Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lurker's Corner ~ Mid-March

I haven't put one of these up for a while, but as I was asked to do so regularly . . .

Questions, then.  Are people still reading either of the online campaigns?  What do you think?  Would you have trusted the wererat?  What was your impression of how the Senex party handled the courtyard and guard situation?  What about the small statues in the Juvenis campaign, or the combat that has just launched?  What are your impressions of the dungeon thus far?

Feel free to speak openly.  As readers, you know no more than the existing party does and I don't mind a little kibbutzing.  You may give the party some ideas but you may also bury the party's choices in a collection of useless overthinking and misinformation.  Thus, there is no reason to hold back on conjecture or on general opinion.


Pandred said...

Looking forward to the big scary thing beyond the door.

It's either a friend, or the thing I FINALLY get to try my crossbow on.
Both wins!

Alexis Smolensk said...

You understand, it is that time needed to load the damn thing that justifies the damage [3-13 for a heavy crossbow in my game]. But what a drag if it misses!

Sofia Viktorova Koleva said...

I almsot picked one of the crossbows as Sofia's sole weapon proficiency. The utility and firing rate of the dagger won out in the end.

connor mckay said...

I am enjoying reading both games. They're both entertaining and educational from my perspective.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well come forward, Connor. Start a conversation. What part of what you're reading is "educational"?

Discord said...

I'm followed Juvenis a lot more closely than Senex, mainly because I didn't read Senex when it originally started. The Juvenis dungeon is very interesting, with many different features (encounters, traps, etc.) and puzzles. I really like how it's not easy to maneuver in the dungeons itself; there's gas that stops the party, there's a cage elevator they need to provide rope for, etc.

I think the group has some communication issues that they are working out, both with Alexis and with each other, but that's probably more due to the online platform, and the on-again-off-again schedule. Just to be clear, I'm not casting any aspersions related to that, just stating the difficulties it's caused.

I'm curious how the online campaign compares to your tabletop sessions, however. In the Juvenis campaign, the party was initially more gung-ho, and then toned it down after the initial loss of the party members. Have you experienced the same thing in live sessions?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Not so much, Discord. Perhaps a face-to-face party can read my emotions better, understanding the level of danger they're actually in. I'm finding the online groups are either very cautious when they don't need to be or astoundingly indifferent in a moment of crisis. Perhaps the tone of my voice is the critical factor where this reading is important.

Joey Bennett said...

I am absolutely still reading the online campaigns. I am glad you are still able to run them despite the employment struggles. I wish you luck in that regard.

As always, with the play by post, it is difficult to coordinate a course of action since the choice is between taking days in real life to have the party come to some consensus and players declaring actions that would have been stopped in a live play session (Shield banging). That said, the party chose to sleep in an abandoned town where they new soldiers had come looking for someone, they chose not to set themselves up to escape if needed. They then chose to engage an enemy without fully understanding what they were up against. This choice seemed to be the only viable option at the time since every indication was given that surrendering would lead to their deaths. The choice to trust the wererat seems to have been not much of a choice as well, given the greater understanding of the forces arrayed against them. On balance though, as I pointed out, the players made the choices that led them to that situation, so I believe that their agency has been preserved. I suppose they could have turned on the wererat and tried to use that as leverage in negotiating with the soldiers, but they would have had to overcome the fact that they did attack them initially.

Campaign Juvenis is messy. I can't say as a player that I would be doing any better, but it seems as though there is a tendency to bounce from one idea to another without fully exploring them first. The statues were immediately classified as 'loot' despite the very specific descriptions given. This place seems to be a tomb. Nothing is there without a reason. I still don't know what significance they have although there could be corollaries between the four statues and the four creatures that have just animated. Despite the talk of efforts to prepare for opening the chest/door, and the recognition that the 'ghosts' would probably attack once the book was touched, no such preparations were made before touching the book. At the very least, positioning could have been improved and ranged weapons loaded.

In regards to liking the dungeon, it seems as though it is well thought out and probably very interesting, but if I were playing a low level character, this place would scare me right back outside. There are too many unknowns and too much that can easily go wrong if I misinterpret what I see around me, with limited ability to retreat. At the very least I would have very clear retreat plans in mind for what to do when I get in over my head, including how to overcome the fact that I have expended resources without appreciable gain.

I do think that an underlying theme that ties this together is the power of information, both in and out of game. At a table, emotions conveyed by the DM very well may make a huge difference. Also the rapid interactions that players are able to have with one another eliminates some poor decision making. Regardless, both parties have recently been in situations where if they had chosen to gather the right pieces of information they would have had more options available to them.

As an aside, I have gotten about half way through "How to Run" and am loving it. I used a checklist for the game I ran last night and it improved my performance dramatically. As a relatively new DM I am seeing the difference that careful preparation of scenarios that exist while not investing too much into the choices your players will make has on your ability to run a session.

Pandred said...

In regards to tone, I certainly have found it difficult to maintain a sense of peril over several hours, if not days.

The first time I read that I've been stunned, I'm devastated. When I check back a dozen times over the night and find that nothing has changed, that sense of urgency diminishes. Eventually it just comes down to a little head math about if I think I can stunlock my opponent before the same happens to me.

So far that's been the case. Rowan I had given up for dead as soon as I'd stepped into the fray, and it became about seeing which of my allies could make it out. Being honest, Pandred isn't any different. If I choose to step into the fight at all, it's because I think we can win it, and I won't stop swinging until everyone is either dead or safe.

In all of our combats thusfar, retreat has been difficult, if not impossible. I blame myself for that during the Roots encounter. I definitely should have clued into what was going on, but ultimately probably would only have adjusted my movement by a hex or two. The goal was always to try and flank the creatures, it just turns out that flanking wasn't relevent in that case. I gave myself no option to leave, trusting my allies to save me.

But the initial beetle fight? Even if we had prepared a ladder or something in advance, that's still one person climbing out per round, leading to more attacks on fewer targets, which is what happened. No retreat.

And now? The elevator has made it clear: no retreat. These frogs are crazy mobile, and would probably jump and climb over the cage, bring it down, and the people inside would drown in the pool below.

I've been pretty short with several responses lately, and that's out of a desire to tighten our ranks, knuckle down and acknowledge the risks we've chosen to take. We are in this to win this. No retreat.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I catch up the Juvenis campaign in bursts. Just read the latest posts yesterday, since I wanted to see what was up with the room beyond the statues.

The most recent "I have learned something from reading" moment was when you reminded whoever that they could see their javelin. I'll write a note reminding myself to focus harder on character sensation and perception, both in exploration and in combat (having had good results after your advice to emphasize inputs other than "what they see" and "what they're told.") I keep forgetting to do non-visual stuff but it'll come.

A small tangent: while running, I am starting to have moments, albeit isolated ones, of the sensation which feels like "OK, the party is discussing something, and I'm racing ahead mentally, trying to predict their moves and figure out what could come next if they pursue such and such." So now the goal is to try and inhabit that sensation for longer and longer stretches of time, without losing track of what the party is saying to each other.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Those are good moments, Maxwell. They say that you're starting to feel comfortable in the chair, that more of your thinking is being directed at the game and less towards worrying about what will keep the players interested.


I grant that the format is slow. But when I see you using words like "knuckling down" and "no retreat," it suggests to me that there remains a low buzz between the combats.

The set up to keep the party in a no retreat situation has also repeatedly begun with the party not having a "must move forward" moment. Each step had that got you into this trouble also had to be premeditated. Hell, you actually had to send back for rope before you could use the elevator. That's a lot of time to think about what you're about to do.

I'm a bit sad that I'm being read so easily as a DM, however. Engelhart knew that opening the box was going to wake up the creatures; when it didn't, he KNEW that touching the book would. If it hadn't, he would have "known" that reading the book would and so on.

Part of the issue for me is that the dungeon is a thousand years old. I've said this before. This means that whatever is down here has to be a) something that has inhabited the dungeon; or b) something undead. I have chosen c) something not undead, but in suspended animation, needing a trigger to "wake up." If I'd had another option, I would have considered it.

But things should be fun going forward from this point.

connor mckay said...

Well things I am finding educational,

1 - The extent to which the trade tables, stun combat system, detailed weather, potential for weather damage, food consumption, and all the other little details affect the feeling of the world as compared to those I've seen and run. I had read the original Senex campaign blog, but the current Juvenis campaign blog is making it much more evident for some reason.

While my current campaigns are trending towards a more 'gritty' feel I am still unsure if I will go as far as you have.

2 - All of the NPC interactions in the Juvenis campaign. I have yet to think of any of them as heavy handed, but the mention that they can be seen as such has made me reevaluate how I handle my current roster of NPCs.

3 - That stopping over thinking is much more important online than in person. This one is helping with my current online game.

Drain said...

Lots of good points being brought up regarding campaign Juvenis.

Alexis, I laud you for the dungeon's design, it manages to be very intriguing and varied while running counter to the sprawl usually expected from such a locale. This seems like a natural manifestation of your striving for realism, which dictates that underground real-estate should usually be at a premium. The challenges you face in stocking it and the creativity required to overcome them are also appreciated.

I agree wholeheartedly with Joey Bennett's assessment. The party's resistance to employing ranged weaponry has me frankly baffled, to the point that I'm the lone adventurer holding the d4 damage sling - proficiency-less, at that - that's pushing for ranged barrages.

The feeling is present that we do sometimes alternate between playing like a band of besuited insurance brokers (when faced with unknown quantities), while at others it's all bandanas and bravado (when faced with the proposition of combat). I think this might have something to do with the experience system - which I like! - subverting the approach to combat and reducing risk averseness, due to being hit having a hefty reward tag attached.

The sense of peril is fine, Alexis' descriptions feel both vital and _relevant_. The thing that play-by-post has impressed the most upon me (barring miscomunication pitfalls) is the sheer difficulty of getting a group of four people to agree and commit to a plan and a course of action that strays even the tiniest bit from the beaten path.

I mean, just now, had Embla Strand not rolled an impressive 6 on the initiative check, we'd be left staring down the barrel of 12(!) attacks before our first move, the possible prelude to a TPK.

I'll say this: nothing got my blood pumping quite like the first Beetle fight. It was intense, punishing and tactically demanding. The outcome, as it goes, was very much a corollary to all of that. If we come to face a combat as challenging as that anytime soon I expect the outcome to be not much different.

== Alexis: I'm a bit sad that I'm being read so easily as a DM, however. Engelhart knew that opening the box was going to wake up the creatures; when it didn't, he KNEW that touching the book would. If it hadn't, he would have "known" that reading the book would and so on. ==

I don't get the gratuitous jab, Alexis. I never proclaimed any knowledge other than voicing concerns (it's all right there on the posts, the emphasis you translate here is all yours). I may have speculated a bit for the sake of advertence, but surely nothing if not a common thing for a player to engage in.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I assure you Drain that it was definitely not a jab. It was an attack against me, if anything, for being obvious. Perhaps you did not know quite as sure as it seemed; but it does seem that I'm playing my hand with the cards showing.

I think that's an accurate read via insurance brokers/bandannas and bravado. Sooner or later there has to be a fight ~ I am mystified that either the party is taking maximum effort to protect themselves, then rushing singly into combat. On the whole, however, I think you're all doing better, both with communication and with handling the bad guys. I would be happy if I could get you all up to 2nd level; that would give a little more cushion to survival.

Drain said...

If one reads this blog, that means one has at least a latent desire to be a GM.

Through these analytical lenses, one almost cannot help but going meta and deconstructing things in light of the terms on offer.

Speaking for me, it's a reflexive thing, maturing as we get to know you: as particular style goes, I know you strive for coherence and realism, that you're sure not much for gonzo stuff. On a more general DMing appreciation, it's noted that you're obviously not out to put us in front of an unsurmountable fight without blaring a few warning sirens first.

Taking all these premises into consideration and accounting further still for the funnelling of options our level and dungeon environs force upon you and your hand is well and truly tilted right at the outset through no fault of your own.

I'll even up the ante a bit on the speculation front: the statues are each a representation of successive threats contained in further chambers, leading one to think that the dungeon might even be a menagerie of sorts, these beasties not being inhabitants so much as contained here against their will. I also speculate that the bearded toad will somehow be the toughest match.

But let these words stand at the forefront of your mind at all times: I'm having fun.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well, keep at it! We'll iron out these differences eventually.

Travis Miyashiro said...

Hello! I just caught up with the Juvenis campaign, haven't started the Senex campaign yet as I only found your writing like a month and a half ago and there's a ton of thought-provoking material to go through. I feel like there's so much to learn that I haven't delved into yet, but I'm really enjoying reading along with Juvenis.

I've found that I really like the choices you've made on a system scale. The sage abilities elevate the specific focuses of each character in a fantastic and I really like the dynamics between stunning and the experience system. Once I read that your experience system should reward players for doing the thing you want them to do, and I think seeing how the game plays out with such a system has helped me better understand how I enjoy a good game of D&D, both as a player and a GM. I think there's a lot of information I'm missing about how everything comes together, but even with the surface-level understanding I'm having a good time.

I like the way the dungeon has gone so far. There's a sense of logical construction which I appreciate, and I think you've managed the challenge of making a dungeon interesting despite the limit placed on making it a reasonable challenge for a group of mostly level 1 characters. There's a lot of limits placed on making low-level dungeons but I think you've made something very interesting in spite of that. It feels like a real place rather than a loot and XP container for the PCs.

The current combat has been very exciting for me as a reader. Every combat always feels dangerous with the stun mechanic, which makes me pay quite a bit more attention to what's going on. The possibility of facing a single large enemy will be a different challenge than they've faced so far and I look forward to seeing how they handle it. Or they might finish and escape before they have to engage, but I'm sure the call of treasure will bring them back down there even if they leave.

I'm glad I've found your little piece of the internet and will continue to educate myself on what you've written. There's a lot and I'm sure I haven't found everything I'm interested in yet. But I've greatly enjoyed lurking, even if I haven't put together enough of my thoughts or base knowledge to feel I can contribute to some of the discussions.

Alexis Smolensk said...

That is truly great to hear, Travis. I suggest you have a look at my D&D Wiki as well, particularly the description of my books on the front page. You might enjoy The Dungeon's Front Door, that talks about the theoretical manner in which I design my dungeons.

It is a shame that the blog campaign can't capture the speed with which combats like this are carried out at the table. They really move!

Thank you for your interest. Keep reading!

Maxwell Joslyn said...

When your real life campaign comes back, would you be willing to record a bit of combat audio so we can hear how fast they move?