Yesterday, I returned from four days worth of DDXP 2012. As always, I return with many treasured memories. I got to rub elbows with lots of game designers, bloggers, and other cool people. I got to play some great games and playtest the new D&D. I even had the honor of being Patient Zero for the official con crud of DDXP 2012. The thing I’ll remember most, though, was running a table for the Battle Interactive on Saturday night.
Behind The Screen For Perfect Strangers
As some of you who read my column already know, I’m not big on 4e combat. The decision to run some games at DDXP was born from a strange mixture of wanting to help out and curiosity about what it would be like to run a table full of strangers who weren’t used to my crap. The idea didn’t scare me too bad at first. I couldn’t be worse than some of the judges I’d had at these things, I rationalized. I didn’t realize the idea made me anxious until it was far too late. I was to run my first game on Friday morning, and I was nervous enough about it by that point that I wanted out. I wasn’t about to shirk my duties, though. I familiarized myself with the module I was supposed to run the night before, and I reported to the marshaling area at 8am sharp as ordered.
It was about then one of the staff came around and said they needed another warm body for another table. I quickly volunteered, thinking this meant the table needed another player, and I would be able to get out of running the game. On the way to the table, I asked if I needed to go roll up a character. “No,” the staffer said. “You’re running.” No worse off than before, I smiled and reported to my table. They provided me with a printed copy of the module, but I brought the module up on my laptop anyway so I could see the monster stat blocks. I started to get confused, as the pages weren’t matching up between the paper and digital versions. Suddenly, it hit me.
This was a different module. I’d just volunteered to run a game completely cold.
It all turned out OK in the end. The module I was running was pretty heavy on combat and light on other details, and the players I had were experienced enough that the combats ran themselves for the most part. I roleplayed whatever I could right to the hilt, and it was all full of mucousy aboleths and people turning into octopi and other weird acid-trippy visions. I get +5 to WTF rolls, so this was right up my alley. The players said I did a lot better running this than the last guy (they’d played it the day before, apparently), so for zero prep and not liking 4e combat much I considered this a resounding success.
Battling The Interactive
That being said, I knew I had to run a table at the Battle Interactive on Saturday, and that was 8 hours of nothing but combat. Despite the module for this being some 150 pages, I felt a little better about this because I was going to be in a group playing in a different Battle Interactive game (same content) on Friday. At least I’d be familiar with the material.
Unfortunately, the group wasn’t really into it, and we decided to leave about halfway through. We had a couple players who just weren’t having a good time, and I wasn’t feeling particularly well and was happy to go somewhere less loud. I know we probably ruffled a few feathers by walking out, which I feel bad about, but our DM was a friend of ours and we expressed to him that it wasn’t anything he was doing wrong. It was terribly awkward.
The whole affair didn’t leave me with a burning desire to put myself in our DM’s shoes the following day, that’s for sure.
Enter Clan Beerbiter
I spent the morning playtesting the new D&D stuff and live-tweeting a seminar, which kept me from worrying too hard about running the BI until immediately beforehand. I showed up and requested a table running low-level characters. I’d heard horror stories about running epic-level adventures in 4e, and I wanted to make this as easy on myself as possible so I could do a better job. A staffer takes me to a table, and asks the people sitting there what adventure level I’ll be running.
“20”, they reply.
I didn’t appreciate the gravity of what happened next until much later. I’m handed a sticker and a business card. The former appears to be a label for some sort of dwarven alcoholic beverage. The latter has all the players and their RPGA numbers printed on it, which was handy, and on the front is printed “Just Let It Happen”.
I should have listened.
The Dwarven SEAL Team
The BI begins, and we enter our first combat. I decide, given the circumstances, that the monsters wouldn’t know the PCs are coming so I give them a surprise round. I hear chuckles from the group. One round later, I realize why.
Half the monsters I started with are dead. The other half are bloodied and most have at least two status effects on them. I try to hit back, and I am met with counterattacks the likes of which I did not even know existed. I do not own as many d12s as these guys were rolling for a round’s worth of damage. They were all wearing rings of sympathy, which meant if one of them made a saving throw they could chain it to another person wearing one — who could then chain it to another person wearing one ad infinitum. Status conditions on any member their team did not usually live past the round. They had magic items that could do a tiny amount of AoE damage, and were adept at scouring the board of minions in a round or two. Assuming my creatures weren’t stunned, they were dazed and I usually had the choice between not moving and performing basic attacks that would never land due to them counterattacking, or moving to try to do more effective attacks and never making it there. It was insane.
One of them told me at some point during the second combat that they’d been training for this event. I believed him.
Turns out most of these guys have known each other for decades. The newest had been with the group for 5 years. And this is what they do.
By the third combat mission, I’d gotten over my initial shock and was starting to enjoy the greatest example of 4e minmaxing I’d ever heard of. They were fast. Dear sweet Pelor, were they fast! Everybody knew in advance what their next move was, and if one of them took a turn longer than 30 seconds the rest would chastise them. It was in similar fashion that I determined they weren’t cheating as they blended each and every opponent before them into a fine puree – everyone was very much concerned with playing things by the book and four people would be ready with a decisive answer to any rules question within seconds. I’d never seen any one person with their game together like this in 4e, much less six people, and at 20th level to boot!
The Battle Interactive is known for having difficult combats. In fact, in the first half of the BI this year, they decided to give everybody unlimited healing surges. The catch is that each healing surge would chip away at an energy shield protecting the city they were defending, and the entire room would be draining the shield. At the halfway point, 192 surges got used, which was more than enough to take the shield down completely. Apparently, in addition to the room needing a lot of healing, one of the groups had declared themselves to be undead saboteurs and were deliberately using surges.
To bring it back up again, the organizers asked for healing surge donations. At this point in the game, Clan Beerbiter had used exactly zero healing surges. So it was that they donated 32 healing surges back to the common good. Out of several dozen tables that donated, 196 total, they alone donated 16.3%. The module’s designer, M. Sean Molley, was so impressed that he erected a temple to the dwarven god Tempus (with an alehouse beneath it) in the middle of the elven city of Myth Nantar. The wrath of Tempus was brought down upon the saboteurs, and the DM was told that 3 times for the rest of the adventure they could turn any miss on the die into a critical hit.
Later in the adventure, I finally managed to damage someone enough (with the help of a colossal 6 headed hydra that critted the entire party twice) that they opted to use one healing surge. I thought I had finally caught them cheating, and said “Hey! Didn’t you already donate all your healing surges?!” Turns out they all still had 7 or 8 left. Because, you know, they’re all dwarves.
The Only Ones Standing
The second to last combat involved the group planting battle standards in the ground and trying to keep enemies from removing them. For most groups, this would have been a big problem. There were a good dozen minions on the board, a few tougher foot soldiers, and three very powerful cultists. Unsurprisingly, Clan Beerbiter had the board clear of minions by the second round, the foot soldiers dead and the cult leaders effectively neutered by the third (despite me having been able to dominate one of the Beerbiters for a round).
This was a relatively short endurance-based event, so it wasn’t too long before we heard time getting called. The crazed superdwarves at my table had the 3 cultist leaders about a round away from going down with absolutely no hope of even fighting back. They’d authorized us to call combats in the interest of time, and I had full faith they’d have won easily in the next 5 minutes, so I declared them victorious.
First, they asked for everyone to stand. Then, for groups to sit who had not placed their battle standards. Several groups sat, and were booed. Then they asked for those to sit who had not defeated the cultists. Everyone in the entire room sat except Clan Beerbiter. They stood alone to the applause of over a hundred people. Someone yelled “BIG SURPRISE THERE!”
I was very proud of them. Which is a really weird feeling to have after you try to kill someone.
I got one (1) attack off in the first round, immobilizing 3/4 of the team. It would be the last effective thing I would do. The rings of sympathy mass-fired, and the next thing I knew they were doing absolutely unspeakable things to Dagon and his tentacles, which is kind of a weird role reversal if you think about it too long. I never did quite understand why you could easily knock Dagon prone but not dwarves.
We were done about 20 minutes before anyone else. I was not surprised at anything by this point. M. Sean Molley had put the Beerbiter logo up on the city map to show where the temple of Tempus had been erected, and he signed the map and let the Beerbiters take it home.
Afterward, I heard some of the players talking about how good it felt to have all their hard work pay off. One of them told me he thought the things they do expose some of the flaws in 4e’s tactical combat system. I agreed. Heartily.
I still wonder if I was running those combats right. I had to stat up monsters on the fly based on adventure level. I had sheets full of tactics I was supposed to use but things were going down or being held down so fast I never got the chance most of the time. I’ve already told this story to a couple of people who would have used their omnipotent DM powers to crush the infidel dwarves, but it wasn’t my job to crush their spirits. I was just supposed to run a fun game, and I tried my best to run things as they appeared in the module to kill them and failed miserably. I can live with that!
One of the Beerbiters started to tell me their origin story right before one of the combats started. Apparently, they were having a rough go during some LFR event, and decided halfway through that they were going to redouble their efforts and win. So they did, and never stopped.
Clan Beerbiter Facts
- They all took a sacred vow never to spend another healing surge again as long as they lived. That didn’t work out, so now they all share one healing surge per year.
- They are the Raven Queen’s landlords. Her rent is never late.
- Dragons hoard treasure so they can be more like Clan Beerbiter.
- They are being hunted by the government for a crime they didn’t commit. However, the forces sent to take them out haven’t been able to do any damage yet, so Clan Beerbiter hasn’t noticed.
- They can combine, Voltron-style, to form the dwarven god Tempus. It fights giant monsters with a sword made of pure beer.
- They can travel through space and time at will. They consider it boring.
- They visited Athas once, partied too hard, and burnt out the sun.
- They are directly responsible for all errata in every edition of every roleplaying game.
- They are the best stoneworkers in the multiverse because they just tell the mountain what they want and it is too afraid not to comply.
- They were voted “best smiles” of any adventuring company, 12 years running.
- They defeated Chuck Norris twice in combat. They used their yearly healing surge the first time, so they had another go.
Congratulations to Clan Beerbiter! Being destroyed and emasculated by you was one of the highlights of my con. You guys win the LFR.