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.
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).
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.
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.
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!