14
Dec
11

strahd gangbang

Neisseria, the Medusa navigator by Scott LeMien

With the help of my Medusa navigator, I crashed the spaceship into to the mouth of the enormous ghost-robot that hovered over Swamp Town, and we disembarked to rob the spoiled teenage were-tiger picnickers…

Oh wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

we killed strahd, you missed it

Well actually, it looks like Beedo’s gang did it too, but they had more people involved.

In our game of I6: Ravenloft, the four remaining PC’s had found all these curiously specific items of Strahd-slaying, but the best weapon was, of course, a mule to the face.

Our Normal Magic-User negotiated with Strahd to return a painting of the vampire’s little girlfriend–and threw a mule (from a robe of many things) through the painting right as Strahd was examining it.  “A mule to the face would at least be distracting,” so our Kryptonian Assassin got a backstab  with the Sun Sword.  I ended up facing the vampire lord for a round or two of single combat, and then Sensible Half-Orc blasted him with a mystic amulet or something.

The Ravenloft module was entertainingly and ably run by “Naked Sam” on the Red Box site, and it was a nice change of pace.  I think the four players that night all agreed that while we had a fun time, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1e was a laughably pretentious game with little to recommend it over LBB, B/X, or BECMI.  I practically cried reading the “Gaining Experience Levels” section on page 86 of the Dungeon Masters Guide.

Forget Strahd: somebody needs to run a stake through Gary Gygax for sucking blood out of gamers with that nonsense.  Ugh.

the necromancer is dead, so what else is new?

A couple days later, I swung by Tavis’s game, where we had the aforementioned Medusa-navigated spaceship crashing into the ghost-colossus to rob teenage lycanthropes having a picnic on pickled robo-dwarf.  You know: Tavis’s game.

we are here for the picnic (art by Jedo)

One of our off-screen enemies, going back to the days when I was a regular player, was a necromancer named Ashur-Ram, who keeps Wraiths and Spectres imprisoned inside crystal phials which he throws as grenades.  We never have enough priests to turn back these level-draining undead, so we usually gave Ashur-Ram a lot of latitude.

But it turns out he was on board the ghost-colossus when we smashed into it.  This precipitated a panic when long-serving members of the party realized the danger we were in, especially after Ashur-Ram’s Dragon killed all of our meat-shields. “Quick,” said the other party members, “the necromancer appears willing to pay us to leave him alone!  We want to leave him alone!  We want to get paid!  Let’s take the offer!”

BAH!

Now, it may be my -2 Wisdom modifier talking, or the fact that I was playing a brand-spanking-new character in contrast to guys who had invested for 40 sessions in their toon.  But when you have an insanely wealthy necromancer by the throat and you outnumber him 8:1, and he’s already spent some of his best spells, you strangle that fool.  And so for once I exploited our consensus-driven process by refusing to give in until everyone else got sick of arguing with me.

We killed the necromancer, who had filled us with dread for like 30 sessions, in like 3 rounds.  Nobody took damage except for one guy who got drained two levels and who had been staunchly opposed to fighting this guy.  (Sorry, dude.)  But we are now even more ridiculously wealthy than we had been, and I’m sure fixing the level-drain will be fairly easy.

Plus I think some dude got it on with a Sphinx.

big bad encounter design in old-skool D&D

Both of these episodes are related.

What surprised me about the big fight with Strahd is that there was, in fact, no big fight with Strahd.  We encountered him three times, and it was no biggie each time:

  • Our scout teleported away without any lasting harm thanks to a magic item
  • Our Assassin decapitated him with a single attack (no lasting harm to Strahd)
  • Mule to the face!  And then super-death.
  • Before we got to Strahd the last time, we fought a Nightmare.  The Nightmare put up a better fight.

My impression of this fight, and the hit on Ashur-Ram the necromancer, is that the Many versus One fight is really hard to get right in D&D.  Either the adversary is going to be way out of your league, in which case you need to run like hell, or it’s a plausible foe at your level in which case the group of you will crush it easily.

Furthermore, in order to be taken seriously as a fictional adversary in the world of Dungeons & Dragons, you need to cast spells–which means that you can’t get punched in the face even once if you want to cast, but now there are like 4-8 people surrounding you.

The Nightmare alluded to above was pretty much Many versus One (there were some Hellhound minion-types), but the Nightmare had the advantage of an insanely low Armor Class (like -4 or -5) plus an aura of nausea that made it even harder to hit.  As a result, the Nightmare could afford to stick around for a while and dish out damage.  I realized after leaping onto its back to attempt to tame it that it could run away to some Hell-Plane any time it wished and simply ditch me there, so in trying to avoid its weaker attack I accidentally opened up its special killer move.

But Strahd, and the poor Necromancer, didn’t have great defenses (anti-magic would have worked as well) or an infallible yet deadly escape plan.  Run like hell.

So how do you make the Many versus One fight work?

My advice would be: you don’t.  Give the Boss Bad Guy a retinue of henchmen, maybe appropriate to the Charisma score, and have them follow the Boss around at all times.  (Works for world leaders!)  And failing that, no enemy of any brains will stick around to fight on someone else’s terms: if you’re caught at a disadvantage–like, say, eight adventurers crash a spaceship into your bunker and polymorph your Dragon into a flounder–then you retreat, regroup, and get revenge at a time of your choosing.  As someone said at the end of the Necromancer caper, by the time the adventurers reach your throne room, you’ve already lost.

Extremely intelligent NPC’s should probably auto-fail their morale checks in such circumstances, and should think twice before attempting to negotiate with murder hobo’s for safe passage.

But eventually that confrontation is gonna happen, at which point your Boss NPC has to do several things very quickly:

  1. Protect against melee combatants blitzing you
  2. Knock out enemy casters
  3. Cancel any on-going status effects the party’s got going
  4. Take out as many targets of opportunity as possible

It’s hard to say which of those four is the most urgent, though taking care of #1 early hopefully will buy you some time.  My thought is that debuffs can wait a bit since players may try to keep tossing them on as the fight progresses.  You probably shouldn’t waste time buffing yourself, because (a) it takes up time that you need to spend taking care of other things, and (b) the players will just hit you with a dispel anyway.

One helpful trick, though it is sort of unfair: design your throne room in a way that takes care of at least one of these problems for you: maybe you get to drive around in an armor-plated Pope-Mobile or your throne levitates 20 feet off the ground so melee guys can’t reach you.  Or there’s 3 feet of sucking mud all over the place which basically cancels out any haste spell, or a constant rain of cinders that inflicts steady damage so casters can’t rely on getting a spell off.

Relatedly: divert attention with a MacGuffin, hostage, dead-man switch, or some other strategic necessity so that the players can’t get away with killing you immediately.  The problem here is that your distraction probably won’t keep everybody occupied, and things will likely escalate into a very non-standard combat encounter, which favors the players’ hive-mind.

I’m uncertain as to the best timing of summoning help, such as from demons or conjuration spells.  It’s good to have somebody running around taking the heat off you, but they’re mainly just meat-shields.  (I think we summoned 8 Goblins to help us fight the Nightmare.  All they did was get in the way, though we did propose a variation on our beloved Baby Armor, namely Goblin Sponge Armor, to ablate the vampire’s attacks.  Alas they faded from view before we could get our armorer on the case.)  Summoning help costs at least one round, and it’s probably only going to buy you two at best, unless the enemy absolutely must put down your helper.  Bringing two Wraiths into the fight sure didn’t help the Necromancer.

(Related question: why is Animate Dead such a high-level spell?)

My short prescription would be something like slow (surprisingly, does not exist in the B/X version of the game!), confusion, growth of plants, or wall of ice to keep attackers at bay, followed by (say) hold person, darkness, silence, or feeblemind on enemy casters.  Cause Fear is a nice spell for either purpose, though it only affects one target.  I also like casting a charm person on a Cleric: it not only saves you from a melee attacker, it also steals the players’ buffs for your own use.  My general thought is that while invisibility is a pretty good spell, it’s a pain in the neck to run because you’re always sweating whether your next action will blow it.

Any other thoughts on the Many versus One spellcaster thing?  What am I missing?


31 Responses to “strahd gangbang”


  1. 1 -C
    December 14, 2011 at 8:08 am

    As someone who has used the 1e rules for level advancement with training as written, they are extremely effective and well designed. The positive benefits of training for weeks and using the grading system. . .

    * Training cost is per week providing a powerful monetary incentive to play to your class role
    * The downtime allows alternate PC’s and henchmen to take center stage from the PC intermittently, keeping the game fresh.
    * It forces the players to make a choice between using gold for better gear and other things or using it to level. This is an interesting choice for the players. This choice finally resolves itself around level 7 or 8 when it takes so long to acquire the needed experience points that they finally have enough gold to level.
    * It is one of the things that allows you to hand out real large treasure hoards, instead of trying to get excited over 100 silver pieces. A first level party on average will need 12,000 gp to train for second level. You can give them a large hoard and not worry that it’s unbalancing the game.

    This is the sort of piecemeal analysis of Gygax’s 1e system that takes many of the elegant solutions he provided for play and looks at them out of context passing judgment on their worth that misinforms an entire segment of modern gamers.

  2. December 14, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    @-C
    I’m not complaining about the idea of the rule: all of the things you mention are good and apparent. I’m complaining that this rule is written by Harvey Darger, Esq.

    Like so much else in AD&D 1e, it’s over-written, fiddly, officious rule that instinctively looks to punish people who don’t match the DM’s subjective, undisclosed expectations. It’s like distilled essence of late-70’s Gygax. No thank you! There are much better ways to solve the problems you identify.

    On conforming to stereotypes without feeling punitive: I kind of like how 2e does it, by including class-based incentives. I’m also a fan of the method from The Shadow of Yesterday which allows customization by character concept.

    If the problem is that the players are saddled with insane amounts of gold and you need to bleed it out, the most sensible approach to me is to alter the 1 GP = 1 XP ratio. Any coin, even copper, works from an encumbrance standpoint. Alternately, you could just decrease the XP thresholds by, say, half or even 90%, which makes it much easier for characters to survive that Level 1 death-filter.

    To get powerful players out of the spotlight, you could just say that it takes # weeks = new level to train up. Or twice that, or whatever ratio you feel best shines the light on newbies.

    Or you could just write, “Keep a Grade Point Average, 1.0 – 4.0, based on how well each player conforms to alignment and class expectations. Training costs = 6,000 / GPA, time = 8 weeks / GPA, round up.” And maybe that takes a paragraph rather than 1.5 columns of text.

  3. 3 Greengoat
    December 14, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    “Plus I think some dude got it on with a Sphinx.”

    Yay!

  4. 4 Ryan
    December 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Seriously. I want to play in this game.

  5. December 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    @James, I disagree. I enjoy his authorial tone. I can read the 1st edition books with ease, and can barely stand to work my way through the dull official text of more modern editions.

    To me it does not seem subjective or undisclosed. The things of which he speaks are listed in the class description.

    Also, self-referential loop, my list is a list of reasons for the rule. They are only problems if you ignore the rule.

    A different solution would be a different game. A casual glance at more modern games unveils numerous well documented problems that didn’t exist in 1st edition, precisely because of the insight in the original rules.

    As far as your examples, aren’t they once fleshed out for publication about the same length as what is written in the DMG?

  6. 6 Greengoat
    December 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    I think that the entire concept of playing most RPGs RAW is a total lark. Nothing but misery arises from hard adherence dogma.

    But on another track of discussion, I too recall first opening the AD&D 1st edition PHB at the tender, but not stupid, age of 13 and being absolutely flummoxed on how to play the game. That book alone made NO SENSE. And this was after I had read and played Mentzer’s red box. I sort of subconsciously assumed that I was missing something, like another key text or another more established player to tell me what everything meant. And indeed that is the assumption of the AD&D 1st core handbooks.

    I think Gary went from writing and publishing small wargaming booklets into full-blast tomes of abstract rules without any adjustment in writing style or organization so a lot of it seems like gibberish unless you have had prior exposure to the methods. (Like a kid wondering why everything is measured in inches and feet simultaneously without knowing WTF chainmail was.)

  7. 7 Charlatan
    December 14, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    -c:
    Those reasons are, in my mind, fairly suspect. The first two both suggest that taking away a player’s agency about their character is a virtue, rather than relying on emergent social dynamics to do the same work. The third may describe a pleasing amount of ludus, but is hardly the only way to achieve it. The last props up the first two with a DM concern about treasure tables… which I assume you are also using as written… that frankly seems contrived to me.

    James’s preferred rulesets aren’t exactly hidden in his post (they’re not subsequent editions), and it’s not difficult to understand that his problem is with the style and system of 1e, and not that one rule on page 86. It’s also clear that you don’t share that problem, but I’m fairly confident that it’s possible to both carefully consider the 1e RAW and disagree with you about the virtues of the game.

  8. December 14, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Thanks for this post, James. You reminded me about this DMG passage, and it served as the perfect example of the bureaucratic spirit of the DMG for a paper I’m working on. Whatever one’s opinion of it, I think you’re right that it is the “distilled essence of late-70s Gygax”

  9. December 14, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Hey, I think -C raises good points! It’s not that the rule is badly designed, I just think it’s (hilariously) Viking Hat.

    (I love that Gygax feels the need to explain the concept of remainders now. You may have followed his explanation of time-keeping on other planes of existence, underwater spell use, and the two full pages about Sages, but remember, 1 divided by 7 is approximately 0.145. Be sure to record your calculations down to the thousandths place!)

    But seriously: any help on the “Designing a Boss Encounter” in early D&D? This DMG leveling thing wasn’t really intended to be a huge issue.

  10. 10 Scott LeMien
    December 14, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    If anything, I think after being outnumbered and beaten for months by flunkies, the chance to catch a guy alone and at a disadvantage is awesome. I seem to remember James’ Bargle always near a troupe of hirelings and teammates. To get to Bargle means I pretty much have to throw my character away.

    I wonder if this game affliction is only troubling to you because you aren’t half as kind as Naked Sam and Tavis?

  11. 11 James Nostack
    December 15, 2011 at 12:44 am

    I have no regrets about having you TPK’ing you twice. Though the second time was more the Dragon than Bargle. But yeah, again, didn’t last too long on his lonesome.

  12. December 15, 2011 at 2:54 am

    @greengoat: Because anyone who plays differently then your preferred method must be having badwrongfun?

    If you don’t play games (D&D, Chess, Minecraft – whatever) RAW, then you’re never experiencing how the game works.

    I also recall opening the book as a child and playing it without understanding all the rules. Now that I’m all grown up, I do understand the rules. Not only are they not gibberish – they are insightful enough to avoid many problems all modern iterations of D&D have had.

    @Charlatan: Agency means freedom of action and choice and the consequences that come along with that. Declaring that having a mechanical consequence for a choice destroys agency sounds like that “no penalties for races” modern gamer jibbityjabber.

    The fact that there are other interesting choices to be made, doesn’t invalidate the conflict of the interesting choice this rule provides.

    And the final point has nothing to do with treasure tables – it has to do with the extensive discussion in the DMG about what is fun for players, and how to give them that.

    I think the thing that interests me most in this thread (besides the feel that few people I’m talking to have ever actually run or played in a year+ RAW 1e game as an adult) is that the critique is against the writing style of Gygax.

    Are you not entertained? My mind lacks the capacity to contain the galactic drudgery contained within the covers of modern editions. Is an entertaining, strong authorial voice not a virtue? Must I be condemned to rulebook after rulebook that read like legal documents outlining the results of every possible situation and condition? It seems absurd to desire that, and yet that appears to be the result of the argument.

    @James: Thanks. I would read 100 viking hat books over 1 page of feat/power/skill lists.

    As for your original more uninteresting topic, encounters are over a period of the whole evening, so resources should be low for the final boss fight. Environment and foreknowledge on either side are key. Surprise is a killer. And one of the virtues of old school play are the sudden, violent, demise of both players and the enemy. Also, I think it is a serious flaw to categorize someone as a boss fight, just as it is to categorize someone as a hero. Your adventurers are people and the status of all but monsters should be uncertain and clouded in ambiguity, leading to player indecision and more interesting final fight encounters.

    let the dice fall as they may.

  13. December 15, 2011 at 4:07 am

    @-C
    You’ve stated your belief that Gygax’s GPA approach to training is a great rule, and his style pleases you. Can we agree to disagree? No one is saying that rules texts should be dry and bloodless. We seem to differ on whether the 1e DMG would have benefited from a good editor.

    “I think it is a serious flaw to categorize someone as a boss fight”

    How else would you characterize a hit-squad encountering Strahd von Zarovich, in I6: Ravenloft, in his crypt, after being given several ultra-powerful items for the express purpose of killing him by NPC’s who routinely talk about how evil he is and how he needs to be put down?

    “Environment and foreknowledge on either side are key. Surprise is a killer. And one of the virtues of old school play are the sudden, violent, demise of both players and the enemy.”

    Maybe I’m not communicating well. The design of D&D frequently creates a feeling of anti-climax. Sometimes the effect is extremely comical! But at other times it’s, well, genuinely anti-climactic, and that’s a drag when you’re heavily invested in witnessing something cool. So, working within those design constraints, how can you reduce the feeling of anti-climax? If you’re the Dungeon Master role-playing an extremely intelligent and powerful NPC, and a bunch of respectably powerful PC’s have arrived to kill you, and escape is cut off, how do you as DM give the best possible accounting for that NPC?

  14. 14 Greengoat
    December 15, 2011 at 4:59 am

    My comment on RAW was not meant to to segregate or belittle anyone’s fun at referencing the rules and playing straight from the text but more of an observation of the fact that after 3+ years of weekly play in older D&D editions, that the rules are invariably fucked in little nooks and crannies that stop fun cold. I would argue that flexibility and reliance on group interpretation of the intent of the rules rightfully trumps hard rulings by the text in rare but important areas of play.

    There are many aspects of all editions of D&D (but particularly in the older ones) that assume an unsaid knowledge and balance that is local to the designers and not made clear via the text. You can be charitable and call some of these aspects “emergent” qualities but in the worse cases they are completely arbitrary because we don’ have reference to Gygax or Arneson’s personal predilections at the play table, except by extensive research through secondary sources. So yes, I do have an issue with the writing style of AD&D 1st.

    And your snark is noted.

  15. 15 Charlatan
    December 15, 2011 at 6:09 am

    -C: I agree with you about consequence and choice, in the abstract, but think that paradigm is misapplied here. What you’re describing is not a choice, it’s an array of punishments that vary in degree according to aesthetic of the DM, meted out in response to the normal, expected course of gameplay. I mean, really: You throw out ‘badwrongfun’ one post down from a defense of penalizing players for departing from in-game behavior described in the class descriptions? You feel like requiring your players to temporarily shelve their characters is a legitimate way to “keep the game fresh”?

    This other notion you’ve repeated, that this critique is somehow of Gygax’s authorial voice, is a strawman. I’m pleased that you enjoy the 1e RAW (and frankly surprised that you’ve got a year or more long run of adults playing this way). But I also think that it’s possible to grok what you’re saying, and the RAW, enjoy Gygax’s writing, and still think to yourself, “This is bureaucratic nonsense, and I’d rather play B/X, or the LBBs. Goodnight, Gary: I heard you don’t use these rules, anyway.”

    James, I’m sorry for derailing. I think I’m largely riled by the implication that finding fault with 1e vaults you into the realm of feats and somesuch, much less that AD&D was somehow an escape from “rulebook[s] that read like legal documents outlining the results of every possible situation and condition,” when it was clearly a sterling (and foundational) example of the genre. I’ve seen -C make some insightful comments elsewhere, but he’s dragging a foreign argument in here.

  16. December 15, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Authorial voice in RPG texts is a good topic though, albeit one I didn’t really intend to discuss. Personal favorites:
    * Klug, Gerard. James Bond 007. Victory Games: New York, 1983
    * Mentzer, Frank. Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. TSR: Lake Geneva, 1983.
    * Jeff Grubb and Steve Winter. Marvel Super Heroes. TSR: Lake Geneva, 1984.
    * Nixon, Clinton R. Donjon. Anvilwerks: 2002.
    * Ross, St. John. Encounter Critical. Cumberland Games & Diversions: 2004.
    * Baker, D. Vincent. Apocalypse World. Lumpley Games: 2010.

    The first two cited are examples of smooth, extraordinarily well-edited texts clearly designed to walk new players through the game while also providing a lot of utility for use. The authors don’t develop a voice per se, but there’s an unmistakable guiding presence that wants to help you.

    The latter four examples involve the designers writing “in character” so to speak, in a way that (IMO) is entertaining without ever losing clarity or ease of use. (Okay, Encounter Critical isn’t always clear but it’s also a satire.)

    Then there are texts where I think the authorial voice gets in the way.
    * Gygax, Gary. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master Guide. TSR: Lake Geneva, 1979.
    * Edwards, Ron. Sorcerer. Adept Press: Chicago, 2001.
    * Miller, Michael. With Great Power…. Incarnadine Press: Allentown, 2005.

    With Miller, I feel the text was edited to the point of obsequiousness – everything is literally repeated 4 times plus an example for 5 – yet the core mechanics are confusing and impossible to remember.

    In the case of Gygax and Edwards, both of these texts seem to wrestle with status issues vis-a-vis contemporary gaming practice, the writing style tends to be argumentative or chiding, and yet crucial aspects of the game systems remain bafflingly unclear. Both guys designed great games and their personalities drip from every page. On a good day, I’m happy to indulge them, the way you might indulge your super-opinionated mother-in-law. But I think both texts could have used a really strong edit for better usability.

  17. December 15, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    By the way, I want to point out that on Tuesday we had 45 followers. Day that we put “gangbang” in a post title? 165. God rest ye merry gentlemen, but this blog is probably not what you want.

  18. 18 Naked Samurai
    December 16, 2011 at 6:09 am

    Well, has this thread deranged into a cloud of shit. I could care less about the hagiography of the AD&D 1e rules that most anyone sane recognizes as a confabulation of gobbledy-gook that should be taken piece-meal to be enjoyed. That said, I enjoy the authorial voice. It comprised a significant part of my adolescence.

    Anyway, to the point of the post. I found myself constrained by the nature of the game we were running, which was to let the players run amok with some pretty nifty items and not fight against some of the almost completely unjudge-able parts of the game (assassinations!). This meant encounters were overpowered by the party and that some challenges had to be altered. But, also, that I wasn’t really supposed to be challenging them. (Outside readers: this had to do with RL considerations.)

    The crypt area of Strahd is strange. There are portions where you can get into trouble, to be sure, but these are because you fiddle around with spots clearly not his own crypt. The Nightmare is confined in a room; I don’t remember the Hellhounds being there, nor the Mummies. I threw them in to chip away at the characters.

    I felt the final encounter — and yes, it’s certainly a ‘boss’ encounter — was mishandled by me. I did it a disservice by not adding enough minions and buffs. Strahd is supposed to whittle down the party as they go, but the party had the strength to fend these off without many problems. But then, they’re not supposed to leave the castle (that is, easily be able to), going against the red box style we’ve run, which would have given things a more frantic aspect.

    Ah. It’s a strange module to run in the style we’ve run things. I do wish I had made the ending more epic, but the items the party is supposed to find (and did) are designed to turn the ending into a ‘narrative’ rather than a battle. Reason #983 this module is considered a transitional one in the history of module writing and the game in general.

  19. December 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Hey, I’m hoping someone other than my immediate circle of gaming buddies will someday read this blog, so I’m trying to keep the ad hominems down. But it’s good to have your perspective on the encounters.

    I don’t think you screwed up at all. The stuff that made Strahd look weak was that we had a helm of teleportation and access to invisibility. The more you blithely walk away from someone who is supposed to terrify you, the less scary he seems. By the time we finally met him “for real” he was less of a menace and more of an old dude shouting, “Get off my lawn.”

    I think getting stuck in the Castle would have changed some stuff, but not much. My character was never seriously injured, and while we used spells occasionally, I don’t think any of them were huge game-changers.

    I’ll have to read the module someday.

  20. 20 Naked Sam
    December 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Well, there were no ad hominem attacks. Just comments on a line of reasoning that may have been too vituperative. But in this late age of the Internet threadjacking has begun to annoy me.

    As for the module, it’s an interesting read, although I cringe thinking of how apparent some of the changes were that I added.

    It might be interesting to create an adventure or play one of the classics where there IS a Big Bad Guy, where he/she is meant to be really tough and prepped for.

  21. December 16, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Apparently everyone here knows each other? I read the Mule Abides because of Tavis. I know other people post on the blog, and apparently everyone is part of the same group in New York maybe?

    I don’t mean to be hijacking anything – it says bright as day in the post that ‘gygax is sucking blood out of gamers with that nonsense’. To me that’s an absurd statement, because not only does the rule have a purpose, it’s entertaining to read. I certainly don’t feel as if he’s draining my blood or fun or whatever.

    I did not think anything ‘deranged’ (?) into a cloud of excrement. If these posts are just for players, could that be noted somewhere? Or perhaps guidelines for which parts of the post are ok to comment on.

    You can also turn comments off or moderate them. Or just act like you’re offended by people commenting on the wrong thing in your post. That should stop them.

  22. 22 Scott LeMien
    December 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    -c, other comments and new posters are always welcome.

    The fact that James dismisses authoritative writing with mocking commentary only means he is hiding his tears. James founded Redbox.wikidot.com out of a love for Gygax. His love of Edwards’ Sorcerer is another topic. As is his love of WGP. But don’t let that stop you from pushing back (or taking his lunch money) when he knocks your game.

  23. 23 Greengoat
    December 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Nexus, I think James and the rest of us regulars here want to avoid scaring away posters from outside our mule circle. So please forgive any seeming abrasiveness, we like to “get into it” when discussing rules and talking about playing the game we are fixated on. Also take our lovingly crafted hyperbole and read as you will. Our group tends toward a fine mixture of academic discussion and aggressive slander against RPG topics. We try not to offend too much but sometimes we smash sacred cows wearing Hawaiian shirts.

    We like hearing from and debating with you.
    -GG

  24. 24 Naked Sam
    December 16, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    I was tired when I wrote that. And had passed through a cloud of excrement, so it was high in my mind (and all over my hair). Apologies.

  25. 25 Lord Bodacious
    December 16, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Also worth noting that wordpress seems to lack an ‘edit’ function on posts. While this is great for people (like me) who like to retroactively change posts to make their arguments stronger, it’s also bad for people (like me) who write just south of a 6th grade level and enjoy posting under the influence of strong imported liquors.

    I like the posts when people argue. Fireworks! The Samurai has no clothes! James has no stack!

  26. 26 Naked Sam
    December 16, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Aw, shut up, you!

  27. 27 Adam
    December 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    The issue with the big bad in D&D is one where I see a lot of value in looking at later editions’ approaches for ideas. I think we’ve all experienced James’s observation–as the running joke went in a long-term 2nd ed game I played in, “he’s just one guy–we can take one guy.’ Almost independent of level differences, a gang of PCs can beat a single basically human character.

    So, how can you create a fun single-creature Boss fight? I think the considerations are something like:
    1. Action economy–if the PCs get to act 6 or 10 times as often, it will be hard for the fight to be fun/challenging, although that’s partly a function of damage output.
    2. Damage output–if the Boss can’t put the hurt on the PCs, the fight won’t be challenging. Conversely, if the Boss puts the hurt on the PCs by doing massive damage/save or die to one PC at a time, it can be challenging, but may or may not be fun, depending on people’s perceptions of fun.
    3. Durability–a Boss has to be able to survive a couple of rounds of PC attacks.
    4. Avoiding lock down–if the PCs can lock down the Boss, so its still alive but can’t take effective actions, it’s not going to feel dangerous/be very satisfying. The obvious example in old-school play is disrupting spellcasting, but other examples (mostly in other game systems) include stunning effects, tripping the opponent, etc.

    So the classic good boss fights in old-school games are monsters that naturally have lots of those features–dragons, for example, alternating between breath weapons that attack a lot of the party at once and claw-claw-bite routines that allow many attacks, each of which is dangerous. By BECMI, at least, larger dragons also can make many more than 3 attacks, but with difficulty in pooling all of those attacks against the same foe–exactly what you want in a boss monster, in that it allows the dragon to threaten a whole party of PCs without having an approach of “every round, the boss kills one PC; can you drop the boss before TPK?” Also, the dragon is hard to lock down (good saves, no need to rely on spellcasting), and of course is hard to hit and tough, so high durability. Beholders are another good example of an effective boss monster–many dangerous attacks, but limited ability to focus fire; durability; hard to disrupt easily, although it can be worn down.

    You can achieve some of these effects with a more human foe, without making the NPC function differently from PCs, but there are trade-offs. A really tough, high-level fighter can have some durability and decent damage output (high strength plus magic items?) relative to PC hitpoints–but it’s almost certainly going to have the feel of she beats the heck out of one PC at a time. A spell-caster who is really hard to hit, for whatever reason, can also get this feeling–you can lock the caster down, but only through luck, and the spells can serve to create sufficient damage output etc. But that’s likely to make for a very swingy fight. If you need a 19 to hit, then even a party of 6 PCs is likely to fail to hit completely in many rounds (roughly half, if I guesstimate right); those rounds will let the spellcaster drop some hurt on the PCs. But that could get really frustrating either way; the one in sixteen chance of 4 rounds without the PCs landing a single hit would kinda suck to many players, and the relatively rare but possible chances that multiple PCs hit for each of 3 rounds in a row, locking down the caster and quickly burning through the caster’s scarce hp could be anticlimactic. But it could still be fun, at least for some groups.

    If you want to include more satisfying boss monsters, the way to go is to explicitly grab the elements that make boss monsters effective– a hydra with many attacks, poor tendency to focus fire, and tons of hit points will make for a good fight. If you want master villains to be wizards with wizard like AC and hp, then you need to surround them with flunkies to make the final confrontations satisfying–general and troops style encounters instead of the single big boss.

  28. December 22, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Adam, thank you. Those are absolutely excellent thoughts, I am a better DM for having read them.

  29. December 26, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    I agree with Adams suggestions. I’ve used the same method basically – leave at least a lieutenant and a bunch of followers (maybe minions, maybe strongarms, depending on the level of difficulty) and maybe a secondary caster for buffs, to match the party.

    But, facing the boss alone might also be satisfactory if under the right circumstances. Yes, the boss will probably be a lot easier on his (her) own. If the players have wrecked the organization, crushed the evil overlords forces, disrupted all his plans – the boss is now on the run. Deserted by what ever flunkies he had left. He is alone, he is broken – all that is left is to track him down and finish him off. Finding him in his last hideout, he is but a shadow of his former self – but he rise up and fight for his life! (And yes, of course it’s raining when they find him in his hideout…)

    Build it right, and it is not so much an anticlimax as final closure.

    You can’t overuse it, of course. But once in a while it is actually nice to have an alternative to the climactic boos-fights.

  30. April 17, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I think it’s worth mentioning that final encounters can go on too long as well. There is a natural arc to the tension created by the final encounter with the BBEG. If he is onstage too long with little resolution, the players can easily tire of the encounter.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Past Adventures of the Mule

December 2011
M T W T F S S
« Nov   Jan »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

RPG Bloggers Network

RPG Bloggers Network

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog & get email notification of updates.

Join 1,045 other followers


%d bloggers like this: