Concept: Multi-character characters
Tested in: The One Piece campaign
What it is: As a shounen fighting manga, One Piece has a lot of battles. We did a pretty good job of simulating it in the One Piece campaign, with recurring enemies and climactic boss fights and whatnot. But fighting manga tends to resolve things one-on-one, while D&D is a party-based game. When it came time to end the campaign with a series of destined battles, we didn’t want to violate the setting by shoehorning the enemies into balanced groups so we could fight them on even footing, but we also didn’t want to violate the game by having fights where one player acted while everybody else sat down and watched. We needed a third option.
To solve this we leveraged a trope from the genre: heroes who tap into unknown stores of power to fight enemies who push them to their limits. To represent that in D&D, we decided that each character, for the purposes of their destined battle and only that battle, would actually be represented by multiple “characters”. For each fight, the relevant player designed three simple one-shot characters to back up their main character as a balanced party. For example, the cleric with tentacle powers created a defender, a controller, and a striker and reskinned them as masses of tentacles. By the rules, we were all different characters, but narratively, we were all controlling different parts of the same PC. The other players controlled these one-shot characters over four or five sessions made entirely of battles and shounen-style banter. Continue reading
Concept: All-minion combat
Tested in: The Great Tower of Oldechi
What it is: In D&D 4E, minions were a creature type with static damage and only one hit point. They rarely had more than two powers (a melee attack and a ranged attack, or an attack and a movement power, etc.) and almost never had any consumable power. They were intended to supplement an encounter and give the PCs some roadblocks on the way to the actual monsters, serving as fodder the party didn’t have to focus on but couldn’t ignore either.
The rules said that four minions equaled one normal monster for the purposes of the XP budget (though later rules suggested using five minions at mid-level and six at high-level, to account for their low damage growth and the PCs’ increased access to multi-target powers). Since 4E was based around five monsters per combat, that meant a combat with twenty minions was technically a fair encounter. I had a party exploring a coastline, so I decided to hit them with a horde of murlocs, the numerous, irritating creatures we all knew from World of Warcraft. Continue reading
Concept: Side-scrolling combat
Tested in: Delve Night and The Great Tower of Oldechi
What it is: D&D’s combat map has always been top-down, since before it was even D&D. It is, after all, a tabletop game, not a wallside game. Everything assumes you’re fighting on a mostly flat surface, perhaps with other flat surfaces around at different elevations. Underwater combat and flying enemies are a hassle because there’s rarely a good way to represent them, especially with physical miniatures, and everything from spells to fire breath to weapon reach is expressed in terms of how far it affects the world horizontally. Normally this is fine, but when you want an usually vertical combat, the rules sort of give up.
By taking the map and turning it sideways, we turned the top-down game into a side-scrolling game. Measuring vertical distance became trivial as it was exactly the same as horizontal distance. Mobile characters, like those who could jump or fly or teleport, got to use the full breadth of their abilities, and even slow, stable characters benefited because we made every walkable surface only five feet wide and there was no longer an easy way to get around them. Flanking was harder because there were only two spaces around a character instead of eight, but few other powers needed significant changes, especially in 4E where every area effect is a square. Continue reading
Concept: Atypical damage dice
Tested in: Delve Night
What it is: The defunct miniatures game Dreamblade used six-sided dice for damage, but not the sort of dice from every other game. Normal dice have the sides 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6. Dreamblade dice have 1 / 2 / 3 / a hollow diamond / a filled-in diamond / the dreamblade. Our FLGS had a bunch of these dice available, so we used them in a Dreamblade-themed Delve Night session. Instead of any damage dice, players could (and the DM must) instead roll a Dreamblade die.
Numbers worked as expected. Rolling the the hollow diamond was equivalent to rolling a 0, and the filled-in diamond was maximum damage for the dice the player sacrificed. The dreamblade was twice the maximum. So if a player decided to rolled a Dreamblade die instead of a d8, the sides of that dice effectively were 1 / 2 / 3 / 0 / 8 / 16. Continue reading
It’s November, which means I’m doing National Novel Writing Month again. Since I’ll be spending most of my writing energy on something completely different, this blog won’t have any long-form posts this month. Instead, I want to elaborate on something I’ve mentioned a few times: my healthy disrespect for the rules of D&D.
The context in which I intend “healthy disrespect” is “the gaming system clearly intends and expects that I will use mechanic X, but it does not specifically preclude me from doing mechanic Y and I’m willing to tweak or ignore whatever’s necessary to achieve it.” It pertains to Law #1, the DM’s ability to do anything he or she wants, and Law #0, the responsibility of all players to keep everything fun, and it’s a step beyond simple house rules because it violates some core expectation of the game. That is, if I see a way to do something fun, I’m within my rights to make that happen even if it’s contraindicated by the system. Sometimes it works, and everybody has a blast. Sometimes it fails, and I’ve inflicted something on my players with nothing to show for it but the experience. In either case, I’ve learned something about what does and doesn’t work, and I can use that in future sessions to make them even better. Continue reading