Monday, September 15, 2008

Mid-Tier Thoughts

I never blogged about the last session. Bad player. So I thought I would give Andrew what he always craves and thats thorough feedback in a double session extravaganza. Rather than look at the individual sessions I thought I would look at the game as a whole and see where it is going.

My first observation is that we have a potentially repetitive story structure. In five sessions we have had three where we have had to meet a lot of new NPCs, interact with them in order to attempt to influence their decisions and then end up undertaking a side-quest in order to bring them onside. We did this with The Grub (and the Titan's Barge), the Rebellion (with the quest for the Dwarves) and now the desert clan (with the Denrobi ... or Dragon, as well like to call it in civilisation). There is a possibility that we could face the same with the Kireshi and the Dwarves. The problem I forsee with this approach is that we will simply default to the couple of characters with the accomplished social skills in these situations, sidelining the others.

My second observation comes from the system itself and the sliding DC scale. In theory, the characters gain a steady number of pluses through their levels. However, more likely than not, the DCs increase as well so our relative power stays the same. Wholly, this is part of the system but it does feel slightly ... disempowering? There is a distinct whiffle factor to parts of the game. Daily powers are exceptionally hit-and-miss affairs which takes a lot of their impact out of the play. To balance that, however, we have all identified that as a group we have an inordinate amount of healing and the monsters need to be resilient because well, we are! I do feel for our mage, who does seem to have the most ineffective dice on the planet ... only slightly less effective than Andrews, that is!

The game is developing a pace and a rhythm of its own and thats really strong. It is also developing a narrative signature which is really appealing. Travel happens at the speed of plot, we don't hustle through dungeons - zipping straight to the crucial encounters. The dragon encounter in the last session was excellent with a randomised dungeon, good areas and bad areas and a mo'fo' black dragon that posed our biggest threat yet. It really was terrifying and its mobility, threat range (I hate that extended threat business), breath weapon, stunning roar - can I mention its mobility again? I've never EVER played in a game where movement rate has been so important! It's ludicrous ... in a good way! The dragon erupting through the floor of the temple was an awesome moment. Killing it was even better.

There are, however, a couple of issues here. The first is a failure - at least at these levels - for the game to truly emulate the 'tanking' aspect of MMOs that it appears to attempting to do. My 'threat' of my mark is easily ignored by a monster who wants to eliminate our DPS (the ranger) and there's almost no way for me to mechanically save the guy from becoming a scoobie snack. These things come at later levels - but its buggeringly annoying at this level. The second issue is the perennial 'split' between the roleplaying and the monster smashing. We need to really concentrate to inject that into the game. Even if its just my exasperation at the ranger doing his very best to limp his bleeding bloodied ass as far out of my healing range as possible, it should be displayed IC rather than OOC. The third one - and I am a bugger for this - is denouement and there is nothing that can be done about that. We have a strict time limit now, which is needed and indeed for my benefit. However, it sometimes feels a bit flat when its 'And the dragon dies.... see you back here in three weeks to see how thrilled everyone is!' Thats minor however.

What else could change? I'd like to see quest sheets back because they were a very strong start to the campaign. I'd like to see follow-ons to the quests as well, without it becoming too sandbox. Maybe a couple more magic items? No, not magic items - but in lieu of them a smattering of masterwork equipment. I suppose we could buy it? We are loaded.

My favourite change to this session was the re-flavouring of the mage's spells to ice and water. He now truly is a force of nature and it feels so natural in the context of the game. In fact the amount of flavour that has seeped into the way the rules are interpretted is excellent. It feels like our game, rather than someone else's game we are playing.

Two week break now. Not good. Withdrawl symptoms ahoy!


AndrewW said...

Ok, just to try and pick up on some of the issues you raise:

I think the heroic tier does have the potential to be repetative and that is to a degree intentional. The goal is to help the Rebellion free the City and for that you need allies. When you have enough we get the denoument, in effect the battle for Hogwarts.

At that point I think the game changes. You get to redefine what the game is about in the Paragon Tier and then again at the Epic Tier. I have some thoughts for both but I will of course be looking for the players input.

Scaling DC's: this is a feature of the game throughout. You really need to look for those bonuses to hit before kicking off with the encounter or daily powers. This will get better as you get more options.

What I may look at doing is using more monsters of a slightly lower level. That should reduce the "whiff" factor but keep the challenge.

On Tanking: Various people have commented on different forums about how it can be counter productive for the tank to have their AC outstrip the rest of the group. This creates a disincentive for me to attack you. Of course that does mean it keeps taking the challenge damage which really racks up.

Quest Sheets: these will return. Not having a pc at home is really cutting into my prep ability. There are also a load of wiki additions which I want to add but simply dont have the time to do at the moment. Contrary to popular opinion I do actually have work to do.

I could hand write the sheets but I fear you could not read my spider scrawl hand writing.

Vodkashok said...

On Tanking: I'm unsure we should even be trying to simulate MMOs in this respect. There is, as you say, no logic to it. Anyone would naturally try to kill the thing that is doing it the most damage, rather than chomping ineffectually on the Shield of Steel before it. Why a dragon should feel so belittled and angry that it should concentrate its fire on me is beyond me. MMO 'tanking' is an artificial construct which allows for DPS classes to not need massive defences as well as massive attacks.

As for gaining pluses to hit, our abilities that give pluses to hit have to feckin' hit before that!! >g<

And just to drag a forum post onto a blog. War Wizard. Woooot!


AndrewW said...

As for gaining pluses to hit, our abilities that give pluses to hit have to feckin' hit before that!! >g<
Waiting for Bless, Spiritual Weapon, Comabt Advantage or Rightous Brand to hit all up your chances to hit.

A Warlord would have helped, they get loads of bonus type stuff.

Vodkashok said...

Warlord, schmorlord. We can't fit every class into a group of four.

Thats two daily powers we have to 'wait for'. And RB is a power that has to hit itself. Now if the mob would just stand still and be hit like a good little monster, everything would be fine.

I know we joke about the 'daily flag' a lot but I really feel for Matt. His mage has a load of cool powers but he rarely gets to whomp with them. At least I seem to get a fair number of At-Wills to hit, whereas he seems to just cast and fail.

More seriously though, the sliding scale means that we never become more effective at our jobs. We have about a 40% chance to hit at the moment, in three levels time, we will have a 40% chance to hit. At level 30, we will have a 40% chance to hit. To quote Craig, same thing - bigger numbers. Its a system thing, I know, I know....

Anonymous said...

I don't mind the scaling, I think it works well. I'm not sure it should necessarily mean you get better at hitting as you level - that would only happen if you fight enemies you outclass, which we haven't been doing. It is what Andrew is suggesting a bit though.

I think this is the same in most games that aren't very narrative, as you'll always scale the bad guys to the players and any sense of a change in the maths comes from facing less powerful ones.

I've noticed a big difference by stacking up +'s, we have the ability to do that. I've also noticed some of the higher level powers do things on a miss.

I'm not concerned about the dailies as this comes down to what Andrew does - in theory ever encounter (apart from maybe one which you generally have an idea about beforehand - at least in our narrative-influenced way) should be balanced for only 80% of our resources as we have those refreshed every encounter.

I think all this is the bueaty of the system rather than the failing.

I have also noticed the set-up structure of the sessions, and was just observing it at the moment.


Anonymous said...

Not all my above comments are in the context of it being a gamist game.

We could of course try and subvert that (and fighting more trivial foes is essentially doing that), but that's a different topic - though probably is related to other discussions previous to this session.