Friday, April 24, 2009

4/18 Actual Play, and rumination on group size

Rumination is where cows rechew their food right? So that word seems appropriate since I feel like this subject has been talked to death in our group lately, in person, through email, and posted publicly on our group. I'll get to that later.

We had a few cancellations last week, some last minute, and so it wasn't until about 30 or 40 minutes after the appointed start time that dan, colin, chelsea and I decided to scrap the planned continuation of our main campaign and run a one shot. Colin volunteered to run a module and the three of us sat down to put together some last minute characters together.

Another ringing endorsement for DDI follows. Colin found a module, and we started making characters using the character builder. Jesse showed up a bit later, and with colin printing out the module and the four of us making and printing our characters, we were ready to play in about an hour. We played 9th level for an 8th level module since we were one short. I can't imagine making 4 3.5 characters even with heroforge in that amount of time. I can't imagine making 4e characters without the character builder in that amount of time. It was very nice.

We ended up with a Goliath Barbarian, Half-Orc Ranger (2 weapon), Dwarven Warlord, and Dwarven Warden. We began in the Warwood. I immediately thought of a party of warforged, a warlock, warden, and warlord, all adventuring in the warwood (incedentally, that party is not only viable, but sounds kind of awesome.)

Since it was a one shot I don't really feel the obligation to set down the plot and structure of the battles for posterity. I will still give some thoughts on the session however. Firstly, our party was very spiffy. Secondly the adventure was a learning experience for me (and somewhat for others, it seems). Thirdly, a party of four adventurers is about twice as fun as a party of eight, proving the inverse relationship between the two (to a point. I do not think that a party of 1 is 8 times more fun than a party of 8, so the statement is only valid for groups >3 or so).

Chelsea played the Goliath Barbarian. The barbarian was kind of the star of the show. She wielded a pick (irony for a goliath there), and chose the rageblood path. Our session was only long enough for 2 combat encounters, which is kind of sad for a 9th level barbarian, and I am pretty sure she never used the rage strike. She was a great striker, and her in-your-face presence kind of created a defendery aura, too. The disappointing thing was that I never really got to see what a goliath was like out of combat. . .how would she be roleplayed, what were her skills like, what was her racial power, things like that.

Jesse ran a Half Orc Ranger. He dual wielded bastard swords, which is awesome, and had the highest damage output. Chelsea had some awesome moments, but Jesse had chosen his powers wisely and was able to wring quite a bit out of what he had. He was less *flashy* though. While the barbarian was charging across the battlefield, as far as 10 squares in one instance, Jesse was quietly doing 30 points of damage consistently.

Dan played our leader, the Dwarven Warlord. Dan had played a female dwarf warlord before, as a DMPC, but this one seemed much better at her leadery role. Not only did his healing keep Jesse alive, but he gave a few free attacks to Chelsea, and during the second fight his White Raven Onslaught is probably what saved us from cold zombie death. From the beginning I always like warlords a hair better than clerics, and this is just more confirmation for me. Clerics may be better at a lot of things, but warlords are certainly the anti-controller of the battlefield. Anti-controller as in, move allies and subtract status effects as opposed to move enemies and add status effects.

I played the Dwarven Warden. I have kind of been itching to play one since I first flipped through PHB2. Yes, it is another defender. I appear to be stuck in a rut. I built him with the reach weapon cheese that a Warden encourages. The Verdant Lord Paragon Path outlines how I feel. Become a tree. Control the battlefield. With a greatspear and turned into a tree, the Warden can have reach 3, which is a 7x7 piece of the battlefield, or 48 squares. A regular player controls 8 squares.

This isn't what I liked most, though. I didn't really take advantage of my reach much. I liked his defender/controller feel. Wardens mark all adjacent allies as a free action once per round. I chose the power that is reach 2 and pulls one. With that power, you can pull an enemy one, mark him (and any others next to you) and shift back. Eventually, during the first fight I found I had managed to pull a group of enemies away from the pack after a few rounds of this. I feel like an Elf Warden would be very superior at this, able to shift no matter what. While the Warden's mark is surely not as cool as the Fighters, since it uses your immediate action and can therefore only be done once a round, it is a basic attack rather than an opportunity attack, so you can make it at reach.

Enough about the warden. The session cast us as a group of mercenaries traveling through the Warwood. We see a procession in the distance, traveling the opposite direction, and we discern that it is a funeral procession. As we step to the side to allow it to pass, bandits attack and we leap to the defensive. The first fight was us vs 8 4th level human bandity types and 2 6th level casters. We were 9th level. Surprisingly the fight was not a steamroll. Sure, after a few rounds Jesse and I figured we could only miss on a 2 or less, but the fight was dynamic, and rather than having a couple of equal level brutes to lock us down, or a nest of minions, they split the difference. It worked. There were enough that we could not easily get away without provoking (and they still hit hard, when they hit), but they weren't minions and dead at the drop of a hat.

We prevailed and fast forwarded through the roleplay (the gist: we agree to help the creepy procession retrieve their coffin, which was stolen during the fight) and set up for the second encounter. This encounter started with us on one side of a frozen river, and our enemies on the other. Again, we faced lower level opponents, 5 4th level and 4+ 6th level. I will explain the plus in a moment. Chelsea bounded across the ice but failed her acrobatics check to not fall over, and ended up prone in the middle of the river. So did Dan. So did I. Jesse did not run, so he did not fall. We started engaging the enemy as they moved to the river to fight us, and that is when the terrain feature became something more than just difficult terrain. Every time someone was wounded (per the module) an icy zombie burst through the ice next to them and began attacking the nearest target at random. These zombies were tougher than the mooks we were fighting, and Colin quickly had to rein in the rampant zombie creation and we ended up with 5 or 6 total. Dan made it to the other side and hit with his White Raven Onslaught, enabling us to slide our allies across the ice. This one was closer, with Jesse out of surges by the end and Dan out of healing, but loads of fun. With enemies 3-5 levels lower than the party. Who knew.

I guess that is the learning experience part. I tried to make tough encounters with higher level enemies, and now I feel like while those have their place, throwing in tough encounters with lower level enemies, or easier encounters, can still be a lot of fun. I need to revise my thinking.

My last comments will be on group size. A lot of talk has been generated on this subject over the past 2 or 3 weeks. We currently have 10 semi-regular players, which is quite a lot. It is more work and less fun for everyone, but we are playing a game with friends, how do you decide who stays and who goes in an equitable manner?

The first knee jerk proposal was a split into 2 groups. This appears reasonable on the surface, 5 players each is ideal. That was our number last week. What about those kinds of situations? If we had been split up, neither group would have been able to play. With some members of the group not confirming their attendance until the day of the game (if at all) it would be nearly impossible to plan to meet together if the same happened. And it does not solve the problem of who decides. Do we split by age? Experience? Region? Draw lots?

While this option was never dropped *officially*, it has not seen much discussion lately. Discussion that I have had lately has focused on a couple things:
1 - Helping the DM. We have had someone helping unofficially with initiatives, but expanding this into a more helpful position will make things easier on him. I suggested tracking conditions as well, and looking up rules disputes. This has not been agreed upon.
2 - Paying attention. This is a horrible feedback loop that must be stopped. The longer combats get, the less inclined folks are to pay attention, and the longer the combat gets. It is self causing, and it's solution is . . .to pay attention? If the DM (or his assistant, see #1) has to explain to every player individually, when it is their turn, that the ogre mini is in fact a centaur, and that the red marks are his flaming arrows, it takes up a huge chunk of time. How do you encourage paying attention? One good suggestion has been to give a time limit. If you aren't ready to go when your initiative count comes up, you delay until you are ready. Enforce this in an impartial manner, such as with a tiny hourglass, and I think feelings are more likely to be spared.
3 - Respect. This was my contribution. I feel there are a lot of reasons that having less respect slows the game down.
-Realize that the DM likely spent upwards of an hour or two preparing for this session, and will not get to play his character. Show some respect for the thought he has put into it.
-Respect that we all have lives, families, other hobbies, and we chose to get together to play D&D. For most of us this *is* our social interaction for the week.
-Respect each other and our time by not wasting it by interrupting or ignoring, but try to pay a little attention to what is going on.
-Understand that most of us can take time, as little as 30 seconds during the week, to let the DM know whether to plan on us attending. We are all in this together, and the better prepared the DM is, the more fun we will have.

These are not . . . public suggestions, these are things I have thought about and told a couple folks, but things that I think any gaming group with our problem can use. It is easy to take the excuse I took above, that we are friends getting together to play a game, what is the big deal, but I think that shows a general lack of consideration for the people who have spent time to make this game fun, and if what you desire is a group of friends getting together to play a game with no pressure or strings attached, maybe this game is not for you. That is what makes gaming fun, is that there is pressure, there is group effort, and the more we work together and respect each other, the more fun we can have.

This highlights something that I will begin explaining kind of backwards. My mother in law does not understand D&D. She thinks it is kind of silly that we all get together and play, every week, and nobody ever wins. To her, game=win. She is a non-gamer. Some people are gamers, some are non-gamers. If you do not grasp some of these things about being a considerate member of a gaming group, and you feel like perhaps this is all a little serious for just a game, perhaps you are a non-gamer. This is not a bad thing. I am a non-athlete and I have led a full life. You can still game, but you might have to take into consideration some things you think are ridiculous, like RSVPing every week for a casual get together. Par for the course.

That got a little ranty. Please don't be offended.



Chelonia said...

This is cool, Jay.


BlueBlackRed said...

While I totally disagree with doing anything in Eberron, I agree 100% with your points about helping the DM, paying attention, and respecting others at the table.

Depending on how well your DM handles his job, perhaps having someone keep track of damage to monsters would help speed things up a little.

I've argued for years about speeding the game up. It requires people to be prepared before and during the game, and to pay attention.

But face it, some gamers aren't up for that level of commitment to the game. You'll be better off with the DM planning for 2-3 combats a night.

When I run, I tend to expect 3 fights, but have a back up 4th fight if I need it.

One thing we've started doing, when a fight is over and everyone is just going through motions to kill the last monsters off, just have the monster make a couple of attacks swings and call the combat over.