The other day, my friend David had this to say: "Your gaming blog is one of those things that starts out great, but then never gets updated." Or something like that. A seemingly innocent yet UTTERLY CUTTING remark, that I believe was revenge for me describing him as milquetoast. While I stand by my original assessment, I might have to upgrade him to usually milquetoast, but sometimes a total bitch. Which everyone should understand is meant as the highest of compliments. Also, the point is well taken - I haven't updated in forever, so I'm going to make a concentrated effort to blog EVERY DAY (on this blog, my TV blog, or a personal blog) for the month of November. Wish me luck!
Yesterday we started the new season of Encounters, which purports to introduce some elements of D&D Next while remaining true to D&D 4e. It's also trying to engage more experienced players by allowing more decision-making and having characters level up after each session. Additionally, we're finishing up with the Drow trilogy with War of Everlasting Darkness. For a program designed to introduce new players to the game, it's trying to do a lot. Still, largely on the strength of the endorsement of Dungeon's Master, I was willing to give this season a shot.
And then one of the regular DMs at our FLGS was trapped out of state by Frankenstorm Sandy. I was drafted to run the first session. Remembering the cluster that Encounters can sometimes be, and anticipating that I'd be running the newbie table, I decided to draft a list of rules - that I displayed prominently and handed out to each of the players. Yes, I am a control freak. You say that like it's news.
Rules of Sri's Table (Condensed)
1. No cell phones.
2. Pay attention and plan your turn.
3. Hold questions for the DM until your turn.
4. Do not interrupt the DM or another player.
5. Try not to roll your dice on the map.
6. If you are a new player, let the DM know (and you will be paired with a mentor).
7. Most importantly: have fun!
Since it was Halloween yesterday, my friend Maggie visited and brought goody bags for everyone. I think handing these rules out along with candy may have softened the sting. But as luck would have it, I ended up at a table of close friends who were all experienced players. So these rules were essentially superfluous - I saved the print-outs, though, in case I need to inflict them upon less courteous players.
We started out (as most adventures do) in a tavern. After the obligatory introductions, the PCs overheard that a phantom specter has been haunting the town. WotC actually gave them a choice - seek out further information from other townsfolk, follow the path of the phantom, or wait until nightfall and follow the phantom. My group chose to wait, and they followed the phantom into the Glimmerwood. There, they overheard a hushed conference between two orcs and a drow - the only purpose of which seemed to be to foreshadow the larger story arc. In continuing to follow the phantom, they come across a mixed group of freelance archaeologists (*cough*treasure hunters*cough*) who they ended up recruiting to follow them into the ruins the phantom seems to be inhabiting. They encountered a trap-filled dungeon, where they fought a minor imp.
There were a couple of different points along the way that combat could have happened, but the party decided not to attack the orcs or slaughter the treasure hunters. They could have defeated the imp by solving it's riddle, but the riddle was PREPOSTEROUS and by that time everyone was anxious to kill something. I applaud WotC for their attempt to give players a greater amount of choice and for trying to emphasize exploration of the world and interaction with NPCs. Those elements are some of the things that make home campaigns so much fun. However. In the Encounters setting, with a limited time frame and frankly minimal player investment, it felt kind of stilted and contrived.
It's like WotC heard that there were complaints about railroading and said, "Well, let's give them a bunch of choices... but make sure they still start and end at the sample place, OK?" It's. Still. Railroaded. But that's part of the structure of Encounters. It makes sense to do as little of the role-playing as possible - not my preference, but it's better than pretending your decisions make a difference. I can't believe I'm saying this, but if I were writing Encounters I would put in less interaction and exploration, not more. There's a time and a place, and this is just not it!
I will say that the flavor text for this session was good, especially the final scene where the characters emerge from the ruins only to find a sinister black web weaving itself over their heads. Could this be Lolth's Demon Weave, the foul construct of the Spider Queen that is slowly draining all arcane energy from the world, coming to DOOM US ALL?!? Spoilers: of course it is.
As always, for a more coherent recap check out Dungeon's Master.