Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Encountering D&D: The Boss Fight

To be perfectly honest, if anything was a misstep in this adventure's design, it's putting Benwick up as the last fight instead of the giant, awesome dragon of the previous encounter. Story-wise, it totally makes sense to have a showdown with Benwick at the end of the chapter, and I understand why the choice was made, but fighting a portly monk/cultist after taking down a fucking dragon seems a bit anti-climatic.

Also, the meeting with Longstrider seems a bit, y'know, tacked on. It's like this entire encounter was more of an afterthought, and the season actually ended last week. Still, there are some nifty things going on here, and there are a couple of cute tricks you can pull into your own games, if you look for them.

Kendon Longstrider

The idea of having a wishy-washy NPC ally mechanically represented is cute. Here's poor never-seen-before Kendon, hanging out and doing his own thing, when his whole life gets flipped by some dragon cultists and a boatload of lizard folk. He doesn't know whose side he's on; he isn't on anyone's side, and if he can be convinced to fight for one side or the other, that has more to do with the force of personality of the people involved.

Kendon is sort of Everyman Fighterguy. He is the very definition of what I consider the Neutral alignment from 1-3.5 to have been; he's indecisive and will fight for anyone, mostly because he doesn't know what to think. He's known Benwick for a good long time, and he's seemed like a pretty alright dude, but the adventurers have saved the keep a couple of times now, and Ben's acting like a bit of a douche.

Having some (pretty much all) of your non-affiliated NPCs act like this guy probably isn't a horrible idea. I ran a session of Bones where a crowd of people was loyal to the villain, but when he started causing the deaths of hundreds of his fans, they started to turn on him. For a while, the struggle went back and forth between the party and the rock star they were fighting, but eventually the group won out and the crowd came to their aid in fighting the Badness.

It's Okay to Let the Boss Fight Go Long

There's a lot of boxed text in this session. Not so much in the beginning, but after everything's been taken care of, there's more, and the more is pretty hefty. That is totally reasonable, and I'm glad Wizards took the time to wrap the campaign up in a way that is interesting from a rules perspective (more on that in a bit).

One of the things that's been getting a lot of airtime in the 4E community is the length of your average fight, and how to make that time shorter. Personally, I like the long fights. If I spend a five hour session of D&D, and the single fight of the night lasts about an hour and half to two hours, that's a pretty solid session. It's something I needed to learn to account for in my game planning, but beyond that, there's no reason to vilify long fights.

Boss fights are allowed to go longer than most. They're supposed to be climatic moments in the story of the game, points where everything finally gets resolved, and sometimes you need to take some extra time to really focus in on those and make them worth it. It can be very satisfying to bash in the skull of someone who has been screwing you around for a few months (like Benwick has), and the players are going to enjoy finally taking his ass down,

The Quest Challenge

One of the best things about this chapter, one of the things that I looked at and went "Huh. Why didn't I think of that?" is on page eight of the adventure book. It has a little chart that tells you what all the minor quests were in the chapter, and then has you tally those up and see how you did overall. If your party succeeded in most of the minor quests, you get the happy ending. If your party failed at most of the same quests, you get the unhappy ending. This is an interesting look at what Chris Tulach, Greg Bilsland and Gregg Marks called "Branching tree design" at D&DXP last week. It's interesting to note that in this season, the only branch to the tree is in the last chapter, but I think we can expect to see branches like this coming out earlier in the season through March of the Phantom Brigade and Dark Legacy of Evard.

It's something that people who GM at home do fairly naturally. "Oh, you sucked at this thing? Well, it's definitely going to come back and bite you in the ass."

That's all I've got for this week's Encountering D&D. I have the books in for next week's Session, and I'm chomping at the bit to get the new season started. This one was a lot of fun and I hope that continues through the next few seasons.

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