2008-09-01 Encounters

Justin Alexander writes about Encounter Design and argues that a game master should add more easy encounters to the game, thereby speeding up the game as those fights take very little time to actually run:

There’s a sense that a lot of us develop that says “if hit points aren’t being lost, then nothing happened”. This isn’t actually true. And, in fact, if the PCs aren’t losing hit points the more stuff will happen.[1]

This is an interesting idea, as I’ve grown fond of spending the first part of a four hour session talking and the second part fighting. One big fight every Monday – that’s not a lot. So I’m pondering Justin Alexander’s advice.

My players are often astonished when the fight is not tough. I get players laughing “where are the REAL enemies!?” and people saying “uhh... but these monsters are a cakewalk!” So there are various vicious cycles in play, here:

  1. Tacticians feel bored with easy encounters
  2. Easy encounters are only fun if you roleplay your awesomeness – if you just roll dice, nobody shines
  3. During difficult encounters, powergamers shine
  4. Everybody is compelled to do a little powergaming because it pays off
  5. People start complaining about the lack of story, the lack of character, the lack of actualy roleplay, the combat focus

What should I do now?

The interesting part is that powergaming is a group culture phenomenon. Apparently all my players are perfectly capable of playing in non-powergaming campaigns. It’s just that within the context of my Monday group, things are out of control. Some sort of reboot will be necessary.

Instead of sitting down and “discussing” the issue, I feel like abandoning the D&D 3.5 rules and playing some M20 Hard Core. Here’s what I hope this will accomplish:

  1. It should eliminate the between-game powergaming as there is no Magic Item Compendium to read, no magic items to buy, no lengthy spell lists or monster manuals to study
  2. This takes away player control over the mechanics and forces them to trust the DM (me). I think this uncertainty will strengthen roleplay. I’m a bit concerned about player vs. DM discussions, however. I’m hoping for a more neutral “referee” position for the DM.
  3. It will force the issue of crunchy rules. Those players who enjoy the rules so much that they don’t want to play without them are probably better off in a different gaming group. A year or two ago I was not in a position to make an informed decision as D&D 3.5 was new to me. But now I think I made a fair effort in mastering the rules and I find that my mastery has not increased my enjoyment of the game itself.

When I talked to Marco about it he was a bit sceptical, but he had an excellent suggestions: Do some one-shots first. And that what I’ll do.

And I’ll definitely start planning for the end of my Monday game soon – level 15 is far enough. I assume we’ll do a small adventure or two, and then go for the nexus of Tiamat in the Cinder Hills.

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