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Tuesday, 19th August, 2008, 12:48 AM #1
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Our First Game -- What some non-RPG fans Learned that they want to share!
Yesterday I ran my first-ever 4th edition game for a bunch of us, as a test-drive for the system to see whether we liked it enough to consider starting a campaign.
This wasn’t an RPG group. In fact, it wasn’t even an RPG-friendly group, and therein lay my problem.
Some of the players had tons of experience with classic D&D (and were reticent to look at 4E), and one was already playing in a 4E campaign and knew how to play. Some had no RPG experience whatsoever, and my wife hated D&D with a passion because she felt that it was a ridiculously limited rules-set. We had a wide range of tastes and experience, but we wanted to see if 4E would work for us.
So I wanted to give it the best shot possible, but I had my work cut out for me! Not only that, but I had to teach everybody how to play, get everybody up to speed, and also make sure we all had fun doing it!
I took the opportunity to put together every possible trick, change, alteration, and paradigm-shift possible. I had to throw out some of my mental baggage from over 25 years of gaming, and change some of my ways of doing things, but I’m really grateful that I did.
In the end, everybody agreed that the game worked, that we had fun, that the system flowed, and that we’re going to start a campaign. We hit it out of the park.
So what did we do?
a) No character sheets. Use them only to calculate your numbers, then put them away.
b) I made “Game Mats” with spots for only the calculated adjustments, and put them in clear-plastic report-covers, so that people could write their numbers down with wet-erase marker overtop. Thus, each player had a main page-sized plastic-covered printed laying on the table, designed by me with sections for the various numbers they'd need. (with some modest graphics to make it easy to look at)
That way the numbers can be adjusted as we progress. Thus, anything with a calculated number (attributes, Defense values, Init/Move, Perception/Insight, Skills) merely has your final calculated modifier listed. Roll a d20, add your modifier, and go to town.
So if you asked a player what their strength was, they might not know. But if you asked them what they added to strength, they'd look down at their mat, and see that they added +3 ... which is all that is really important anyway!
(and, I did slide the character sheets underneath,
c) For the three sections that require upkeep and record-keeping, we use tokens/gems. These sections on the "Game Mat" had large boundaries printed off to hold tokens (of various denominations, cobbled together from other games, and/or from game-gems from a dollar store), used for the record-keeping aspects of the game.
Hit-points are done with two sides to the section – when one half is empty, you’re bloodied. Healing surge tokens have their own section, as do action point tokens. Everybody agreed that this made things much quicker, more fun, and somehow more exciting.
d) For powers, we had power-cards printed off and sleeved, again with boxes for final calculated values (don't just print off cards that show the formulas, but instead use cards that include a final box where you write in your calculated value!).
Edit: Link to Grandpa's Power Cards, here on EnWorld
Don’t be re-calculating everything each and every attack. Instead, look down and know that you roll a d20 and add 8, and then move on. Fast, clean, efficient.
Even better, because of the power cards, nobody ever had to crack a book during the entire game. Not once, for 6 new players!
e) Each player had a side-sheet, which had a section for short-hand notes (just a few last-minute sentences containing anything which needed noting, like “+2 vs. attacks of opportunity” or “Adds +1 to allies perception within 5 squares”) and their basic attacks. 4 sentences, total!
The other half of the page has a printed-off, point-form summary of every active form of skill-use, meaning that once again players never had to crack a book to look up a rule. If they wanted to actively use a skill, they could look at their cheat-sheet, and move on.
f) Floating around the table I had a few copies of the page with all of the “conditions” and their effects listed on it. Thus, when somebody became “dazed”, they just grabbed that page and glanced at it, to remind themselves of what the impact was.
g) While they might not technically be “powers”, I included powers for things like Sneak Attack, or Hunter’s Quarry, etc. Anything which you might tap into often. I also made cards for Second Wind (and included the healing value calculated right there in a box) as an encounter card, and thus people knew instantly whether it was tapped or not, and how much to heal.
h) Some foamcore rectangles covered with contact-paper became wet-erasable name placards, each with a magnet behind them to help them stick to a giant initiative-order board. Once the initiative order was set, everybody (and the monsters) went up on the board, but could easily get slid to a new spot in the order, thanks to being on a magnetic rectangle. Even better, because they were large and visible, there was never any question as to who went next, and things sped along easily.
i) My favourite wet-erase vinyl square-grid is worth its weight in gold! Thank you Chessex! However, add a few old game discs with contact paper on them, and these become perfect wet-erasable tokens that you can throw on the board as labelled miniatures. And once again, those coloured gems from the dollar store are priceless as “marked” tokens, etc.
Now, it is tempting to say that all of this is merely a different presentation style. It is tempting to say that you aren’t actually changing the way that you’re playing the game. Who cares, right? You could just use a character sheet, like normal! You could just use your old system.
After all ... I'm an old gamer, and I've seen it all before. I've been doing it for years, and you're not really changing anything ...
But hold on …
I put it to you that you are actually significantly impacting the playstyle of the game, the presentation of the table, and the impact of the rules-set on the group of players by allowing it to integrate more smoothly.
In fact, in our little de-briefing after our experiment, I was amazed at how well people had picked up the game without having read any of the books (having only played that one session), -- but the players themselves were absolutely stunned that people played the game *without* such implements!
In fact, it was quite telling that the new players were correcting the veteran player’s mistakes partway through the game, and he owns the books and plays in another campaign! That’s right – the newbies were learning the game better than the guy who was already in a campaign, who came with his own character pre-made, and who understood the rules ahead of time!
So, I think that these little accoutrements might be more than superficial changes.
Thus, because they changed my wife’s hatred of D&D, and smoothed out the learning curve immensely, and it sped up play, and it showed us the holes in a veteran 4E campaigner’s knowledge-base compared with only a few hours for a newbie, I have to say that I am sold on the concept that doing a paradigm-shift on presentation-style and playstyle is a good thing.
Trust me – it isn’t just cosmetic, or superficial. Something pretty significant happened.
Last edited by Bodhiwolff; Friday, 17th October, 2008 at 09:21 PM.
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