Castle Smoulderthorn Parte 4

O Playtest Report dessa semana é novamente sobre o jogo de Eberron do Dave Noonan, aquele que anteriormente eu reclamei das adaptações e gambiarras. Agora temos um relato por parte do DM justamente das dificuldades de adaptar (ou reinterpretar) o grupo para a quarta edição e as mudanças que o design da aventura sofreu por conta disso.

Thursday Night, Wizards Conference Room (Wayne Manor).
Campaign Arc: Castle Smoulderthorn
DM: Dave Noonan
Players: Bruce Cordell, Richard Baker, Logan Bonner, and Toby Latin

By now, you’ve probably read playtest reports from Bruce Cordell, Logan Bonner, and Rich Baker. They’re all players in my Thursday night Eberron game. And they’re really good at capturing feedback—good, bad, and ugly—so I won’t duplicate what they’re trying to do. But I have a perspective they lack. Because I’m the DM, I’m also “playtesting” how the game functions away from the table. It’s crucial to get the game itself to work, of course. But it’s also important to get NPC creation, encounter design, and adventure-building right.

That’s the subject of this playtest report: How the game is functioning when the dice aren’t rolling.

Session One: Welcome to 4th Edition

My Thursday night group is about half Wizards game designers (including the aforementioned Rich, Logan, and Bruce), and half guys and gals in their thirties who work in various high-tech jobs here in the Seattle area. It’s a big table—seven regulars, and we get five or six of ‘em for every single session.

For years, they’ve been a personal testbed for whatever my day-job design task was. They played the Player’s Handbook II classes before anyone else, battled their way through Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde, and faced off against the denizens of Monster Manual V. So back in June, they were among the first groups to try out the new rules.

At the time, the new rules weren’t complete, and they sure weren’t pretty. I dropped a lot of three-ring binders in the middle of the table on that first night, gave a little lecture (complete with whiteboard diagrams) about some of the overarching rules changes, and said, “Create a new version of your character that’s as faithful to your existing character as you can manage.”

It took about 90 minutes, because this iteration of the rules is fiendishly complex. (We’re paring it down as I write this, actually.) There were a couple of pieces I knew I’d be missing. The gnome and warforged races hadn’t been written yet, but Logan and fellow designer Chris Sims came to my rescue with serviceable versions. Bruce’s character, Infandous, used both a race (élan) and a class (psion) that we hadn’t written yet. In his case, we punted. We’re using the mechanics for a human wizard, but Infandous is still acting like an élan and describing his abilities in psionic terms. For now, that’ll do.

I suppose the good news is that we pulled it off. We got rolling again that night, using the new rules. We only played two encounters, but my players were drinking from the proverbial fire hose, so that was probably for the best.

And the first session cheered me in another way. I felt like I probably saw a process that’ll be replicated in basements everywhere come next year. It’s probably inevitable that early on, other gaming groups are going to have to “reinterpret” their characters rather than slavishly “convert” them. There’s just no way that on release day, we’ll have the same amount of character options that it took us eight years to write in Third Edition.

But if we could do it with fragmentary rules in three-ring binders, you can do it with the nicely polished rules we’re going to deliver next year.

Session Two: Lots of Prep Time

My players had to get used to the idea of reinterpretation rather than strict conversion. Like Bruce’s “I’m a psion, not a wizard” character, they had to use one rules element but pretend it was another. That was a technique I needed to employ, too.

When we started out playtesting, we had 139 pages of monsters. That sounds like a lot, but spread out over the entire level spectrum, it really isn’t. And when you apply the “monsters you’d realistically find in Castle Smoulderthorn, a Blood of Vol fortress floating over Karrnath” filter, the number of available monsters shrinks even further.

A small monster supply was my first dilemma. But I wasn’t sure just how small the monster supply was, because (forgive me if this seems obvious) no one had playtested yet. I didn’t know how far up or down the level scale I could travel and still build fun encounters for my 7th-level PCs. Could I run 9th-level monsters? 11th? 13th? Where does it become just too hard? We have answers we think are right based on the fundamental numbers of the game, but no actual at-the-table yet.

But I had enough monsters to work with for that first session:

  • Azer minions and a magma brute for the fire level? Check. That’s a pretty easy swap for the azers and fire elementals I had planned there.
  • Bonecrusher zombies and a zombie hulk go into the reliquary. That’s a bit different than the Blood of Vol clerics I’d slotted in there, but I wanted to put the new monsters through their paces. (And a robust NPC creation system is something we don’t have… yet.) I had to knock back some of the walls to give the zombie hulk room to maneuver, but that’s an easy architectural change. But I didn’t stop there, coming up with some shaky ceilings that just might collapse if the zombie hulk rampages too close to the pillars.
  • The ossuary has wraiths and rot scarab swarms. That’s an upgrade from my 3.5 design, which had just wraiths in there. I added some alcoves for the rot scarab swarms to scurry out from, and built a little positional/timing tactical puzzle. PCs that kept their wits about them could avoid inciting the rot scarabs for a few rounds, but PCs that rushed in pell-mell would have to face all the monsters at once.
  • I saved the entrance platform for last. There I originally had a bunch of Emerald Claw elite soldiers backed up by some Blood of Vol warlocks. I spent a lot of my prep time rebuilding those soldiers and warlocks, because I knew that work would pay dividends for future sessions. Those soldiers and warlocks are spinkled all across Castle Smoulderthorn. I built them as monsters—after all, my players would never know the difference, right? And at this point in the game’s design, monster creation is much more a function of benchmarking than a function of deriving statistics by formula (which is pretty much the 3.5 design technique). I begin with the end in mind in terms of AC, hit points, and all the other salient statistics. I add cool attacks, plugging in relevant numbers there, too. And voila! I’ve got my soldiers and warlocks.

The most exciting part of my four-room redesign was that in each case, I was adding more monster variety to the mix and some more complex environmental nuances. With 4th Edition, I can get away with that now because the inherent “processor load” on the DM is much, much lower than it is in 3.5. Because I have only a fraction of the bookkeeping/information management duties, I can add that complexity back in fun ways. For this session, I’m going to run lots of heterogeneous monster encounters. I’m keeping everything right at level 7; nothing but strictly level-appropriate encounters.

Session Three: Holy Hannah, I’ve Got a Game Tonight

Let’s fast-forward a week. Suffice it to say that my four rooms worked like a charm. During the second session, I found myself with extra time on my hands—I think I was actually burdened less by minutiae than my players were. (And like I said, we’re working on the player complexity issue.)

But my day job kept me busy. So busy, in fact, that I found myself at 5 p.m. on Thursday asking myself, “How can I come up with a whole session of material in less than an hour?”

My answer: Be like Bruce.

In the previous session, I’d used up a lot of the monsters that would be “appropriate” for Castle Smoulderthorn. But that left all the inappropriate ones, which I could probably put to work if I just put them into some Eberron– and Smoulderthorn-appropriate clothing.

  • The hellsword cambions from the monster three-ring binder? Now they’re my “fire minotaurs.”
  • I filed the serial numbers off the githzerai monks and githzerai zerth and turned them into Vol’s “Sentinels of the Ancestral Bloodline.”
  • The yuan-ti assassins became Blood of Vol assassins, and I merely moved the poison from their fangs to their weapons, and pretended like they had legs all along.

And at the table, I totally got away with it. This isn’t a technique I recommend as a matter of course, but when you’re dealing with both time constraints and monster-supply constraints, it worked like a charm. I had the whole session buttoned up and ready to go with time to spare.

O relato da primeira sessão é basicamente uma transcrição dos primeiros minutos da última edição do podcast de D&D. Acho essa idéia de reinterpretar os personagens longe do ideal, mas pelo menos é honesta – não acho que eles seriam capazes de fornecer um guia que cobrisse todas as opções de talentos, e principalmente, classes de prestígio. O resto é uma descrição até bacana dos monstros que ele utilizou nas quatro salas do castelo e como lidou com a escassez de monstros prontos até então para o playtest.

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