The Ant and the Grasshopper

1919 illustration of Aesop's Fables by Milo Winter1919 illustration of Aesop's Fables by Milo WinterA topic that's occupied my thoughts of late is resource management in D&D and all of the good and bad that comes when the group emphasizes that style of play. In my mind, the issue with overly emphasizing resource management is that it often encourages a mindset that is more like the ant, constantly seeking out and hoarding resources. It emphasizes that the answers can be found in the resources you've found and collected. This is great except when you want the players to be more like grasshoppers, ignoring responsible action and doing something a bit, well, bold. As with most things, the balance between these things is what's important. But to find that balance, we have to understand how these things affect play.

So how is resource management good? One example is the tension and ingenuity that comes to the surface when people are given a limited number of items to solve a serious problem. Take, for instance, Apollo 13 and the need to create a CO2 filter and configure a sequence for restarting systems. That's some awesome and powerful stuff. Even though I've watched the movie a number of times now, I still get caught up in the moment when I watch.

Resource management also helps keep things in check and is an effective means too keep a DM from giving too much. I fight against this all the time. My players are my friends and even though I know the game is more fun if I modulate the tension and present real challenges, when they get into that serious problem solving mode, my willpower often fails me. Suddenly they find a little community of gnomes with tons of food that they are more than willing to share. Or a giant eagle flies out of the air to snatch them from certain death. An occasional bout with this is fine, but game after game?

Finally, limited resources helps with the analysis paralysis issue. If I don't have everything in the world available to me at the snap of my fingers, that means I have fewer things to choose between. To that end, I can be a bit more like MacGuyver who always seemed to make something cool out of a shoelace, a stick of gum and a retractable pen.

However, while limited resources can encourage creativity, they also make it much more likely that we'll cling to our character sheet in hopes our salvation can be found there. We page through books looking for the right ritual or spending hours deciding on which power to pick when we level up. The resources become so important we forget that this is a game of making stuff up. When someone doesn't go through this same resource collection, we scoff at them, much in the way the ant does the grasshopper. We forget about the lovely notes that improvisation can bring, thinking only of the harsh winter.

And so it begins that players disbelieve that what they want or need can be found in a town, often not bothering to ask the question at all. Wonderful ideas are nixed before they are even given a chance because surely the DM didn't think of putting something that cool there. So what do we do? One answer is to treat our character sheets like the U.S. Bill of Rights. These form the base floor of our character and are things the DM cannot take away, at least not without a good reason. But from this base we should build awesome.

As DMs we should encourage our players to think outside of the box. Most of the time it doesn't matter if I don't have an elven armor shop in my notes. Looking for something to fashion into rope? Perhaps that ivy will do. Wear them down, let them feel a little tension but at the same time encourage them to sing.

Fortune Cards

Over the course of DDXP, I was fortunate enough to get 6.5 packs worth of Fortune Cards from the various games I tried. I saw them both as a player and as a DM running the game. I have to admit this is one of the most difficult posts I've had to write.

On one hand, I want to like them. I mean, I love the Twitter buffs from the Encounters games. I also really like the random alpha mutations from Gamma World and how they make me want to do things as a player that I might not otherwise. But I have to admit my initial impressions from the cards were not good. I hoped some time would help me decide if the opinions were from the overall experience (I was really struggling as a player) or from the cards themselves. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can separate it out enough. So here are my thoughts, in the raw and probably biased by a fair amount.

As A Player
I made the decision I wasn't going to build a deck when I tried them out, mainly because I didn't have enough cards on me to really have that make sense. So my cards were completely random and I had no idea what I was going to get. What this meant is that my thief and binding warlock both got charge cards pretty early. In fact, I don't remember getting a single card that I felt would be useful to my character.

I also had a hard time integrating them into my play. A lot of this had to do with trying to digest a bunch of new material at once. We played with a bunch of preview material and it was all very new to me, especially since I'm not as well versed in D&D fiction and history as many other players. I also rarely play D&D as a player, so I was struggling a bit to remember everything and still have fun.

As a DM
I think I ran two games with them. In the first game, the people at the table didn't have many cards to pick from to build their decks. To be honest, I didn't see any noticeable difference in game play. Sure, sometimes fortune smiled in their favor, but most of the time, they seemed to forget that the cards were there or they felt the bonuses weren't worth it.

However, the second group had enough time to collect more cards and they started the game by building decks. In this game, I really felt the cards' impact. It's possible that fortune just smiled on them and that's all there is to it, but I'm not sure about that.

After DDXP, I finally had a chance to really look at the cards as a whole. One thing you should know is that I love playing rogues. With the cards I have, I see a lot of good for my little rogue. Granted, a number of them are still pretty fiddly, so fortune would have to shine on my character, but still. I mean, let's take Phantom Ally. "Play at the start of your turn. During this turn, you gain combat advantage against targets of your at-will attack powers." Or Crafty Strike, "Play when your at-will or encounter attack power hits an enemy granting you combat advantage. You gain a +4 bonus to the power's damage roll against that enemy."

Overall, I'm still not against them, but I could see myself creating some house rules pretty quickly. For instance, I would be tempted to remove combat advantage cards for character classes that heavily rely on it, such as the rogue. I'd have to play more games to know for sure.

One suggestion made at my table was to build a deck for the table, with each player contributing a card. Then play a card each round and everyone, including monsters, could benefit from it. I also would be tempted to use them as rewards, for things like good role-playing, completing skill challenges and clever problem solving. For instance, one of the cards is called "Lucky Fall." It allows a character to take half the damage from a fall and land standing.

So that's my experiences with them. I would love to hear yours. Maybe I'm just being too harsh or I misunderstood something.

Nothing like a Playtest

During DDXP I had the honor of running an adventure I wrote for 3 groups of players. The experience was absolutely wonderful and I learned a ton from the process. My adventure was called "Dream a Little Dream of...Death." When I decided to run my own adventure, I decided I had a few goals:

  • I wanted people to have fun.
  • I wanted to encourage role-playing and exploration.
  • I wanted people's decisions to matter.

Overall, I reached these goals, particularly the first two. My groups all had fun. I heard they even told other people about how much fun they had, which was awesome for me. Beyond DM challenges, I haven't done anything like this so it was a good confidence boost. The fact that people could buy tickets specifically to play with me helped. Most of my players had an idea of who I was and what sort of game I was likely to run. That helped increase the probability that our play styles would match up.

Beyond that, I just listened to the table to see how serious or funny they wanted to be with the adventure. My first two groups were a bit more serious in how they wanted to play the adventure while my last group decided to have the knight wear bedazzled armor and order wine coolers from the barkeep. All the groups were a ton of fun for me to run and having them laugh during a rather dark game helped keep us all sane too.

So great, first goal done. How about role-playing and exploration? The easiest way to answer this is that all 3 groups spent an hour or two role playing during the first part of the adventure. This made my heart sing. I give a lot of credit to the players but also the story was an easy one to pick up and figure out what to do. The adventure had two layers to aid in role playing.

First, I set them up as members of the Rose Brigade, a special force in Arcadia's army that is tasked with protecting the nobility and raising the reputation of the military in the eyes of the common people. So as part of their PR duties, they often travel around and perform for crowds, turning the skills honed for the very serious art of war into something the average person would find entertaining and awe inspiring. So when we did the character introduction phase, I often asked them to describe how they might use their skills to entertain a crowd.

Second, the start scenario encourages role-playing. Their captain had received a number of letters from old military buddy Tomas detailing some of the events in Tranquility, namely the bad dreams and the recent spate of deaths. The captain sends them to investigate, offering them so rest and relaxation in the vacation town in exchange. When they get there, they find Tomas fairly quickly, only to find he's just been arrested for murder in connection with the deaths. From there, they need to investigate the deaths in hopes of freeing Tomas and bringing the real murderer to justice. This gives them lots of reasons to explore town, talk to some NPCs and make a wide variety of checks.

My last goal was to make people's decisions matter. I can't discuss this one without releasing some spoilers, so you've been warned. The Rose Brigade setup helps with this a bit, as long as they buy into it. Also, if they refuse to solve the murders, Tomas will be found guilty and put to death. Beyond those story elements, the biggest area with choices is the first encounter. The artillery creatures use the spirits of those who were murdered as "meat" shields against the PCs. The spirits have an aura of despair that causes a -1 saving throws for each spirit adjacent to the PC. So, they can decide to save the spirits, with a penalty to saving throws and the types of powers they can use or they can decide they don't care and take out the spirits. Overall I'm pretty happy with it.

Overall, running my adventure multiple times was a wonderful experience. After each one, I had a bunch of changes I wanted to make to it. Fortunately, the new DM screen has the damage by level numbers so I was able to quickly adjust at the table. For instance, the first time I ran it, the monsters in the first encounter had a lot of burst powers. The problem was that they would take out all of the ghost spirits which isn't something I really wanted the monsters to do. Now I can't wait for the next con where I can run it again and get some more feedback.

What I've been doing

So, I've been talking about work a lot lately, especially the launch of our new product. Well, it's time for it to become public. My company does a lot with online quizzes and we created a tool for companies to create apps, starting with quizzes, to engage with their audience. If you don't mind, try out the quiz and let me know what you think.

Gamma World Baseball (Rough Draft)

While they are still pretty rough, I wanted to post my current notes for baseball, Gamma World style. I hope they capture enough of the flavor of baseball while still being fun to play at the table, particularly for a group of strangers. The Wii Sports baseball game inspired me a bit to cut down the game to its essentials.

Gamma Terra is a rough place, much of the nuance and art of our baseball would be lost on its inhabitants. Instead, they took the basic rules of baseball and turned them into a full-contact, spectator sport.

* Team with the highest score at the end of the game wins.
* Game ends after 5 innings or when one side is out of hit points.
* All players on a team have one at bat per inning.

Batting: Roll to see the outcome of your at bat.

d20 (need to adjust for level):
2-4: Single
5-10: Double
11-16: Triple
17-19: Home Run
1: Strike out
20: Out of the park - Do not provoke opportunity attacks.

(Considering 3d6 here; need to determine how skills such as athletics, science and perception play in)

Base Running:
* You don’t have to go as far as your result allows. Each base you decide not to take increases your AC by 2 until the end of the inning. For instance, if you roll a triple, you can decide to stay at first base and gain a +4 to your AC.
* On your turn, passing a baseman provokes an opportunity attack.
* You may attack at any point during your run.

* Sliding (minor, 1/turn): Gone are the rules against spiking. You go for an extra base on your hit and get an extra basic attack. This maneuver provokes an opportunity attack (immediate reaction) from the baseman you are sliding towards and you are prone until the end of the turn.
* Sacrifice Bunt (part of hitting, consipracy check?): Your batting result is used to move a teammate already on base further along. He has all the same choices as if he had hit the ball. You do not get to go on base and you take the damage of any opportunity attacks his movement provokes.
* Stealing (trigger: start of batter's turn): You attempt to steal a base (stealth check). You provoke an opportunity attack from the baseman of the base you are leaving. You cannot steal a base that already holds a runner.

Switching positions: You may switch which base you cover but only at the start of the half-inning.

Things to think about:
* Can I do an opportunity attack each time a player leaves a base or is that too brutal? Maybe lower damage amount on them or have them do something other than damage?
* How does this look with 4 players? 5? 6?
* Do I need to make the decision of which team is home random?
* Do I let the players know that the second and third basemen probably will take the brunt of the hits?
* Do I get the crowd more involved?
* How do I add some combat advantage situations in here?
* How do I make burst and range powers make sense?

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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