Thursday, January 15, 2015

Purple humanoids, fireball, and saving the world

Last Saturday was also quite a game.  Along with miniatures, I introduced those flat, plastic, terrain flip-maps made by Pathfinder, Gamemastery, and D&D.

Back somewhere around 2008/2009, I gave 4th edition and Pathfinder a good, long college try.  Epic miniature battles on home-made terrain that lasted anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes.  Various marking abilities (along with color-coded magnetic circles), healing surges, interrupts, at-will powers, etc. kept the action going.  Unfortunately, it turned our fantasy roleplaying into a miniature wargame for sword & sorcery superheroes.  Since those days, I sold my large dry-erase grid and about half my miniatures.

That's where my reluctance came from.  I prefer theater of the mind, whenever possible.  However, 3 or 4 sessions in, a couple players suggested we use something besides my pen scratching on graph paper with x's and o's to designate enemies and friendlies.  I immediately agreed.  It was time for a better representation of combat unfolding.

Wish I had taken a picture of the maps we used, miniatures of PCs decorating the terrain... but I didn't bring my camera.  This Saturday I'll try not to forget.  In a word: beneficial.  Without overusing the miniatures and maps, it definitely added an extra layer of coolness, reality, and D&D awesome to the session.  I asked for feedback after the game, just in case I was fooling myself or seeing things through DM colored spectacles.  The verdict:  Everyone I asked (who bothered to respond) either thought the minis and maps were an overall improvement, made for better understanding of what was happening in combat, or both.

Since then, I've sadly caught onset map-buying mania.  Thankfully, a long, stern talk with my wife has halted my addiction.  But before she intervened, I managed to acquire a couple dozen!  And I can't wait to use and re-use them.  A few of the players were generous enough to offer a donation to chip-in for all the god damn maps I was buying, but I just couldn't have that on my conscience.  As much as I think quality DMs (and GMs) should be paid for their services, I'm just not at the point where I can charge adults for all the time, energy, expertise, and supplies that go into DMing.  Maybe one day...

Finally, I'm going to mention a few things that happened.

Daniel decided before Saturday's game that he wanted to switch characters.  The party needed a cleric, instead of three rogues.  Props to him for being pro-active, taking it upon himself to be the change rather than simply wishing things would change on their own.

So, Reed Tealeaf went away and Dane the dwarven cleric took his place.  In the span of 10 minutes, the party was investigating these ruins near an underground wasteland with cracks revealing lava underneath (did I mention how much I love these flip-maps?).  One well-placed fireball later, Dane was dead.

Something I came up with before which I've mentioned elsewhere on my blog is that rolling a natural 20 on a saving throw results in nothing... no negative effect whatsoever, even if a successful save usually results in half damage or whatever.  Two members of the party rolled natural 20s.  The rest made their save (a couple helped by inspiration - it's just easier to use it as a re-roll the same as rolling twice and taking the highest), except for Daniel's new character.  He was 3rd level and got knocked down to -5.  I rolled really, really well on that 8d6.

Now, the PHB states that a character isn't dead until he reaches negative hit points beyond his constitution ability score.  Well, I told the players a few sessions back that I was doing things a little differently.  Death comes when you go past negative hit points equaling your level.  So, at -3 hit points, Dane would have survived.  Anything past that is backup character time.

I can see where that would suck.  From a certain point of view, I'm making the game harder or more deadly than the rules as written.  That's true, I suppose.  Although, I'm not using any kind of stability checks.  So, once you're at negative hit points but still not deceased, you can just lay there on the battlefield bleeding until your character receives medical attention.

But more than anything else, this house-rule goes back to my old school roots.  I try to strike a balance between the way things were and the way they are now.  That's what O5R is all about.

While PC death shouldn't be a constant staple of adventuring, neither should it be relegated to the furthest corner of the game.  Yes, unluckiest moment + most foolish decision of the campaign = death.  But it can happen at any time, anywhere; just so long as it isn't always happening.  Death is the occasional lot of adventurers.  To whitewash that possibility - and I do think negative HP up to your constitution qualifies - is to sanitize the campaign to the point where it's not really a concern... when it should be the primary concern!

In my campaigns over the last three years, generally speaking, a PC dies about once every three sessions.  I believe that's a good rule of thumb.  While it may be harsh considering the last couple decades of D&D, there are some grognards from the 1970's who would call it babying.

What else?  An interesting race of humanoid was discovered: purple-skinned, bald, three eyes, no mouth, and telepathic due to their ingesting (via absorption) the violet fungi found all over the caverns.  After that fireball-casting wizard, there were a couple battles: aggressive humanoid squatters and hulking grey alien creatures, the cherry on top being some hideous lobster-aberration.  Oh yeah, and Sam helped the ice people save the entire world when a purple pulse reactor was found cracked and about to go super-nova.  No biggie.

How was your Saturday?


p.s.  Want to read about what happened the Saturday before that?  Click here.