Monday, September 21, 2009

4th Ed on 9/11/1984

I recently played in a 4th Ed D&D one-shot that had superhero and 9/11 themes. Ra's al Ghul and Prince Namor were up to no good at the World Trade Center, endangering thousands of lives, and mix-and-match crew of PC superheroes from the Marvel and DC worlds had to save the day. It was 9/11/1984, because the GM wanted to use versions of the PC's (Captain America, Batman, Wonderwoman, North Star, Black Canary, and Invisible Girl) from the 80's prior to the 90's power creep that affected some of those characters. I played in this game at GwenCon.

The GM had never run 4th Ed before. I had never played 4th Ed (but have read the 4th PHB and DMG) before, and one of the other players had never role-played before. We were playing 18th-level characters. Despite that hefty set of self-imposed hurdles, I was definitely impressed at how smoothly combat flowed. It's hard to imagine similar results from 18th level characters and first-time players in either 3.x or 2nd Ed D&D. 4th is really sweet, and easy to pick up.
A quick aside: This experience left me kinda wondering why I'm bothering with Savage Worlds - 4th's rules are far tighter, and character creation / advancement appears to be less fiddly than in SW. But that's a topic for another time - and rather similar to what I was griping about last week.
That said, it certainly wasn't a perfect gaming experience. The game was basically two fight scenes, with a very brief bit of narration between them. This was a big shock, given that the GM (Dqniel) had run an absolutely awesome Cthulhu scenario at GwenCon 2 years back. Because of the skill he'd shown in crafting and running that adventure, I was expecting a lot this time. I anticipated getting to role-play a bit more and roll a bit less. I had my hopes up - especially after seeing the jawdropping prop he'd made (see below).

Of course, what you get out of an experience is based in part on what you bring to it. I don't check my email too often, so I missed out when he sent out the pregen characters for us to choose from. As a result, there wasn't much of a choice left for me - I got stuck playing Black Canary. I've never read a comic with her in it, and didn't know a thing about her, so had there been more role-playing opportunities, I probably would have stalled out. Lack of knowledge on both character and system was a big handicap for me. My bad - there's definitely things I could have done to enhance my enjoyment of the game. I was playing a sort of monk-ish build, and didn't really know what my combat role was. In retrospect, I think I was a Striker. A tiny bit of homework on my part prior to the game would have done wonders.

Speaking of wonders, Dqniel brought something to the game that was the gaming equivalent of one of the 7 Wonders of the World. He had a 6-foot-tall scale model of the World Trade Center. He's a graphic designer by trade, and so had assembled this breathtaking foam-core and cardstock model of all the various towers. Hands down, it's the coolest single prop I've ever seen in gaming. I can't say enough positive about it - I really wish I'd brought my camera. This prop more than made up for whatever minor gripes I may have had about the pure-combat plotline (which wasn't really pure combat either, to be fair, as there was a vital skill challenge in the midst of the second fight).
UPDATE: I found a photo one of the other GwenCon attendees put up on the web. Check it out here. He or she put a caption saying it's a 4 ft model, but I think that's selling it short. I'm 6ft and change - my eyes were maybe two inches over the tops of the towers, so I'd guess the towers about 5'3" or so. The aerial on the roof of Tower #2 reached up pretty close to the top of my head, IIRC. I sure don't think I could be overestimating by more than a foot. The photo, nice as it is, doesn't do it justice. The big towers just look white or uniform light grey in the picture. Dqniel had used Illustrator, and the panels all had grids on them to give the proper wall-of-windows skyscraper effect. Much more impressive in person then on film/screen, I'm afraid, but at least this gives you an idea what we're talking about.
One last bit of praise for Dqniel - the man has patience and tact. There was a player who kept wandering away from the table, disappearing for 5 to 20 minutes at a time. Expecting that if his turn came round while he was still gone, he'd just hold his action, and get to take a turn almost instantly upon returning. Dqniel handled himself with a lot more composure than I'd have managed if some ...person... tried that at my table. Had I been GMing, the second (maybe third) time he wandered off without saying anything, I would have dropped him from the game. When he came back, I'd have said "sorry dude, you failed a save and died". I know, it's harsh. But by the end of the 4-hour block, I wanted to scream at this player - he was repeatedly disruptive and disrespectful. Dqniel kept his cool, though, didn't let it phase him at all. Buddha would have been impressed.


Spikey said...

Dropping a player like that isn't harsh man, it is the right thing to do. The responsible thing to do really, given that the GM is the one trusted with the enjoyment of the rest of the players.

"The needs of the many outweigh the arse-holeness of the one." ;)

Not that I wouldn't have been in awe of the GM keeping his cool in the situation.

r_b_bergstrom said...

Actually, I think it's both harsh and the right thing to do.

Spikey said...

I can live with that definition. :)

dQniel Kaufman said...

Thanks for your kind words. I'm not going to lie, the "inattentive" guy bugged me. New players or players new to the system are fine... I think it's fun to teach people that way.

As for the adventure itself, I could have added more opportunities for role-playing, but it was super-heroes, after all, and it did end with a skill challenge, instead of a KO... but, you are right on target with your assessment of combat encounters.

The adventure you wanted to match your previous experience was the one I ran straight after, the 9-11 Cthulhu. It was a classic disaster movie template with ordinary characters... I didn't even use character sheets, just index cards with the descriptions and motivations of the PCs.

I'm more than likely going to run it again next year, along with a couple others, so email me when the sign up sheets go out if you want to make sure to get a heavy RPGing one.

Thanks again, man! I enjoy having you as a player!

r_b_bergstrom said...

Good to hear from you, Dqniel! I'll happily sign up to play in your Cthulhu game at the next GwenCon, so thank you for the offer.

I would have played in it last year, but the two games I was most interested in (yours and Tim Beach's) were both scheduled for the same time block. It was a very hard choice of which to play in. Hopefully the schedule will work out better this year.