Guest Post: The Power of +1

Several weeks ago, I was approached by one of my players who wished to write a guest post for the blog. He plays a Ranger in my Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign, and his character has the wonderful genre-breaking trait of hating the outdoors and anything associated with the wilderness. I found my player’s concept for the post interesting, and it built off a conversation regarding uneven leveling that has sprouted up in our games from time to time. Below is his column, which was shaped with a bit of feedback from yours truly and The Hydra DM who shares similar interests in dissecting the building blocks of a game – including Experience Points – and theorizing about what the results mean for those playing each session. During the life of The Id DM, I have hosted one previous guest post on the motivations of a Power Gamer. Enjoy the guest post below . . .

Power (Non-Outdoorsy) Ranger

Garrick, famed Urban Ranger, penned the following column.

As an introduction, I have played with The Id DM in a 4th edition game for almost a year.  I am almost ashamed to admit that after playing for that long I only recently examined this site. [Iddy’s note: he has not yet been punished for such insolence!]  I was impressed with how well put together the site was and how well written the articles were.  The reason I visited this site for the first time was because an old discussion was restarted about uneven party member leveling and the associated benefits and consequences of giving some party members varying experience for activities or actions completed, which in turn results in some players leveling before others.  The Id DM wrote an article that listed reasons to avoid uneven party leveling while another player in our campaigns, Dungeon Maestro, listed reasons to embrace uneven party leveling.

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Combat Speed in D&D Next

Over the weekend, I was finally able to play Dungeons & Dragons Next. Our group had first playtested the game over a month ago, but I had to miss that session. I jumped into the fray as Professor Giroux, High Elf Wizard. I enjoyed my time playing D&D Next, although I cannot provide grand conclusions regarding the game system for a variety of reasons.

Don't let his male-pattern baldness fool you. Professor Giroux can BRING THE PAIN.
Who needs armor when you have robes as resplendent as these?

First, it was the first time I played with a DM other than the gentleman who has been running our Scales of War campaign well for the past two years. The DM for our session of D&D Next also did a wonderful job and I enjoyed his style. Second, it was the first time I played with the specific collection of players at the table. A new player joined the group for their first D&D Next session and I had not met him previously. He was also a good addition to the game, but attempting to compare two game systems (4e and Next) between two campaign settings run by different DMs with different players is like comparing apples to hand grenades.

There have been many columns on initial impressions of D&D Next and I’ll certainly offer a few of mine before the end of the article. But I wanted to focus on the specific factor of combat time, which is how this blog started way back when. Below, I present preliminary data collected during my first D&D Next session, which illustrates a vast difference in combat time compared to other data available on 4th Edition D&D combat encounters.

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Dungeon Mastering: Theory & Practice

Several moons ago, I posed the following question on Twitter, “What is your biggest flaw as a DM?” I also asked, “What is your biggest strength as a DM?” It should come as little surprise that more DMs responded to the Flaw than Strength question because people remember negative events better than positive events. I had every intention of writing about the responses I got from DMs but was distracted by numerous things – one of which was rampant speculation about D&D Next.

Perfection? Look closer.

I have read with interest the updates regarding the design motivations for D&D Next. Many of the articles have focused on theoretical issues such as archetypal characters, edition reunification and other specific rule changes. When I finally returned to the list of personal flaws DMs provided, I was struck by how little their responses related to gaming mechanics and rules and how much they applied to the practical issues of running a game. While specific questions like, “How should Turn Undead function for a Cleric?” are interesting and perhaps even essential to facets of game design, the focus on mechanical issues seems to overlook the needs expressed by DMs.

Below, I discuss the numerous responses I received from DMs regarding their “biggest flaw” and organize their responses in several categories. Since I do not have access to the materials that will be provided for DMs to run D&D Next, I returned to 4th Edition manuals – specifically Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) and Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 (DMG 2) – to investigate the proportion of content that addresses the most common DM flaws. I conclude by advocating for a new paradigm in future DMG manuals with clear education on not only game theory (e.g., rules, mechanics) but also practice (e.g., communication with players, managing the table).

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Critically Hit by Mike Shea

I had the pleasure of talking about Dungeons & Dragons and several psychological components of roleplaying games with Mike Shea for the Critical Hits Podcast. You may know Mike Shea from his popular blog, Sly Flourish. Long-time readers of this site may remember he spent some time being interviewed by me last summer; but the roles have now been reversed!

During the podcast, Mike asked me questions about my approach to playing and running 4th Edition D&D games, which is certainly influenced by my education and professional work as a psychologist. I present ideas for how to monitor and manage communication before, during and after sessions, and we discuss how to respond if you happen to be “a bad DM” in addition to the notion that the DM is primarily an Entertainer. He also reviewed my previous research efforts on tracking combat speed and the progression of status effects in 4th Edition.

The 70-minute conversation is available for your downloading pleasure at Critical Hits, which should be included in your “I go to these sites at least a few times each week” list.

Power Options, Status Effects & Mutual Assured Destruction

Last week’s Legends & Lore column by Monte Cook discussed issues related to rule complexity. Many have suggested in that past that 4th Edition is too complex, which is one of the primary reasons for combat encounters grinding to a halt. The problems with complexity become more prevalent as the players advance in level to the degree that DMs face problems creating combat encounter that can challenge the party. This week’s Legends & Lore column expanded on the issue of complexity by asking, “What can you do on your turn?” The topic of 4th Edition’s complexity and how a rumored 5th Edition will resolve those issues is hotly debated, and the Legends & Lore columns only add to the speculation.

It is at these times that I enjoy delving into data and analyzing things before adding my two cents of opinion to the conversation. There are several assumptions that are behind claims that 4th Edition is too complex and becomes increasingly unmanageable as the party advances in level, which culminates in Epic Tier combat encounters that take longer to run and longer to design. Let’s examine a few of the assumptions:

  • Combat includes too many moving parts and the parts move more dramatically as the players advance in level.
  • Players gain more options in combat as they advance in level.
  • Players gain more powerful options (i.e., status effects) in combat as they advance in level.

Below, data is presented that address these assumptions.

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Do You Know Your Role?

My article next week will address several combat-related issues. Before that time, I compiled preliminary data to obtain feedback from readers. The following tables were created by coding the powers for three character Classes found in the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Character Builder.

To code the information, I went through each power (At-Will, Encounter, Daily) and coded the type of Status Effect it could apply to an enemy (or enemies). For example, if a power caused an enemy to be knocked prone and dazed, then the power was coded to have 1 Prone and 1 Dazed Effect. If a power did not apply a Status Effect, then it was coded as a 0; however, I have removed the zero values in the hopes of creating a table that is easier to view and understand. After each power was coded, I totaled the Status Effects by Tier (Heroic, Paragon, Epic).

For example, the first table below states the character has a total of 40 possible Status Effects that can be applied with the various powers (At-Will, Encounter, Daily) available during Heroic Tier. Obviously, a player cannot choose all of those powers, but this presents the options that are available. Of those 40 Status Effects available in powers during Heroic Tier, one causes an enemy to be Blinded, five cause the enemy to be Dazed, and so on. The values in each Tier are independent from the previous Tier. For example, the four powers that create a Dazed effect in Paragon are independent from the five powers that create Dazed in Heroic.  

As a prologue to next week’s column, I would like to see if players and DMs can correctly identify the Role of the three characters presented below. Please take the time to look at the tables below and determine if the results were created from a Leader, Defender, Controller or Striker.

Please leave a question in the Comments below if the tables are unclear, if you have thoughts about the data or how you arrived at the answers.

And please return next week for the results!

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Dungeon Economics 101

Managing treasure parcels for the my players is always an interesting challenge for me while DMing. It takes zero preparation to dish out monetory rewards to the party, “The lair has been cleared of enemies. In the corner, you find a chest with 200 gp and a brilliant red gem that you estimate is worth 50 gold pieces (gp).” A DM can get creative with describing expensive jewelry and art objects and even tie them in to the plot of the campaign, but the party is simply going to sell the treasure and split the gold equally. Monetary treasure parcels are typically split evenly whereas magic-item treasure parcels create potential balance issues within the party. The DM needs to invest more time in ensuring a good balance of magic items are found so that all in the party benefit equally over time.

Gold, Gold, GOLD!

In addition, I find discovering treasure parcels and splitting them with my fellow party members entertaining as a player. But something about the economics of 4th Edition has always trouble me, and I was never able to put a figure out why. As a player, I’d look at the gp I have saved up from many levels of adventuring and look at the price of items and think, “I could save up forever and never afford a decent magic item. What else can I even do with this gold?” Months ago, I reached the conclusion that treasure parcels and the economics of D&D 4th Edition were “broken,” but I didn’t have anything to substantiate that belief.

I returned to the question last week, and decided to finally add some structure and data to my belief that the economics in 4e are a problem. My primary means of addressing the issue was returning to the suggested Treasure Parcel list that appears in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I wanted to know how much treasure an adventuring party can expect to earn during a Level 1-30 campaign. The graphs below illustrate the data, and a discussion of potential uses for the data follows. It turns out that my belief that the economy is broken may not be entirely accurate. And serious bonus points to anyone that understands the reference in the picture above!

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