Monday, September 27, 2010

Sick of DnD Posts Yet?

So, Sunny and I played our dungeon delve…

We both had fun, but I left the game feeling like I really needed to sit down for a couple of hours with an experienced DM for some advice.

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s pretty difficult to take a Dungeon Crawl designed for five players and make it work for two people. First of all, you take an encounter that has three or four fairly tough enemies and eight or more minions that’s meant to be a pitched battle, and after adjusting ‘by the book’, you’re left with a choice of just two standard bad guys, or one bad guy and three or four minions.

So, as it was just a one shot, I min-maxed two characters (basically making an overpowered damage dealer and heal-o-matic), and gave them both magic armor and weapons way beyond their level.

It worked, in theory. The healer character I was playing took a few big hits and was down to the wire a few times, but Sunny’s fighter was just about unstoppable.

It was only after the game that I re-did the math and worked out that while everything was technically balanced, I realized that for the majority of the enemies, Sunny only had to roll a three or higher to hit, and the bad guys had to roll a 16 or above to hit her. In other words, she had a 90% chance of landing a blow, while the bad guys missed her around 75% of the time.

The encounter was ‘balanced’ on paper, but far from balanced in actual play.

Well, no big deal. The whole point of the game was so Sunny could learn the ropes, so to speak…and she’s got a lot better with combat, and actually learned to listen at the door before kicking it in.

In fact, there was one point where she honestly impressed me. At the very start of the Delve, we approached a fenced-off dig site. The fence was about 10 feet tall, and to be completely honest, the only real choice was to climb over the fence, or try to clamber over a pile of rubble that was difficult terrain.

Instead, Sunny asked to roll a perception check, aced the roll and I told her she could hear multiple voices and the sound of moving on the other side. Then she asked if she could roll a stealth check and get my character to give her a boost so she could peek over the top of the fence to see how they were positioned.

Unfortunately, she failed the roll badly, and as I was Placing the bad-guy tokens she said “Holy shit, there’s a ton of them!” So, for giggles, I folded that into the story:

“You ask the cleric to give you a boost so you can see over the fence, just as you peek over the top, you’re so surprised that you find yourself shouting “HOLY SHIT! THERE’S A TON OF THEM!”…As you stand on the Cleric’s choulders, you see seven separate heads turn in your direction. One of them shouts something, and while you can’t understand the actual words, the tone and body language tells you he’s shouting something a lot like “INTRUDERS! GET THEM!” From underneath you, you hear a muffled curse from the Cleric in Elvish. This you can understand, but wouldn’t like to repeat.”

To be honest, I think that’s just about my one and only actual talent as a DM. I like to give very detailed descriptions (especially of spectacular critical hits and failures) and I think it’s much more interesting for the players. I think the above is a lot more fun than. “You failed the roll and they see you.”

In fact, I couldn’t help but smile a little when Sunny said, in the middle of a battle “It’s weird, these are just minis and bits of paper, but it’s like I can actually see the battle going on.”

So, if I can give any hints to novice DMS (or completely out of practice DM’s like me), it’s this: “Your sword cleaves the Kobold’s head straight from his shoulders, and you swing so hard that momentum carries it directly into the other Kobold’s jugular. They both sway for a moment, and collapse to the ground in unison.” Is a lot more interesting than: “Okay, you hit the first Kobold for ten damage, which kills it, and your cleave hits the other for five, killing it as well.”

Anyway, other than the balance issues, the only other problem is that it’s really hard to play a character neutrally when you’re controlling all the bad guys as well. I’s like playing chess against yourself. When your character only has three hitpoints left, and the other is at full health…it’s really difficult to make a bad guy choose to hit your own character instead of the other.

The worst part, however, is exploration and traps.

I tried to play my character as a ‘silent sidekick’ to Sunny’s character to let her take the lead…but situations come up where it’s really hard to separate my own knowledge as the DM from my character’s knowledge of what’s going on.

For example, in one part of the dungeon, there was a large statue that I knew had been fixed by the Kobolds to be easily tipped over, and it said right there on the page that if any character gets within one square of it, the two minions hiding behind it will tip it on them.

So we’d killed two or three minions, and the next ones where on the other side of the room, past the statue, and the most direct path came within one square. So…yes…I walked straight past the statue and took the hit, but it was really hard not to skirt around it.

In an actual game, there’s a good chance I’d figure something wasn’t quite right about the statue, especially as two Kobolds where staying right behind it and not attacking…but to be fair you have to assume you wouldn’t notice it…especially as Sunny got caught under a falling tapestry two turns later. Better to take the hit than face the wrath of my wife: “Oh, so you magically know there’s something odd about the statue and skirt around it…but I just walk straight into another trap?

Anyway, it was fun, and I’m sure we’ll sort the balance issue as we go, even if I have to write my own adventure from scratch.

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