Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In My Day We Had to Roll Uphill Both Ways

Jeff Rients had today, as usual, a concise and intriguing post, this time about the high HP totals of first-level characters in the ongoing playtest for the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

For the record, I agree with Mr. Rients and the commenter who noted that making 1st level characters fragile can suit both groups who wish to play that way and those who want their heroes to be a little more heroic, who can then have their characters start at a slightly higher level.

In the most recent Labyrinth Lord adventure I've run with my group, they decided to explore the cave that an ogre (that they had slain in a previous adventure) had been living in and discovered that there was a blocked-off entrance not far from the ogre's lair. After clearing the entrance and going in, they discovered a small goblin warband living in the caves, unaware that their old "back door" was now be accessed by a bunch of bloodthirsty adventurers.

I was mildly perturbed that the party, given this advantageous position, reacted to it by not using any elements of surprise or ambush and instead engaged in open combat with some of the goblins and then, after being decently clever with having the dwarf yell in Goblin to other members of the warband, decided to have an argument loud enough that they wound up being ambushed by the other goblins. They did get pretty lucky in that none of them died in the resulting melee before they wiped out the bulk of the goblins (although the only fighter with more than a handful of HP remaining is currently unconscious thanks to deciding to sample some of the goblin's mushroom harvest); however, they could very well have been wiped out or lost multiple party members.

I think the problem here is that none of the players are grognards in the sense that they've mostly played systems that allow players to be fairly basic in their combat tactics and survive, whereas in OD&D, I feel that it's expected that first level characters leverage things as much as they can -- to reference a genre trope, a first-level party should be the natural culmination of the Tucker's Kobolds strategy. Instead of having the goblins flank them from two sides and gain a surprise round to boot, the party should have been able to find a bottleneck, utilize rope, flaming oil, etc. to take out as much of the monsters as possible while taking minimal risks to their own safety, especially considering that they already had the goblins deceived.

So, the question becomes, do I let things continue in this vein and assume that having rolls not go their way will eventually cause them to become more cautious and devious in the future with the specter of death as the motivator? I think so, I just don't know how long it will take or at point it will become the better part of valor to find something that everybody enjoys playing (which is really the goal here*).

* - Which is not to say that I think people aren't enjoying themselves, just that I could see more death-laden adventures becoming quickly frustrating.

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