Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Observations on an online gaming experience

This post is not about the technology used to play online and how it's working. Rather playing online and being 'removed' from the table provides an interesting perspective on how the party operates and makes its decisions. So this is a critique on some decisions we made as a party and as individuals during the gaming session. My intention isn't to single anyone out or offend, it's to open up some dialogue.

I'm going to start with the first encounter with the thugs and their prisoners. The way I viewed the encounter we had two options: 1) Skill challenge or 2) Combat. Rob who acted first in initiative went with option 1, though I'm not sure he approached it the way Jay was looking for. The rest of the party choose option 2. At the end of the encounter we were all still standing and only 1 slave was dead. I'll take it as a success. However, we could have been more effective.

The encounter with the bear was extremely frustrating from my perspective. Technology was lagging out my voice responses and all I heard from your end was everyone talking at once, all wanting to do something different. Again I saw 4 options available: 1) Sit and die (not likely going to happen) 2) Climb back up the cliff and lift the portcullis to escape 3) Riddle the bear with arrows 4) Open the gate and melee. Dropping the gate on the bear's head did not enter into my mind as a possibility and I will say it was brilliant. What frustrated me is when my turn came around I was asked "What does Ethan do?" I responded "nothing". Why? Because I didn't know what the party was planning. Everyone had a different idea and no one was making any decisions.

This caused me to think about how we make decisions as a party. My thoughts are that as a party we don't tend to make decisions. Or we don't make them very well. Our current process is to go around the table in initiative order and say "What do you do?" This allows the individual with the highest initiative to make the decision for the party, which is not the best way to make decisions.

What I would propose is two things: 1) Rather than go around the table and ask what do you do? We go around the table and ask what do you think we should do? Each player then gets to provide input as to what they feel the best way to handle the situation is. We try to be brief and we try not to interrupt others. Granted this won't always work or happen as Jay may indicate that we have 2 rounds to act or we are trying to be silent etc, but it is a starting point. This leads to idea 2) We need a party leader to then make the decision for the party based on the feedback of everyone. Then the party follows through with that plan.

Jay has said that he's taking it easy on us right now as we learn the system. However, once we hit level 2 he's indicated that the gloves are off. This has given us 10 encounters (1 still to be played) to learn the system, to learn our characters. Of these 10 only 1 has been completed as a skill challenge. Jay hasn't introduced minions yet and once he does there will be a lot more enemies to hit and we'll be taking much more damage. Which means we need to get our act together.

All this being said if the party thinks the idea I've laid out above makes sense then we would need a party leader, and a backup for when the primary is absent. Based on the characters created, their stats, backgrounds etc I would nominate Sterling or Delian as the party leader, with the other being the backup. I know my character certainly was not created for such a role.

My final point is about knowing what your character can and cannot do, along with what other party members can and cannot do. I'm going to use the final battle from Sunday for my example: At one point Delian moved to create a flanking opportunity. This opened him up to an opportunity attack, which he survived. When I saw this, I thought perfect I can move in to flank granting me Combat Advantage and an extra 2d8+2 damage dice. However, it wasn't my turn next and Braddoc moved into that position. Now I don't fault Dave for making that move. It granted him +2 to hit against the opponent. However, it denied me a lot of extra damage and forced me to move into a position that opened me up to additional attacks. As a rogue, I am a striker, I do a high amount of damage to a single target, that's my job in combat as I see it. However, I need combat advantage to do this. I think you'll all agree based on my crit of 37 pts of damage and consistent damage dealt in the low 20s that I do this fairly well. I also think you all want me doing that extra dmg rather than just d4+4.

Now, imagine if this had happened instead. Dave moved 1 square to the right, putting him adjacent to 2 mobs (where a defender should be!). He then does his combat challenge on the mob he attacked and makes his attack. Then I move down and make an attack doing a high amount of damage. If the target attacks me Dave gets to attack it as an immediate interrupt which would have likely killed the target. This sequence sees Derek's sacrifice being best used, my abilities being allowed to be used, and Dave's abilities being best used as Dave would have gained a 2nd free attack on the mob. If the mob had attacked Dave, well fine. He's got more hit points and AC than me, he's built to absorb damage.

Now my intention isn't to point a finger at Dave, I don't fault him for what he did (even though it frustrated me!) and it could be argued that this is what his character would have done based on the back story. I know I've made a few moves that were specifically in character that weren't the smartest and I the player knew that and the rest of the party may well have said wtf? I'm trying to RP the character through combat (hopefully not getting him killed in the process) so that the character can learn and grow. Fortunately, most of that is now done.

My point is for all of us to do 3 things: 1) really learn what your character can do, and make the most of all the action types especially minor actions. 2) Learn what the other players can do to create situations to maximize their abilities. 3) Pay attention in combat when it isn't your turn, because you still might be able to do something!

Ok rant off, I look forward to a healthy discussion.


Jay Vandendool said...

Wow. Excellent post. I have a few thoughts on this but as DM I will defer to your discussions. However I am sure I can adjust to allow the opportunity for appropriate discussion prior to combats. It won't always work due to surprises and such but at least 6 of the 9 encounters so far could have benefited from some planning.

When you have decided what you wish to do as a party I will make adjustments to gameplay for you as I can.

skallawag said...

I'm fine with either Sterling or Delian as leader.

Being not removed from the table, I find it very frustrating how slow the combat still goes. It seems as if 30 minutes goes by between my attacks. Maybe it's because of the class I play, but I usually know what I'm going to do when it's my turn. Move, attack, roll, etc... I'm done in like 10 seconds.

On another note, I think we need some global initiative tool or something cuz nobody seems to know who's turn it is and that causes a lot of time wasted.

Jay Vandendool said...

We could use the trick of making a copy of the tokens on the map and placing them in initiative order.

I know version 1.4 of Maptools plans on integrating InitTool but that is a LONG way off.

Celestial Bison said...

Overall, I like your ideas.

In principle it should work in situations where we have lots of time to make a decision. ie. The bear encounter. It was trapped behind the gate and we were not immediately threatened. There was no reason why we had to go in initiative and ask everyone what to do.

However, the slave encounter at the cave intrance was a different scenario. One that required my characther to act (with or without) the party because of role playing circumstances.

If you have not already noticed I try to involve the religons in my dialog and actions. Every single combat so far with Jonathon I've always gone out of my way to try and protect inocent civilains. I've always potisioned myself in front of dying women, attacked those that are threatening to kill someone etc, even if it meant extra risk to myself and/or the party. I did it in the bar a few games ago ensuring one of the women weren't killed. And I did it again last week. My only target for attacks was the guy cutting heads off the slaves.

I do not see that changing because it's the way I see Jonathon as a characther. It's a combination of religous oaths, personal history and honor.

My point being, the moment we heard there were slaves being killed in the caves I had no intention of waiting around for a discussion. Other party memeber we searching bodies, exploring huts, etc and you'll notice I moved immediately to the cave intrance wondering what the hell everyone was waiting for. We had people to save. Then when it was turn I tried diplomacy and an act of good will by lowering my weapons to avoid uneccessary death. Now that I think of it I didn't get to roll a diplomacy roll there. But my fault for not asking.

Point is, when we have time I love your idea about having a party leader and delegating roles and things to do. However, circumstances will come up where my characther will have no intention of waiting around to vote on what to do.

skallawag said...

I'm pretty sure when you charge into combat someone is going to die, whether it be a PC or an NPC (slave in this case). When a bank robber has hostages, the police don't just charge in even though according to you they would charge in recklessly because innocent lives are in danger.

My character prefers strategy and planning over reckless abandon. In some cases where goblins are concerned she loses her cool. I guess what I'm trying to say is, that if you put Larien's life in danger over and over, then there's less chance that she'll be there to cover your ass over time.

Celestial Bison said...

I agree with you 100%. Jonathon on the other hand (or at least how I see the characther) may not.

Want to make sure there is no confusion with my views with the characther concept.

We'll see how it plays out. I was skeptical of all the technology for D & D with this group but with the blog I'm sold. Still not so sure about notebooks during the game though as I find a lot of players (including me) get easily distracted doing things online.

Jay Vandendool said...

Self-disciple my child... self-discipline.

Neil said...

Rob, I'm not going to fault you for attempting diplomacy with the thugs as it's exactly what your character would have done. In fact I applaud you for playing your character. However, 4e works slightly different than 3.5 in how skills can be used in encounters.

When you started things with diplomacy it was like starting a skill challenge which requires the whole party to participate. Skill challenges aren't a 1 man show. The rest of the party moved in for combat negating your attempts. Taking a few seconds to say we should use diplomacy aka I'd like to try this as a skill challenge first and getting the party on board would have increased the chances for success.

Granted the rest of the party could have moved in and used other skills to assist with a skill challenge rather than going to combat. So blame is shared on this. A brief pause to say how are we going to handle this, rather than individuals all reacting differently. It just hammers home the point that we all need to be on the same page or things will turn into a cluster fuck.