Wednesday, April 10, 2013

You push the needle in, Face death's sickly grin....PART 6


Oh these things I do for you people.


Chapter 4: The big fight.

Thing That Could Easily Have Been Better #1
(Are they Douglas Adams fans? I'm going to say yes.)

Ok, the PCs have to be at a city (site of the big fight) on Day 42 of the campaign and...I get it: it's a set piece battle. There isn't much point to writing one if you can't guarantee the players show up. So they include some optional railroading devices to get them to the church on time. Fine.

However, if the PCs fuck around and don't get there on their own and you have to have a magic guy gate them in to save the city, you could at least have their failure to show up on time have consequences in the fight and change how it works. Have them show up at a disadvantage, have them show up in a weird place, have them show up scattered by teleporter accident, have something to show that decisions have consequences because that's called a game.

They don't do that.

Thing They Did For No Good Reason That Wasted Space They Could've Devoted To Better Things
Fish meet barrel

They do describe a lot of places in the city:

2. The Stone Wyvern

The Stone Wyvern gets its name from the petrified Wyvern that dominates the inn’s common room. This looming statue takes up half of the room and is mounted on a large upthrust rock that protrudes through the building’s floor from the ground below. The wyvern was petrified more than a century ago by a group of adventurers who were defending the local farmers. An enterprising gnome named Yabaling bought the plot and built a building around the wyvern, figuring that the statue would make an excellent conversation piece. He was right – today the Stone Wyvern is one of Brindol’s most successful inns. Yabaling’s son, Trabalard Yab, runs the inn now. He has developed a healthy fear that some troublemaker might come along and unpetrify the wyvern, but he also worries that getting rid of the statue will hurt his business. As a result, he spends much of his time worrying.

I like that. Though it should just say:

2. The Stone Wyvern

One of Brindol’s most successful inns. The owner has developed a healthy fear that some troublemaker might come along and unpetrify the wyvern, but he also worries that getting rid of the statue will hurt his business. As a result, he spends much of his time worrying.

Similarly: ten lines to tell us a weapons shop sells weapons, five to tell us the market is a market, 

In addition to these descriptions, you also get a full-color map of the city!

...and none of that matters once the fight starts.

The players are not really in control of the tactical decisions about where to fight or allocate resources that affect the fights they get in (a Professor X mental link tells them where to go and who to fight) and the 21 shops, homes and other locations are not mostly places where the fighting takes place and what and who is in them doesn't come into the fight.

So basically the map and details are for a pre-battle, zero-stakes town-interlude (familiar to anyone who has ever played a computer RPG) where there's no time-pressure and therefore no need for a city map at all. 

Thing That Could Easily Have Been Better #2
Innovat....nah, fuck it, deadlines

The design decision that the PCs don't really get to plan the strategy?--that sucks. 

You want an epic-scale fight where the PCs battle multiple dragons, giants and manticores but do not want them to get to play general? If not now in this pseudoTolkien module with the mighty hosts of Tiamat, when in their D&D lives do they get to do that?

Couldn't they at least play "trying not to get killed in a fight far bigger than them"--which would at least mean they could make some decisions about who to fight and use that big juicy citymap to save at least their own asses and get xp-ambitious if they wanted to?

So it's a major lost opportunity and one that goes against the main cool thing about the module: the rest of the chapters give you the bad guys' overall battle plan and its moving parts and lets you figure how to deal with it and in what way. This chapter, the climax of it all, has you getting assigned all over the city like you're the goddamned Wonder Twins and the NPCs (who've been doing fuckall throughout the adventure while your brave PC heroes were fighting lions and taxidermists) get to be Batman.

What you get instead of strategy is a multistage council meeting where at each section the PCs need to try to get on the right side of various issues which don't really change the shape of the fight for them ("Where do we put all the support clerics? Here or there?") and be persuasive. I suppose it is well-designed noncombat for what it is but it's such a pale shadow of what could've been that I don't care and if you do it's because you actually played it and it was fun to do the funny elf voices but man they made you pay for it and they were lazy so I have for them no mercy.

So then the battle starts and there's a bunch of fights. They are all with kinds of creatures you probably  already fought nine times in this module. Another giant/manticore/bugbear/dragon that hates you. The only unusual fight is there's a sniper to take out who is on the second level of a shop and has two monsters on the lower level guarding him. This one at least exploits the city architecture a little.

An inventive GM could probably make all of these scenes epic, but to my mind the quality of the raw material just raises the bar: you got flying dragons and tall buildings and desperation--and the module does nothing with them, really. Just stats and mats.

Look: defending a city from a ravaging tide of pullulating monstrosity is fucking fun as shit. I know that. It'd be great to run this. But I'll be goddamned if this object here with all the pages and the pictures does a damn thing to make it work any better than what you'd come up with on your own.

So then anyway after your little railroad of staged encounters you add up a special victory point score from all the things you've done in the module so far to weaken the host and, if it's high enough, you win the battle. If it's low, you lose it.

Either way, it was all pointless because there's more monsters they didn't tell you about in Chapter Five... but that's tomorrow.

1 comment:

Travis Miller said...

Is it possible for a designer to craft an adventure which can be used with little or no alteration?

Why not? OR What characteristics would something Zak could use out the box have? (Yes, I know it would look something like Vornheim but could you point at the components for us slow/lazy people)