Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Good Example

This past Saturday was Free RPG Day. If you didn't get the chance to hit up a game store you missed out on some cool freebies.

Free RPG Day is a great idea and pretty well executed on the distribution side of things, but I find that the stores I frequent don't really do any promotion or hold any events to make it more of an EVENT. So, while ultimately, I appreciate a few free games and previews, I'm not sure how successful the program is.

This year there was a bunch of nice-looking giveaways of which I grabbed only one; Khyber's Harvest for D&D 4th Edition. If you read my last post you know that I've had some issues with my D&D game and with 4th Edition in general. And I have to tell you, this adventure is a perfect example of how adventures should be written. It includes some background and world-setting information that's both interesting and important . . . and then the adventure goes on to actually use that information! The encounters are inventive (and include some interesting bits that I haven't seen elsewhere as well as a very cool use of the trap mechanics) and the overall adventure is mercifully short. Maybe not short enough to run in a single evening, but short enough that players will remember what they hell they're doing there. The adventure also introduces some new monsters, or at least monsters that are new to 4th Edition. Players familiar with Eberron will recognize them right off.

If you were lucky enough to pick up this adventure, I think you'll enjoy it. I already want to use it in my game -- or at least use the monsters and the trap. (Specifically the Living Darkness and the Baleful Eye.)

This is exactly what I want to see in a published adventure. String a bunch of these together and make an Adventure Path from them and I'll be a lot happier with my 4th Edition experiences.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

D&D Has Let Me Down

Sorry for the looooong break between posts. Briefly, I took a new job, moved (leaving my new house and fiance behind), started the new job, had to find some people to game with, and finally, find some time to blog.

And I have.

Shortly after moving here (Los Gatos, CA) I decided to get a D&D 4th Ed. game going. I'd only run one or two sessions previously, but I'd played in about a 20 sessions. (Rufus the dwarven cleric, donchaknow?) I wanted to run something that wouldn't require a ton of prep work for me, so I decided to run the Scales of War Adventure Path from Dungeon Magazine. Everyone was cool with that, they created characters, and we started playing. Everything was fine for the first session or two, although there were some slight grumblings about powers and effectiveness and so on, but we chalked that up to inexperience with the system for most of the players.

The thing is; things didn't really get better and the adventure path was a real slog. Quite literally one fight after another after another with very little chance to inject story or characterization. We play weekly for the most part, so over the course of a couple of months we made it through the first adventure and almost through the second, before things really seemed to fall apart. The old grumbings about powers and effectiveness were still there, but now they were paired with complaints about overpowered bad guys and a big, giant lack of any sort of story for the players and the characters to care about and get invested in.

I had to agree. I'd also been really unhappy and thinking it was time to make a change to the campaign. So now, I'm working up some ideas on what to do with the game so it has more story and isn't just a dungeon-crawl week after week. This will definitely mean more work for me, but I'm really going to limit the time I spend on it.

All this to say, D&D let me down. I was trying to run the game the way the creators intended -- using an adventure they created -- all in an attempt to play regularly without giving it too much of my time. And it sucked.

Rather than spend all my time complaining about it, I have a few suggestions on how to make games better for everyone (players and GMs):

1) Keep the story in the forefront of everyone's minds. Even if the story is prototypical and strightforward it gives the players something to base their characters' motivations on and makes the game more interesting.

2) Keep "dungeons" or "adventures" relatively short. Unending dungeon-crawls get old and don't provide much in the way of role-playing. By keeping adventures short you give the combat/tactical guys the chance to have fun in their element and you give the role-players/immersive types the chance to have fun the way they like (typically back in town interacting with folks).

3) Vary encounters. This is tied closely with #2 above. If you're going to have a long adventure, don't have one combat after another -- even if the bad guys fight in a totally different manner. It's still a fight and they get boooorrrrring. Instead, have a fight, then some sort of interaction, then another fight, then a trap/ambush, interaction, etc. It makes the game more fun and it makes it easier to insert story beats to keep everything moving forward in a way that makes sense.

4) Let characters shine. Also tied into the two above. Combat isn't some characters' strong suit. Sure, every class can contribute to a fight, but that shouldn't be the only place a character can shine. Elric, Conan, Fafrhd, Croaker, Locke Lamora, etc. weren't interesting because they could fight, they were interesting because of how they acted and what they fought for (or against). If your games are a string of unending combats, you and the players will never get to learn much about their characters and you'll never find out what defines the characters as a fictional person as opposed to a bunch of stats on the page. Finding moments in and out of combat to put each character into the spotlight will make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

5) Make rewards and punishment more immediate and scaled to level. If a dungeon goes on too long, players will forget what they hell they're supposed to be doing and why they're doing it. That's not good. Shorter adventures should have minor consequences and longer adventures should have major consequences. A short adventure about rescuing some townsfolk is good because players will remember, "Our goal is to rescue the townsfolk and get them home" for a session or two pretty easily, but the longer it goes on and the more damage they take and the more it looks like this could go on forever, the less immediate and important those townsfolk look. Whereas longer adventures that revolve around a major consequence such as, "Defeat Nedrebos the Necromancer before he can usurp the Raven Queen and raise an army of undead to take over the world," will stick in the players' minds a long time (as it should).

I'm sure I can come up with more of these, but those are what leapt to mind as I sat down to write this.

Going forward in my D&D game I'm going to try and take these teachings to heart. Hopefully that will make the game more enjoyable for everyone. And hopefully I can do it without writing up my own custom critters and sprawling plotlines. I want the game to be fun for me, too.