Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Of trolls and campaigns

In a pen & paper role-playing game, like in any other multi-player game, players sometimes disagree on how a player should play his character. A good DM never gets embroiled in that sort of discussion. Instead, things just happen in the game which give a player a new perspective on his character. :) That is both more subtle, and usually more effective.

One of the players in my 4E campaign played his wizard like a pure damage dealer, concentrating on fire spells. I didn't mind for most of my campaign, until another player rolled a new character and chose a sorcerer. So now the group was not only heavy on dps, the wizard also had direct competition in magical damage, and by a class which was actually designed to be played like that. So I decided to show him what else a wizard can do. When the group was fighting an undead ice mage, a fire spell by the wizard triggered "The Ice Curse" on him: All his fire spells were replaced by ice spells until the curse would be broken. Thus for the last two sessions the wizard has used ice spells instead of fire spells. And it turns out he likes it. He also got a magical Staff of Winter from the undead ice mage, so now he wants to keep the curse and the ice spells. So far, so good.

Now the Madness at Gardmore Abbey adventure we are currently playing is coming nearer to its end. I already have the next adventure lined up (Stubborn co-wrote it). But because I like to be a bit more prepared in advance than just the next adventure, I also started reading the adventure I wanted to play after that. I had selected that adventure some times earlier because it is the WotC "official" first adventure of the paragon tier (level 11 to 20), and that is where my players should be at the end of the next adventure. So I started reading P1 King of the Trollhaunt Warrens. And quickly realized that this adventure wouldn't do at all, because of how I had messed with the spells of the wizard. Obviously the adventure is full of trolls, and in D&D they can only be permanently killed by attacks with fire or acid. I can't put those mobs in front of my wizard after I took his fire spells away! He would be quite justifiably angry.

Now I could choose another paragon adventure for my campaign. But I think having finished the heroic tier would be an opportunity for something more than just the next adventure of the next tier. By that time we will have played that campaign for 3 years, and I think starting a new campaign would be a better approach. When we started this campaign, it was the first time I was the DM for this group, having played with them only as a player before. I had to find back skills that had become rusty. And we started 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons for the first time, which isn't a very easy system. So while I am quite pleased how this campaign has worked out, in hindsight I also see its flaws: As an episodic campaign, stitching adventures from different sources together, the campaign story is weak, and the world generic. As I started the campaign in a special "zero level" mode, most of my players don't have a background story at all. And the players choose their characters before knowing how the game really worked (although the zero level thing helped there).

So what I would like to do starting somewhere next year is to play the Zeitgeist: The Gears of Revolution Adventure Path. That is a whole 4E campaign full of adventures that comes with its own unique campaign world. So this time my players already know the 4E system, and I will start the campaign by explaining that unique campaign world to them, and what their role (as a group) in that campaign is. Only then do they get to create characters, and I'll use some rules from other systems (like 13th Age's "one unique thing") to create backgrounds with my players for their characters. I asked around, and it seems my players also like the idea (or are just happy to play anything I prepare). Zeitgeist is really a great example on how to get the best of both worlds, 4E tactical combat rules and great role-playing. I'm looking forward to this.

That looks good, Tobold.

I'm interested if you have any concerns surrounding the fact it is both a D&D 4E and Pathfinder adventure path? I'm guessing a story is a story is a story, but given those are quite different rulesets, any qualms?
Fundamentally I don't think the ruleset makes a difference. For example one of the first adventures I played in my current campaign was the Standing Stones of Sundown, which was from a 1990 Dungeon Magazine and written for 2nd edition D&D. I just had to tweak the combat encounters a bit to make it a 4E adventure.

A ruleset is just a system to resolve the situation where a player says that he wants to hit the orc with his sword, and you need to find out whether he hits that orc, and whether he kills it. Which ruleset you use doesn't change the story that the player is killing the orc.
The new campaign does look interesting, although I'm not looking for a new setting myself, I'll enjoy reading about it when you start :-)

As for the troll issue, I'm in two minds. I understand what you say about the player feeling upset that his/her spells are less effective than they would have been. But that doesn't mean I'd never use trolls against the party because of that - you did say the player chose to keep the curse. Maybe some creative use of ice to trip or freeze the trolls would help other party members deliver the killing damage with fire or acid...
And Zeitgeist is written for 4e, then converted into PF anyway.
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