Gorilla Jam! ep1: Sailors in the Sea of Fate

20 08 2008

I’ve gotten my feet wet with D&D goodness (or madness?) and I’m here to tell the tale of my first days on the road. We’ll take baby steps through the first 3 chapters of the Player’s Handbook in order to prepare ourselves for the 100+ pages rampage through the classes chapter. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we have plenty of material to go through and some pretty pictures to look at (except for the tieflings… you’ll see what I mean.)

I’ll be making pretty specific comments on certain parts of the text, but I will always try to give page references so if you want you can follow along and scream about how utterly wrong/right I am. Everyone ready? Let’s dive in!

Introduction

... no, not this kind of jam.

... no, not this kind of jam.

In case you have just stumbled upon (no pun intended) this post, here is the idea and some ground rules. I’ll be reading all the core rulebooks for the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons (that’s 4th Edition) and I’ll share with you my thoughts and experiences as I go through the tomes. Also included will be solo play, group play and even (provided I get some friendly gamers) running the game myself.

After all this debacle I’ll be doing some “house ruling” on the lovely lad to see if we can move away from the cool tactical minis game. Once again, this is not a “D&D is bad” kind of series and although you will see personal comments that might not be flattering that just reflects my thoughts at the time of the reading.

One last thing, the links for all the articles in the series will always be found in the original topic to make sure that you don’t miss any episode. Have fun!

Player’s Handbook

Chapter 1: How to Play

To me D&D has always revolved around monster bashing, treasure looting and plain old “L337 dUD3$ 7|-|47 0wnz j00Z” (elite dudes that own you.) This was just the impression that I got from reading the books a bit and being around players of the game. It’s refreshing to know that nowadays D&D has casted all doubt aside and decided to tell us that:

D&D is a cooperative game in which you and your friends work together to complete each adventure and have fun (…) You solve puzzles, talk with other characters, battle all kinds of fantastic monsters, and discover fabulous magic items and treasure.

Chapter 1 | page 6

It was one of the first things I pointed out to a friend after reading the book for the first time. The above is just an example, but there’s this whole feeling of “Hey, what we’re trying to do here is an adventure game where you get to play with minis, bash monsters and get ever cooler items and powers” during the intro of the game. This is good since it comes off as being honest, and bad (to me) since apparently…

This is the world of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® Roleplaying Game (also referred to as D&D), the pinnacle of fantasy roleplaying games.

Chapter 1 | page 4

But hey, I’m sure I’d say the same thing about my game. In any case let’s move along. Also another important thing to point out is that we have some very interesting social contract issues spelled out for us in the introduction to roleplaying. In particular we’re talking about player roles, the structure for storytelling and narrative permissions…

The DM is a person who takes on the role of lead storyteller and game referee. The DM creates adventures for the characters and narrates the action for the players.

Chapter 1 | page 6

From reading the book you get the idea that you take part in stories, rather than create the stories. This setup has you playing out the narrative proposed by the DM and by the fact that you’re just being there (and, you know, play) you create a unique experience and this accumulation of unique experiences is the story that you weave (sort of) with your friends. I’m personally a little bleh about this, since I’ve grown attached to a more of a “shared narrative” style of play, but maybe this can accomodate both… we’ll just have to see.

However I think the book is pretty much comfy with that approach:

The DM creates adventures (or selects premade adventures) for you and the other players to play through.
The DM sets the pace of the story and presents the various challenges and encounters the players must overcome.

Chapter 1 | page8

That sets the tone for the kind of play we should expect. From what I can see it focuses on challenging the players’ wits (to solve a puzzle, succeed at a social encounter, win a combat or solve riddle), rather than creating obstacles for the characters to achieve their goals. Also important is the classic (but oft forgotten) winning conditions:

You “win” the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game by participating in an exciting story of bold adventurers confronting deadly perils (…) You might fail to complete the adventure, but if you had a good time and you created a story that everyone remembers for a long time, the whole group wins.

Chapter 1 | page 6

To tell you the truth my personal experience has not given me a lot of happy moments with D&D. I’ve had a bit deal of “oh great, another 3 hour combat” or even “oh great, yet another impossibly powerful person who wants us to fetch the ball and if we don’t she will kill our very soul” and sometimes the whimsical “you trip with your own leg and fall to the floor breaking the fire potion vial, the flames engufl you in the blink of an eye and you burn like a log, you stand up screaming and two bandits shoot arrows at you… they hit you in the chest, you’re dead… whose turn is next?” but I don’t recall a lot of “Yippey! I’m having fun!” kind of moments… however that’s just me being bitter, not the game’s fault I’m sure.

And speaking of being bitter, what the heck is this!?

Oh yeah! Hard core gaming!

Oh yeah! Hardcore gaming!

All DUNGEONS & DRAGONS games have four basic ingredients: at least one player (four or five players is best), a Dungeon Master, an adventure, and game books(¿?) and dice.

Chapter 1 | page 8

What the… I’ve never heard of a freaking roleplaying game that told me that “the game” had “the book” as one of its core ingredients? I mean I can sort of justify the dice in that list because… well because I guess throwing dice around is fun and it’s a staple of D&D (I guess), but I just can’t see any reasonable explanation for that except the one that says “Gimme money, buy books!” I’m not against them selling books, I just thought that marketing could do better (especially since I already purchased the blasted book.)

In any case I should give the game a chance, it has a whole page and a half explaining what the heck that statement meant, so let’s have a look.

Player’s Handbook: Every player needs a Player’s Handbook for reference.
Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual: The Dungeon Master needs a copy of each of these books (and players might also enjoy perusing the contents).

Chapter 1 | page 9

Fuck you book. My friends will have copies IF there is the need for that. I understand that this is a commercial operation and you need books to be sold. I also consider myself not a moron… each player does not need a Player’s Handbook for reference, we can share mine… OK? (I’m beginning to think that I might get a little agitated in the course of this review.)

Also I just don’t get the fact that the book says (same page) that “you might find some of the following items and accessories useful at your game table” (talking about minis and battlemats/dungeon tiles) and then happily proceed to tell me that I need to have minis and a battle grid. By the way, you do need those so get them if you’re going to run this game.

By the way, the idea is that an adventure is basically a series of encounters related to eachother within the framework of a story. This goes back to D&D being more of a challenge to the players wit, and sure enough we have our challenges divided (again, page nine on “How do you play?”) between combat and non combat encounters… and exploration, which seems to be a catch all word for whatever happens in between.

The chapter ends with a very brief description of the core mechanic for the D&D 4th Ed game and I think it’s really user friendly. Just roll a die (high = good) add a few things and compare to a number you have to match or beat. Same goes with the three basic rules (Chapter 1 | page 11) to round up the introduction to the game. So far the game has been quite clear and upfront about what it’s going to be doing on the following chapters so that’s a good point.

Intermission

Good lord! Is this long or what?! Fear not because the next chapters (especially mechanic heavy ones) will be much lighter and shorter (well not on the book but here.) I wanted to give special care to the first one because here the game pretty much sets the ground work for everything that comes later, so I wanted to share my thougts on it. In any case I already have the material for the next two chapters so the next article is coming your way really soon!

That’s it for today, we have a lot of material ready but I’ll be taking it one bit at a time. Remember that you can find all the links on the original topic and that you can comment on the particular articles if you have a question or want to add your thoughts about the game. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.

Until next time, Fred.

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9 responses

20 08 2008
Cuddling with the 800 lbs. Gorilla « drop the dice

[…] Episode 1: Sailors in the Sea of Fate Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)D&D Playerâs Handbook: Then and Now Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary GygaxE308: DS Fanboy plays God with Populous DSEssential Extras: Penguin United 24x Gaming Pouch […]

20 08 2008
jatori

Hmmm, referring to this paragraph:

To tell you the truth my personal experience has not given me a lot of happy moments with D&D. I’ve had a bit deal of “oh great, another 3 hour combat” or even “oh great, yet another impossibly powerful person who wants us to fetch the ball and if we don’t she will kill our very soul” and sometimes the whimsical “you trip with your own leg and fall to the floor breaking the fire potion vial, the flames engufl you in the blink of an eye and you burn like a log, you stand up screaming and two bandits shoot arrows at you… they hit you in the chest, you’re dead… whose turn is next?”

I think your 2nd and 3rd complaints (fetch quest and setting yourself alight) boil down to the group you’re playing with rather than the system. Perhaps the group’s play style did not match your expectations. Plus critical failures are a rules variant (I’m assuming the setting yourself on fire was a critical failure), which I believe adds no fun to the game. 3 hour combat is predominantly the system’s fault, but both player and GM can speed things up a bit and keep it fun for all throughout.

To be honest, I skipped most of chapter 1 of the PHB and went straight to the meat of the later chapters. I think I may go back and give it a reread.

20 08 2008
Tommi

I endorse this post.

I also think that one quality of good roleplaying books is that the material contained therein is sufficiently intuitive that I don’t need to reference the books in play at all, after learning the game.

20 08 2008
the_blunderbuss

@Jatori
Of course, those things are very true. That’s why I said that “I’m sure that’s just me being bitter and not the system’s fault.” Those were just personal experiences that I’ve had and that might illustrate my feelings about the book.

What I can’t stand is the 3 hour combat. I just can’t, it’s like I’m allergic to it or something like that. I’m pretty sure that when I run the game (and I’ll be trying to follow all the rules closely) I’ll do something to speed things up.

@Tommi
Agreed, it certainly breaks the mood for me. If I need to check something mid session, 95% of the times I’ll just make a judgment call and go on with the game… I’ll have to change my habits if I expect to run this game though.

20 08 2008
Chatty DM

I’m going to enjoy this.

Speaking from experience, after having read combat rules and non combat rules twice, if all Players print out power cards and the DM has a photocopy of teh conditions, you can play for hours without ever, ever openning a book.

If things are more ‘free-form’ than the average D&D game, the DM should use rule 42 (page 42 of the DMG) near (It’s on the GM screen)

20 08 2008
the_blunderbuss

@Chatty
I’m counting on preparing all kind of props for my players when I run this baby and I’m adding power cards to the mix… I’m also beginning to realize that I’m going to have to find players to run this thing (a bit problematic since there’s not much local activity). I wonder if on-line play is workable.

ARGH! The temptation to run to the DMG is too great! But I shall not cave, since that book will be the one next in line… well maybe a sneak peak… NO! I shall not succumb to the temptation!

20 08 2008
peasantbutcher

you’ve broken my little heart by breaking down the game and making it seem bad :p
i think that when you find some like-minded players, your perception of the game will change………power cards for players could work, but i find it unnecessary, the player chose those powers for a reason and should know how it works……….what the player could do to help out the dm – and ultimately everyone else – is to give him a set of power cards; as it is unreasonable to expect the dm to be up to speed with all of the possible power options

15 09 2008
apotheon

Online play? You’re kidding — right? Of course online play is workable!

I’m pretty sure that most of the game design decisions for 4E that resulted in gutting all the more roleplaying oriented (as opposed to roll-playing oriented) stuff from previous editions were made because WotC/Hasbro wanted to make it easier to support the game online and, thus, make money from software and service subscriptions. There’s a reason 4E sounds suspiciously like an attempt to emulate MMORPGs, y’know.

15 09 2008
the_blunderbuss

First things first…

@peasantbutcher
Dear lord, I’m so sorry I didn’t catch your comment lass. I promise I’ll be all over my comments next time. And I’m not trying (consciously at least) to make it look bad. However that might be how it’s turning out. The purpose of this series (and by the way, I need to get started on the third article) is to give readers a tour of what goes on in my mind as I read the books (hint: I’m getting rather bored by them) so at the same time I’m trying not to filter any subjectivity out of it.

You are also right on both accounts: I feel like I’ve been playing with un-like minded players for a while, and that has made me a bit touchy on certain issues, and power cards rock. If you’ve read There is a Goblin in my Soup! you know that I’ve been doing this boardgamey D&D where we strip the roleplaying out and basically just play out an encounter like we were playing Risk but with laser clerics. I recently prepared power cards, and everyone involved was really happy with them.

@Chad (apotheon)
Yes yes, I know. I believe that we’ve either touched the topic before (with comments on your site or it was just you saying something like that in one of your posts. When I wrote that down I was mostly thinking about the way that I’ve been playing on-line, which is with MSN. And since the PHB likes to lie to us and tell us that miniatures and battlemaps are optional (yeah, if you don’t want to use them you’re certainly free to play another game) I thought that I would need a sort of tabletop environment to play the combat encounters.

Having said that, I know that there are a number of free programs that can handle that beautifully and I agree with you about your analysis of WOTC’s commercial plan.

Oh, and thanks for commenting everyone =)
Fred.

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