The Dungeon Reality Show, D&D Essentials Edition, Part 2

Veteran FDL smiles at Frank the Tank's confidence in his D&D skill

See here for part 1 of my recent D&D Essentials game with a group of local Geek media personalities. The game was really amazing, so much so I need 2 posts to relay the awesomeness of it all.

Dramatis Persona (redux)

  • Maïwenn Amandil: Elven Warpriestess of Pelor (Caro), picture a Jersey Shore bimbo.
  • Frank the Tank (Frank the Tank):  Beered up Human Knight with a thing for Maïwenn
  • Seaendithas Steelfarmer(Stef) : Halfling Thief who likes bad French puns.
  • Todd Darkmagic (Adopted) (FDL): Eladrin Mage getting no recognition for his work saving everyone’s bacon.

Highlight: Say it with Dolce and Tankana

After the first encounter featuring drakes was completed, Frank asked me if he could make a lizard-skin handbag for Maïwenn.  That’s when the producer, a fat unshaven halfling with a cigar… pretty much like Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, stopped the show…

Producer: This is genius stuff kid, you’re a natural!

Frank the Tank (both in and out of character): Heh, I know! Right?

Producer: How about we replace toots’ Vicious Mace by the bag, we make it like a Bag of Holding and put a freaking huge Anvil in it?

Maïwenn: Yay, my very own Dolce & Tankana bag!

Frank later made her boots with dead kobolds and he skinned the Black Dragon so Maïwenn could get it to a designer dress maker in a later game.

Ahhh, love.

Caro takes pics of the minis while thinking about her next Ad Spot.

Mechanic/Highlight: Insta-Skill Challenge

Between the first 2 combat encounters, the PCs were standing around a broken statue of Maïwenn’s god. She mused that she, like, totally should do something about it. So we discussed it a bit.

We agreed that this would be a hard Religion check to re-channel the divine energy back into the statue.  The others would be helping, Seaendithas would climb on the statue (Thievery), Frank would hand him broken pieces (Athletics) to put back in place and Todd would fuse them back with his Magic Missiles (Arcana).

At the time I decided to just make it a single check (Religion) with everyone helping with their respective skills as outlined above.

Chatty: All right so everyone but Maïwenn need to beat 11 so you can each  give her a +2 bonus.  Then she’ll get to roll her religion check.  If she makes it, the statue is put back together and you all gain a +1d6 to all healing powers for the next encounter, if she fails, well she’ll have disappointed her god a little more…

Caro: Hey, it’s bad enough as it is!

Everyone made it, giving Caro a +6 to her roll.

Which she failed…

Chatty: All right, describe me what Maïwenn is doing just now.

Caro (In character): What? You guys started already? I was still putting makeup!

We all collapsed in laughter.

Taking a page from Burning Wheel’s “Let it Ride” rule, I didn’t allow a retry.  The result stood, the test had been a failure and we moved on.

In hindsight what transpired in that improvised encounter is EXACTLY what I consider a Skill Challenge should be.  Short and sweet (and totally stolen from Burning Wheel/Mouse Guard).  A main character leads the task, other helps with relevant skills and ability, you make one roll.  Success = task achieved.  Failure = possible complication leading to either the end of the challenge or the next logical step as dictated by the narrative.

In that particular case, I could have extended the challenge by having the statue crumble and bury Maïwenn under blocks of granite, I could have corrupted the statue further or I could have invoked the displeasure of Pelor (with lots of cheap special effects), requiring a special in-game Geas to be achieved before the end of the “‘show”.

I think that’s how I’ll run all my skill challenges from now on.  No more X/3, I’ll go with task(or sub-tasks) + help  and narrative-adequate complications upon failure(s).

Stef shows us how Beads work: 1) Be Awesome 2) Rinse and Repeat

New Mechanic/Highlight: Beads of Awesomeness

During play, when I noticed just how many cool things players were attempting, I attempted to create a positive feedback loop (I mean, I’ve been going on and on about rewards lately eh?) so I started giving glass beads to players.

I told them they were “Beads of Awesomeness” that could be traded to perform actions that bended the rules in ways that made the narrative/story cooler but without being an obvious game-breaking exploit.

(Read: Don’t be dicks about them)

Rerolls, pushing one’s movement, having an item in hand at the appropriate moment without spending an action, etc.

I heavily encouraged people to use them to take cooler actions… and even rewarded some with additional beads.  Here’s the best example.

In the last encounter, the Knight, Thief and Wizard were in serious trouble, being bloodied or dying.  The Priestess was standing at the bottom of the map, the dragon was eviscerating the Thief and Wizards in the middle of the map and the Knight was dying at the top of the map.

While dragon is making mincemeat with our squishy PCs, Maiwenn (background) prepares her awesome play

Maïwenn used her first bead to run to the middle of the map, unseen from the dragon (i.e. I gave her a free stealth success) and used her daily to heal the Halfling Thief.  She then used a second bead to “accidentally” drop a healing potion from her cleavage into the hands of Todd Darkmagic.  Finally, she used an action point to move to Frank the Tank at the top of the map and used her Healing Word on him.

It is safe to assume that she got a standing ovation from the Show’s crew.

So in essence, Beads of Awesomness are like Bennies from Savage Worlds.  Players spend them and make a request.  The DM takes the request into account and tries to say yes… or counter propose something cool.

This is another permanent addition to my D&D 4e games.

End Credits

In the end, our heroes prevailed.  We managed to play out 4 combat encounters and two mini-skill challenges in about 6 hours and we all had a TON of fun.  We agreed that this game should become a seasonal event and we shall meet again this spring for the next show!

I think I have rediscovered D&D 4e by bending it to my needs and by playing it with curious, enthusiastic people who brought a fresh wind of possibilities and wonder to the game.  I’m looking forward to my next experience with D&D Essentials which I really like so far.  The emphasis on At-Will abilities rather than a ton of powers allows players to focus on being creative rather than dependent on their character sheet.

It sure did in our case.

I no longer make promises about my projects on this blog, but I’d love to review the original Dungeon Reality Show PDF and add the new mechanics I discovered.  At the very least, I should play it at Cons in the near future.

As usual, if you have comments, questions or suggestions to make the DRS even cooler, I’m all eyes!

(Photos courtesy of Stéphane Vaillancourt and Caroline Cloutier)


  1. Very cool. You did change the system a lot though. It isn’t a bad thing mind you but it might help me like 4th more. I haven’t played it yet but especially your way of running challenges seems more appealing than the real one. Though the Beads of Awesomeness sound more like Drama points from Unisystem. Bennies aren’t (from what I can remember) as versatile as that.

    Good work though. Sounds like a blast.

  2. Old School Hack has an Awesome Point mechanic:

    Which is, in fact, awesome. The Awesome point economy really drives the game, with players leveling up only after everyone has spent a set amount of awesome points.

  3. Fantastic, Phil. This shows why people should be playing more than one game. Expand your horizons (with beer)!

  4. @sicnaxyz: Changing the system to fit their needs is what all GMs should do, especially changes that focus on adding more options for players (instead of restrictions). Heck, it’s been done since Gary started noting things in his 3-ring binder I’m sure.

    @Prof: I shall go have a look, thanks for sharing.

    @Chris: Ya know, I feel that every year I discover new things to help me become a better GM and that exploration of new games was both fun, informative and quite an eye opener. Thanks for the kudos bro!

  5. Double-suggesting the Awesome Point mechanic. It’s an excellent “bonus” economy that sorta balances itself, and requires the players to call one another out for better roleplaying, etc.

    Fantastic work here, I love that structure for skill challenges. Very dramatic.

  6. On the subject of Bennies, I made a New Year’s amendment to my 4E house rules, which allows the use of action points to be broadened, so that they can basically be used as bennies. I now give out action points as rewards for good roleplay (particularly when it goes against optimization or strategy for the sake of character). I let the players spend them like you had them spend Awesome Beads. It works really well for me, because Action Points had never seemed quite good enough to replace Daily powers. Now they’re one of the most valuable rewards my players can get.

    All of this, of course, was inspired by the earlier discussion of rewards in D&D, and how to manipulate things so that it encourages the right elements of the game. Hearing about you doing something similar is encouraging. Thanks for the game recap. Sounds like those guys were a blast.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gato, CH News Robot and ChattyDM, Chase Rubar. Chase Rubar said: RT @chattydm: Part 2 (of 2) of my Dungeon Reality Show is up. Awesome New D&D 4e mechanics at work! […]

  2. […] game was a shortened version of the original game I ran a few months ago (Parts 1 and 2).  If you haven’t heard about it yet, The Dungeon Reality Show is a silly a strange campaign […]