I play mainly the Adventurer’s League stuff. The magic items are assigned and you either get a certificate, or there is a blurb in the adventure you can photocopy/scan/take a picture.
Man, I remember the first time we tried 4e from 3.5 - the first combat took ages and lost all our interest. We stuck with 3.5 until our DM moved out of state a few years later.
For 5e, I used the item cards (from Paizo, iirc). I wrote out the stats once discovered, and let the players write in the description when given to them.
I ran probably my best campaign on 4e. Story wise, character engagement wise, fun factor. Shame about the combat, that part sucked.
I totally agree with what Armando said. In pursuit of perfect balance, they made the game boring. Every class was the same with a different skin. Combat took forever, and combat in 3.5 already took forever so this was like 3 forevers. At level 11 players and monsters start getting powers that make you miss turns and that’s when we all quit 4e. Waiting 30 minutes to do your round was bad enough now we’re getting stunned and charmed all the time? Fuck. That.
I want to play 5e. My group has invested heavily in Pathfinder books and accessories now, and they don’t want to switch.
I say “now” and we switched to Pathfinder in like 2010.
And part of the downside of all that 4E did wrong is that it had some really, really fucking good ideas.
Giving Fighters (and Fighter-alikes) definitive, awesome, gamescape-altering shit to do other than “I swing my sword” was fucking inspired. Battlefield lockdowns, status debuffs, area swipes, all coming out of the Fighter? Fuck that’s so cool!
Classes like the Warlord who’d not just improve their allies but actually do some genuine battlefield command shit and give them extra attacks and turns with even more bonuses tacked on? Omfg that’s so much better than just stacking a +2 Competence bonus onto their rolls thanks to your Bardic Inspiration. No, you’re out there issuing fuckin’ orders, man! How cool!
And then you’ve got the insane customizability of the classes. Take this Blessing and that Feat chain and suddenly your Control-oriented DIvine caster is rolling DPS, instead. Pick up this item and that Elemental Alignment and your DPS is somehow tanking? I love playing weird-out “builds” of classes (like Melee Sorcerers in Diablo 2), and with enough splatbooks and time, you could really rejigger the fuck out of classes in 4E in really interesting ways. THE COOLEST SHIT
Hell, 4E is one of the first places to describe what they called a Skill Challenge well, clearly, and concisely enough that GMs could just pick up the mechanic of chained-skill-rolls-as-complex-setpiece-action-sequences and roll with it. That’s one of the best bits of baseline GMing advice out there, and they fuckin’ made it central to their conception of non-combat encounters. COOL LEVELS CRITICAL
All of which gets bogged down by the too-perfect-for-its-own-good mathematical balance and the straight-path power advancement railroad and the hours-long slog of combat
I feel the greatest strength of 5E is that they kept a lot of the 4E good ideas but disguised them in a camouflage of traditional D&D verbiage and concepts so that old school players would accept them. For example the dry 4E breakdown of making every ability usable at-will, or X per encounter, or X per day persists in 5E. They just disguised it with short rests and long rests.
The new Pathfinder game has reignited my interest in the 5th edition, which I do enjoy a lot. I’m thinking about trying an Adventurers League game at my FLGS, either as a player or DM. Is the AL a good thing?
Also, should I play in an AL game before trying to DM? I have some experience DMing home games, but mostly with people I know every well, and my knowledge of the rules is a work in progress. I’ve been playing D&D casually since the late 70s, off and on, but that doesn’t mean I know the rules well!
Yes to both.
The AL adventures are good. They are made to be completed in 2-4 hours depending on the time slot. They are usually light on story, and have about 2-3 encounters. I like them because you don’t have to worry too much about resource management.
Play in a bout 3-4 before you DM. You will get a feel for how the tables expect to be run and the like.
I don’t understand how you guys can store all this information in your head. :(
Could you give an example? I run a 5th edition campaign and I definitely do not incorporate enough skill challenges, let alone encounters. This sounds cool.
@Mark_Crump: Thanks for the advice on the Adventurers League. I’ll try playing in one before DMing, as you suggest.
Here’s a youtube video talking about using them in-depth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvOeqDpkBm8
They can be really fun ways to allow players a bit of control over their expression of how they’re cool. I personally find they work better at an infrequent interval. If I use them every session, they start to lose their magic. Once every few sessions they can be a fantastic dramatic device.
Here’s an example. I ran the X1 Isle of Dread module for my 5e group. At one point some villagers wanted the party to take out a green dragon that had been terrorizing the nicer parts of the Isle. Two party members thought that it would be smarter to attack the dragon in the wild rather than attacking it in its lair. They wanted to lay an ambush. Even though they were right, this wasn’t what I had prepped.
I told them we were going to do a skill challenge to see if they were going to be successful. Half of my players had played 4e so they knew what I meant. I explained that they had described to me what they wanted to do. To do that, they needed to get five successes on skill rolls before failing three skill rolls. If they were successful, they could determine the ground on which they confronted the dragon. If they failed, they’d either have to go to the dragon’s lair or attack its lizardfolk allies.
But what did that mean? They would tell me what they wanted to do in order to bring about their stated goal. I told them they couldn’t repeat or reroll any specific skills, though other players could potentially Help them to give the skill checker advantage on the roll. If they wanted to scout the area to see where the dragon usually hunted, I told them to make a Nature or perception roll. Depending on the difficulty of what they wanted to do, I would assign a DC, and they’d meet it, beat it, or fail the check.
After the first few obvious rolls (Nature, Perception, Stealth) the players really had to get creative to find a use for a Skill they hadn’t rolled on yet. I think they wound up using Intimidate on a random lizardfolk hunter/gatherer for information, possibly an Arcana check… I’d have to check my notes. Anyway, they wound up passing the skill challenge (edit: I think they had failed two checks, so they were getting nervous), and were able to bait the dragon in a certain glade, mined with explosive runes, using their familiar as bait. It went well for them. I had fun, too.
Does anyone have a favorite play-by-post (PbP) site for D&D? I’ve looked at myth-weavers, RPG Crossing, RPOL, RPG Geek. I’ve read good things about Gamers Plane, but I have been unable to access it. Sorta leaning toward RPG Crossing because it has some nice newb features.
I’ll second @Djscman in noting that creativity is key, on both ends of the table, to be honest.
I actually kinda take Fate Core’s advice here more than 4E’s these days. . . at least in part because it’s been a good long while since I read those books (so, to your question, @YakAttack, no idea how I hang onto so much of it).
So, in that vein, I like to let non-combat portions of my games feature a similar sort of pacing and drama as combat, but obviously a lot of RPGs don’t give you nearly as many specific and fiddly tools to do that as they do in their fighting rules. Combat in D&D is a well-oiled machine with all sorts of dramatic moments and carefully honed lulls and choices to make at every step along the way. Obviously you’re not going to quite get to that level with a Skill Challenge, but it can be a little more interesting than pass/fail rolling!
I like to have required moments of success, like @Djscman, though I’m often not as strict about different skill usage so long as they’re using them in creative ways, which I think you can go either way on. The main point is to be forcing them to think of novel, cooperative means of tackling complicated problems.
I often don’t run with an explicit failure threshold; rather, failures or ties along the way might make subsequent steps more difficult, or introduce a mounting complication to the overall solution in the final product. In that same vein, extraordinary successes/crits might result in a decrease of difficulty for the next person in line or give some other carryover bonus anyone can use.
In some cases, the Challenge might be more of what Fate calls a Contest, as another side vies for position without actively trying to attack the party (this is especially applicable in, e.g., races), so along the way, they might be making their own rolls, either against the same challenges or a unique set. Sometimes the two sides can even interfere with each other, sabotaging the other’s success.
I tend to think of my difficulties into discrete buckets and then map the numbers to whatever system I’m using. I might “reward” a particularly creative/clever choice by dropping the difficulty, whereas when someone leverages their best skill in a really edge-casey/questionable way, I might let it through, but with a marginally tougher difficulty.
So, to put all that together into an example:
I am currently running the finale of a big “space race” in a scifi game I run, and I’ve broken it down into discrete legs; each leg is tracked as a skill challenge, representing a series of daring maneuvers and dangers the party has to navigate past. Basically, I track how much each discrete danger gets overcome by (that is, their success vs. my difficulty number) as their “score.” Since they’re racing against 9 other crews, I’m not really rolling for every enemy ship; I just kinda fake a number based on how well that particular enemy might do in the challenge in question, though the players can sabotage enemies’ scores by fucking with them mid-race.
So, for instance, in the first leg, the ships are all launched from the undersurface of an enormous interstellar woodland called the Star Forest of Eternity and must navigate through the grasping vines of the Unending Hedge beneath it, dodging the ship past graspers, navigating the maze, and choosing to either help or hinder opposing ships they come across. During this, the players at various points rolled Scanners to find weak points in the hedge to blast through, Piloting to evade the grasping tendrils, Ranged Weapons to blow apart chunks of the Maze, “Direct” Weapons (ship-arms! Outlaw Star style) to grapple with vines that have already latched on, Engineering to overcharge the shields to burn off extra plant matter, plus social Skills like Rapport, Deceive, and Provoke to engage with a set of other vessels that were engaged in an outright melee mid-maze.
For my part, prep there involved statting out the very basics and improving based off of player choice. Since it was the very first area of challenge, I didn’t want it to be especially tough, so the average difficulty that they ran into there was about a 3 for the simple stuff and a 5 for the big “threshold” rolls (in a system where you roll -4 - 4 on the dice and Skills add 1 - 4 more. In the system I used, players can Create Advantages to give boosts to future rolls, so my Challenges are designed with the idea that they’ll roll a couple of Advantages first, then roll to Overcome or Attack each stage of the problem eventually using their teammates’ Advantages to aid their rolls). So, I knew I wanted to have grasping vines, a maze, and enemy ships fighting in the way out. I sorta let them come up with the Skills they wanted to use to tackle those challenges and adapted as need be.
So along the way, they had a couple of failures, which resulted in some of the grasper vines latching on (hence the need to burn/rip them off before proceeding) in particular; they also initially made the firefight in the center of the hedge nastier, making it harder terrain to traverse later. So, I mean, either way, they were eventually getting out, but it was costing them valuable time (score points).
Sorry if this is a big rambling answer; I wrote it with several hour-long breaks throughout a very busy day!
I also try to use mounting complications over a specific failure condition (unless the situation calls for that). I think it’s best to have some complications or ways of upping tension written down before-hand if you are planning out the session. I don’t usually use them in the order that I write them, and often use some variation on them that fits better with what players failed to do, but I find having thought out some ideas of ratcheting tensions or failure states can help a lot.
There’s a good example of these in this One Page Adventure collection: https://www.reddit.com/r/DnD/comments/8j4geh/one_page_adventures_22_adventures_for_most/
About half of those are short dungeons, but the other half are skill challenges, with some suggested interesting ways to express progress and setbacks during the skill challenge. I like the way they’re written with little notes rather than explicitly detailing how it proceeds. It allows a lot of room for improv with enough direction to make it easy to do so. When I’ve written one for a homebrewed session it’ll look similar but way more short-hand, note-oriented.
Awesome, thanks for the replies everyone.
My players are going to be in a “confrontation” with the vestiges of a long dead god, something I want to be meaningful and have actual consequences. It will temporarily take their minds to a pseudo-reality or plane where actions within will have significant impacts on local reality, but where mistakes and poor execution can be harmful/deadly.
I’m so glad I read this thread today, now I can write material…
The other thing to keep in mind is if the FLGS has enforced time limits. Pretty much all of my AL stuff is at Cons, and you only have the 4-hour slot to start, finish, and take care of paperwork. Which is why I recommend playing a few first. If the FLGS doesn’t care if you run 15-30 min over, it’s not as big a deal.
Rolegate is relatively new but really, really nice for asynchronous RPG’s. Slick UI and features, and great on mobile. They’ve got a pretty active Discord for finding players/games.
Thanks for the suggestion. Role Gate looks promising. Thanks.