Hold the phone: Strange things afoot at AL

I was hoping to have a nice, well thought out piece about DM burnout, but, instead, my game of D&D on Wednesday got kind of crazy so I have to change up what’s on my docket for today.

To start with, did I mention I was going to use a variation of Dr Who RPG initiative? Not for actual combat turns, of course, but for how the game is run in-between exploration turns. (Quick refresher: Everyone declares their intent for their actions, then the talkers go first, then the movers, then the doers, then the fighters)

It… mostly worked? There were a couple of times when it didn’t really do the job well. Times when I should have said: “Okay, we’ll resolve all of this groups encounter, then deal with that groups stuff.” That would have been clever of me.

My party used a lot of OOC knowledge. I say party, but, really, I just mean one player used it a lot. And I called him on it. And he abashedly tried to justify it. If I had more leeway, I would have used it as an amazing teaching tool about caution in dungeons. As it stands, I decided I didn’t care enough to push the issue further.

Another player did a similar OOC, but he hasn’t played as often, so didn’t know better.

I have two newer players at my table that I am slowly breaking of a lot of bad habits.

And their brother came this week and it was horrible. He kept doing “random” stuff, hoping to be funny. Sometimes, sure, in D&D that can fly. In a Dungeon, tho? When half the party is rather wounded, with all healing spent? (Week before had some nice traps)

Look, I understand that people think “random” is funny, but I don’t. Real, true humor is a build up. You might laugh at a quick pun, but in something like this classic bit, the humor comes from the individual jokes being greater as a whole. Individually, the lines aren’t funny. Together, they’re gut busting.

This maybe why I haven’t been a fan of Deadpool since I was in highschool. Sure, that’s partly my hipsterism acting up, but most people cared more that he was random and zany than the fact thay he has occasionally been used as a carrier for some deep stories. The Mithras Initiative has a lot of random ‘Pool, but it also asks a amazing question about free will, one that no-one else in the comics could deliver in quite that way.

Another big part about random acts is the fact that it messes up the tone that is trying to be delivered. When the table is focused on trying to figure out the mystery of a room that could kill every one with one mis-step (man, the previous week had some fun traps.)  And here is this joker who is casting random (Chimichangas! This is an example of chaos disturbing the tone.) spells that do nothing.

Well, nothing positive. Because I am acting in a spirit of fair play, I’m giving him equal screentime, which detracted from the scene, as he didn’t add anything to the investigation, just stole time from it.

Imagine if the comic relief of a movie got equal screen time to the hero and the villain. Like, if in the little mermaid, we had a scene that was 20 minutes of that seagull going through and expounding on various treasures. And that’s 20 ACTUAL minutes, not hyperbolic minutes.

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out what to say to him about it next week. I may just make a little sign that says “Characters will probably die at this table” He’s only shown up the once, so maybe he won’t make it. If he does the same thing tho, I will say something. Probably just “Dude! You’re throwing off the tone!” That’ll show him.

And, oh, yeah. Character have a solid chance of dying next week.

So it was basically random chance that next week is going down. The bard made the choice of running away from the fight. I decided he should draw a random encounter. He drew the Jack of Clubs. That, in my D52 encounter table, is marked as “Pureblood Deception” which means a Yuanti is going to try to infiltrate the party. No one questioned the NPC. (except the aforementioned random guy, but his random declarations was him crying wolf and no one paid attention (another reason to not do that!)

The fact that I needed to cash in NPCs betrayal this week and not in the future was not random. This party has a reputation (a history, maybe?) of picking up an NPC and doing nothing with them. Instead, they end up kind of tagging along, doing nothing until the party remembers they exist, like V’s familiar.  (Man, that’s a good page. I quote it a lot, but forgot Blackwing was in it.)

So yeah, the fact that the party will start next week surrounded by enemies in an amazing outnumbered ambush had 4 levels of chance. (although the Ace of Clubs would likely have done the same thing, TBH, just without the lying.)

Surprising like a good DM, I somehow managed to close the night on a story beat: The party surrounded, a choice of whether to fight, flee, or submit. Spoiler: They are not going to submit. I did ask what they intend and, although they didn’t actually make a firm decision as there is likely 3 more key players next week who were absent, I got an idea of what the party was likely to do, so I can prepare for it in a better way.

So now, I have assigned myself  the task of coming up with a way for the party to run a running retreat, with a system for giving the party choice, but not letting the fight turn into a slog, or the chase into a straight numbers game.

A daunting task, but I think I can do it. It involved 2 things I think I’m good at: recognizing what to abstract, and using the rules as built, although not exactly written or intended.

Abstraction in an RPG can be done in a few ways. First is numerical abstraction like hit points and spell slots and ability scores. They don’t really mean what they are, they’re just a useful mechanic for us to build the game around. The second is what I will call cinematic abstraction. As you know time and distance don’t mean much in a movie. There’s also a lot of logic and world building that is done with a hand wave as opposed to hard rigorous exposition, but that’s mostly for time.

My first big breakthrough in planning this encounter is deciding that having everyone run off the map just once would be boring. I want this to be the focus of the whole evening, not a short scene. Heck, I’d love this to be the highlight of Adventurer’s League in total for my players! So we can’t limit it to one field.

What I decided is there will be about four scenes for the chase to occur through. Okay, there will be exactly four. Not because of any story crafting meta reason. I looked at my city that this chase is happening in and picked out 4 end points that could happen. Not that there couldn’t be more, because this is D&D after all and people can do crazy things. CRAZY things. But I have 3 paths that seem likely and fun. So with the end points in mind, I built it back and, oh hey look, there are 4 scenes the players will go through from start to end.

They will most likely need another long rest, after this >:D

I’m not going to really monkey with how combat works in a scene. Much. What happens in the ‘panel boarders’ of my 4 scenes is what interests me. That’s where the magic occurs; where the abstraction makes a story more exciting then it is. Here is what I came up with to capitalize on that power.

Fighting Retreat Rules

Each scene has one or two places designated as an “exit.” When a character gets to the exit, they are no longer in the scene. (Ideally, the party agrees on an exit that they all head to. No idea what happens if a person heads a place on their own. I should probably figure that out…) When out of the scene, they cannot take any actions, not can they be acted upon. (Probably skips their init too, which is important for how I’ll be working it.) A character who is knocked unconscious is also removed from the scene, and subsequent scenes.

When all characters have left the scene, we move to the next scene. All active players roll a CONSTITUTION (Athletics) check. (Basically, 4e’s endurance) The DC is determined by 10+ the number of player character (add-on NPCS do not count, although exited players may play the NPCs) and maybe some other factors. I don’t want this to be an easy check, but the people who roll well/deserve it should succeed.

I’ve decided speed doesn’t play into how this works. Yeah. (I have flip flopped on that a lot when writing this. But Character speed is an on camera consideration, and this is not that. )

If you make your check, congratulations! You may place your token on the entrance of the new map as it opens (aka “Turn 0”). You will have a full turn of doing whatever before the rest of your allies, and your enemies, start to trickle in.

If you did not make your check, you will be coming in on the second turn. Or, rather for consistency and sanity’s sake “Turn 1”. NPCs also come in on this round. You have your full round in initiative, so no problems there. The problems come from your pursuit.

The Yuan-ti will be coming into the new seen on the turn equal to the number of people who make their check. If only one person makes it, the yuan-ti army comes into the scene on Turn 1, so at the same time as everybody else!

That’s why its such a difficult check: The closer the Yuan-ti, the more tense the situation and the better the story.

If the players can all get to an exit before the Yuan-ti enter a scene, or if all players manage to make their check, they maybe got away? Depends how much of your night/story you’re building this one. I know for a fact that if the party has a decent lead on the snakefolk, there will be complications in the scene ahead. Things designed to slow them down and distract them, rather than actually give them trouble.

Each of your final scenes should have something to end the chase, whether its a final escape or a final stand. Since the players don’t have infinite choice, leading them to dying ground is probably a bad idea. Use this chance to know exactly where they will be to do something really really cool. I, for example, will be sad no matter the outcome, because all my exits are awesome and no matter what happens, some of them won’t be used 🙁

So now all I have to do is to build my battle maps during Christmas, along with all my other project. Le sigh.

Can’t wait to run this tho 😀


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