Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trimming the Fat, Part 2: Shooting Skill Challenges in the Face

Today we continue to take a look at certain aspects of 4e that will be left out of my upcoming zine, 4e Forever. I want to say that these are just my opinions. If you like some of the stuff I mention, more power to you. I want everyone to play the way they like, and I am not here to diss anybody's playstyle. That said, I freaking hate Skill Challenges with a passion.

For me, it is really pretty simple. Despite the myriad long-winded defenses of skill challenges that I am sure you have read, and regardless of all the usual tidbits of advice that have been floating around since their inception, it is my opinion that Skill Challenges do irreparable harm to roleplaying. I like roleplaying to be free-form. I hate adding structure to it. I much prefer calling for checks on the fly, letting the PCs actions flow naturally, and having the possible repercussions of their failure come to me organically, rather than devising some pre-plotted outcome based on how many dice rolls a party fails. It was just a bad idea. I can respect that they were trying to add another mechanism to gain experience points outside of combat, but the whole "Three strikes, you're out", "Let's make some lists that extrapolate hypothetical skill checks, then force a few into every adventure", etc, was just a bad idea.

I realize that products like the DMG 2 and the Rules Compendium try to massage this a bit and offer alternatives, but to me that is just back-tracking on a crappy idea; polishing a turd if you will. It is too much, too late. It is kind of like when someone says, as if it is the secret of the universe, "Don't tell them they are in a Skill Challenge." I get two things from that statement. One: Skill Challenges are such a downer that alluding to the fact you are running one hurts your game. Two: you must not have a very high opinion of your players' intelligence, because any fool can tell when you are running one, whether you say so or not. "But it's different at my table." Perhaps it is, and I am happy for you if you like them. Seriously, I am. I just do not use them, and you won't see them in the magazine's adventures.

Now am I saying that PCs having to use some skills during a combat is a bad thing? Of course not. Am I saying that there shouldn't be consequences for failure? Of course not. All I am saying is that in my experience, roleplay works best when it is loose and natural, and there is no solution to Skill Challenges that I have ever read (and I have read hundreds) that works as well as simply not using them.

I hope nobody took offense! As always, I am interested in your thoughts, so leave a post!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trimming the Fat, Part 1: Death to Sunrods!!!

This is Part 1 of a short series of blog posts about parts of 4e that I am cutting from the game for my 4e Forever mag. First thing to go: sunrods.

Oh, how I hate sunrods. They make Demi-Human vision meaningless. They make imaginative notions of light and shadow evaporate in a 20 square radius. They take a DMs attempts at moody Gothic atmosphere, and bathe them in garish fluorescence. It is as if the designers just decided that darkness was not going to play any role in 4e, unless it is from a PCs perma-invisibility build. A player saying that their character ties a sunrod to his belt is to me the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. 

I have heard of lots of houserules on sunrods, everything from having them sometimes fail, to having certain structures prevent them from working, and on and on, but I think it best just to go ahead and take them out behind the woodshed and shoot them.

I like ditching them for several reasons. I like resource management, and using torches and lanterns adds an extra layer of this. Torches can burn out fairly quickly, and since 4e Forever uses "turn"-based exploration (more on this another time), those suckers can be going out before you know it. I like Demi-Human vision, or powers that give you unusual vision, to mean something more than just "I don't have to be the one to put a sunrod in my belt". I like being able to design encounters where every PC on the table cannot immediately see a clear-as-day 20 square radius, without having to trick the system with a gas cloud or other convoluted crapola.

Long story short: they take away from one of the greatest aspects of D&D exploration: darkness. Cave-black, impenetrable darkness. And so they have to die.

I am always interested in readers' thoughts! Do you have an opinion on sunrods? Let it fly!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Giant Stag Beetles, Strongholds, and Other Updates

I thought I would drop a couple of minor updates. First I have a new monster for you to check out, the Giant Stag Beetle. The reason I wanted to share this one in particular is that it has some "Memorable Mechanics" in the form of extreme forced movement. Picturing these guys tossing your PCs to and fro makes me happy. You will have to wait on the mag for the fluff.

Speaking of the mag, I have made a lot of progress and I am almost done with my portion of the writing. I still cannot give a set date of release, but I think that before the end of the year is not unreasonable. It has kind of swollen in size, and has two adventures I have written, dozens of new monsters, and lots of other surprises that I will talk about more in coming days.

Please don't forget to check out the first playtest. I have gotten a lot of good feedback, so thank you for that. I have gotten to run a couple of tests of it myself and I am working on scheduling the third. I have already made a lot of tweaks based on feedback, and it has helped tremendously, so again, thank you.

Lastly, I want to hear from any armchair designers like myself that have worked on their own "stronghold" systems for 4e. I am toying with some ideas about acquiring and managing them, doing something almost identical to OD&D, keeping it fairly simple, but with the prices adjusted to 4e levels.

I am interested in any stories you might be able to share about using them in your games. Leave a post!