ask me, this is super playable. Granted, you have to decide whether it’s prescriptive or descriptive, and whether there’s any cosmology and deity-ness going on, but that’s fine, whatever you want. I’d assign Neutral to mean “not eligible,” so for insensate things or totally nature-things, outside ethical considerations. I like the structure; it’s easy to see what to do.

    AD&D basically turns those axis labels into “filled behavior sectors,” by directly modifying the diagram:

    I do like the added adjectives, they seem perfect. But I think the chart concept is overly clever and unproductive. The difficulty with the meaning of “neutral” is now amplified and extended everywhere, especially since it’s now instantiated as a behavioral thing via the Druid class. I’ve managed to make it work via my conceit of the uber-churches of Law and Chaos, and with Helma doing a remarkable job of playing Hazel as a no-fucks-given anarchist, but I have to say, it’s mainly by ignoring Neutral-Neutral or even villainizing it as an unsupportable delusion.

    You may find it amusing that I realized during recording that I didn’t even remember how it’s done in 3rd! (despite having played it) I pulled it off the shelf and found that it’s a well-written repeat of AD&D. I did remember and briefly mentioned that 4th presents its own thing which is more like B/X in being linear; it’s also the only one which really makes sense of Neutral.

  5. SESSION 16 – finishing out

    Here we see the surprising fate of Marden Krown, which relied entirely on two things:

    – the timing rules regarding minute-long initiative vs. six-second segments for personal confrontation.
    – the behavioral profile for Loorimax as determined many weeks ago, regarding several difficult decisions from the character’s point of view

    It’s also a good example of me rejecting all of the following: “good for the story” control, “what the player deserves” outcome control (which is recommended several times in the text), and “it’s a fight so attack at maximum first.”

    A couple of variables factored in hard: first, that Loorimax’s Sleep effect would not work on Marden, who had one too many hit dice for it; second, that Marden’s Command worked on Loorimax, who had one too few hit dice to merit a saving throw against it.

    Especially, think of every interaction in this session in terms of the foe’s single most potent attack: cone of cold, 8d8 damage, save to take half damage. At every step, I considered whether Loorimax would employ it, when, and if so, how its timing works.

    Here are my preparation notes for the session, mostly orienting myself toward all the power dynamics surrounding the moment, and considering what Loorimax did and didn’t know.

    I did work out the final experience points for the characters, which yielded some surprising results and probably merits a separate comment or video.

Leave a Reply