Saturday, January 24, 2004

Thursday Night Gaming

Let me tell you about my D&D character. [Warning: copious use of D&D jargon in the following article. Do not try to operate heavy machinery immediately after reading]

I have a couple regular and semi-regular gaming groups, but the most dependable is the Thursday night game over at Bill Slavicsek’s house. I’ve been playing in it since shortly after I got out to Seattle, and we have a good group of about seven people, with Bill as Game Master. In addition to being the Director of R&D RPG, Bill is also a designer, so his game is often a test-bed for new ideas and a playtest for future projects that are coming (and yeah, I ran this past him to make sure I’m not giving  away too much). The other players are designers, editors, and developers as well, and it tends to be a touchstone for us to both enjoy ourselves and take the latest rules out for a spin.

Previously, we’ve run campaigns in Star Wars d20 (where I ran my wookiee Force Adept Whappamanga), d20 Modern (Moondog Greenberg, the original Tough Hero), and Urban Arcana (Edie Romanova, my Fast Hero/Slayer with a touch of Telepath). Right now its Eberron, which is the big new world that is coming up this summer from WotC.  Our group is currently editor Michele (who's playing Kieran - a Bard verging on the new Inquisitive class),  T’Ed (Cyndar - elven cleric of the Undying Court), Chris (Zagrum – “Zag”, a shifter monk), John (Taylan d’Orien – Dragonmarked rogue with teleport abilities), and Andrew (Claymore – “Clay”, a warforged barbarian –warforged being a new race of living constructs).  I’m running Relique, a warforged paladin. We’re all 5th level.

[And as an aside, Andrew and I are taking our warforged in different directions – I’m doing the more humanistic and social character while Andrew is comfortable with an more combat-oriented version. Data versus Bender. Warforged are going to make a good new character race.]

Now the other thing about Bill’s campaigns is that, as Director, he gets access to a lot of new products and toys that he loves to “spring” on us. With the recent Dungeons & Dragons® Miniatures, that means that he’s pulling out new figures from various stages of development and throwing them at us. More importantly, one of the upcoming sets (not the next one, but the one after that) is introducing huge figures. And these figures are HUGE.

So  in the game we’re after a journal that belongs to a friend of Kieran’s late mentor. We see flashing lights from the library. Relique, who is both impulsive and has initiative, runs into the room, and sees . . .

At this point Bill sets down one of the new HUGES. And it is a monster (I can’t tell you which one – it’s a creature from Eberron – just call it . . . IT).  IT fills the library, as ITs gnome allies are rummaging through, looking for the journal. It is one thing to examine one of these things in an office environment – you look at cast lines, detail, scale. Encountering something like this in play is a heart-stopping experience. (Well, Warforged don’t have hearts, but you get the picture). Barely room to maneuver. An incredible reach. Oh, and Bill added a few new templates to IT to make IT even tougher. We have bitten off more than we can chew. So I try to bluff IT and the gnomes. I’m a paladin – it doesn’t work out. I get slammed into an inopperative state and the rest of the team comes in to take on . . .IT.

And in that one shining moment we become the X-Men -  teamwork over more powerful adversity. Zag is drawing attacks and fighting at full defense, keeping IT occupied. Clay rages and chews huge chunks out of IT. Keiran the bard keeps our offense good with inspire courage, while Cyndar the cleric keeps us on par defensively with shields of faith and other abjurations. Tayland, noted within our group for horribly low hit points, concentrates on the gnomes. I pull my shattered form out of the ITs reach and get an aidspell to get me back online again.

A gnome finds the journal and hides behind IT. Tayland teleports me behind IT (right back into the melee) and I take out the gnome, but Tayland, my low hit die ride, gets slammed into the wall by IT, stranding me. Clay, who has been absorbing huge amounts of damage, crashed in the same round. I prepare for the worst, when Cyndarthe elven cleric puts an adamantine arrow right betweem ITs eyes, taking it down.

Now, one of the concerns I have with the d20 system as it stands is the fragility of the challenge ratings (CRs), a method of determining the strength of an encounter. If you are fighting an opponent of a higher CR, you are in for an uphill battle. If you are fighting one of 2 CRs or higher, you are seriously asking for a world of hurt. Our group would be considered CR 6 – IT started at CR 8 before adding on the templates. The fact that we could balance out the deficit through co-ordinated and cross-supported play was extremely reassuring, since this is exactly the type of play (co-operation, mutual support, party organization) that SHOULD be rewarded.

More later,