Monday, September 16, 2013

D&D 4E AP Report

Yesterday, Sunday the 15th, I got together with seven other people and played some D&D. I used a little mix of some homebrew ideas and the "random dungeons" rules listed in the DMG to do a procedural, Diablo-style hack-and-slash RPG dungeon crawl!

The characters (listed by their real-life names) were as follows:

-Joey, a human cleric;
-Mary, an elven druid;
-Joe, a dragonborn warlord;
-Rob, a tiefling wizard;
-James, a drow rogue;
-Stephen, a half-elf paladin;
-Elizabeth, a kobold hex-blade.

As stated above, the adventure was a lightly-prepped freestyle dungeon crawl. Before the game, I put every monster I intended to throw at the party in a bag. As I selected monsters, I took notes on how I would portray them, and anything special that would happen with their encounters. I then laid out all my dungeon tiles and again jotted notes on how certain rooms may appear within the dungeon. From there, I simply rolled the dice and consulted the tables.

Here is what I liked about the adventure:

1. I LOVED the low-prep random dungeon rules! It's a revelation to hack-and-slash gaming. I didn't have to draw a bunch of sketches of dungeons; I didn't have to write out how many and what kind of monsters appeared. A few notes, the dungeon tiles, and the handy-dandy monster vault compendium were all I needed. With these tools, I can essentially run D&D like a boardgame, practically on a moment's notice. I know many of 4e's detractors hate the very concepts that allow this to happen, but as a DM who likes having a low-prep option, this is the best.

2.  The "stuff" that I bought to run the game really paid off. I can understand why people who don't want to spend lots of money on D&D would be resentful, but it really is worth the money spent for the convenience, in my mind. The new "Essentials" editions of the DMG and Monster Manual are nice. They are highly portable and easily accessible. I didn't need to write, photocopy, or print monster stats; I could flip to them very quickly. The Dungeon Tiles similarly saved me a lot of time. I laid them all out on a separate table behind me, grabbed the ones I needed to form a room for an encounter, and I had a complete tactical battle-map in moments. The tokens from the Monster Vault, as I said before, I simply threw in a bag and fished out the ones I needed. I also have dozens of tokens for player characters. None of this stuff is necessary, of course; but for those out there looking to get into D&D? I would highly recommend buying the "essentials" collection stuff over the traditional three core books. VERY handy!

3. Pacing. As I've said in previous posts, I am a nut for good adventure pacing. Because of the open, modular structure of the adventure, it was extremely easy for me to manage the pace of this game. As a result, this was probably one of the smoothest adventures I've run in a long time. In the "rest" moments, when the players were divying up treasure or discussing tactics, I could plan ahead a little, bookmark a few pages, get my dice ready...when I wanted the action to pick up, I could throw in a bunch of minions that the players would rapidly widdle down; when I wanted something a little more tense, I could throw harder monsters at was great!

Here are some things that I want to work on for the next session:

1. The meta-game of balancing encounters to the party's capabilities is a constant tight-rope walk, one that I floundered on in a few spots. The entire party was inadvertently balanced towards bringing down big monsters. Not realizing this, a few of my encounters, such as a face-off with a gelantinous cube, were easier than expected; a few other encounters, such as fighting off a regenerating swarm of skeletons, were harder than expected. The group also had surprisingly few ranged options. The lesson: 4E requires a much closer, finer eye on the party's capabilities than previous editions.

2. Though I worked hard to bring story and narrative bits in wherever I could, once the momentum got rolling, those details ended up mostly flying out of the window. My next adventure is definitely going to have a lot more story to it, maybe a few planned roleplaying encounters. Now that I've met all the players and their characters, I think I'll send out a few emails and probe their backgrounds a bit. Then I can make the next adventure custom-made to the stories they want to see!

Other interesting little bits about the adventure:

-I accidentially through a Black Pudding monster into the bag, thinking it couldn't be much harder than a gelantinous cube. It ended up almost killing the paladin and greatly endangering several others! Thankfully, I put it in a room where they could climb up some pillars to avoid it (yes, I know black puddings can technically climb, but this one couldn't, dammit!)

-I had the group take my cellphone number and, if they wanted to tell me something discreetly, encouraged them to text me. A few players took advantage of this, and I think it was a lot of fun!

-I'm chafing a little with the experience points system. I don't want certain people to fly ahead of the pack with XP, but at the same time, I don't know how else to reward clever ideas and good roleplaying. I may have to look into some house rules on this...

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