D&D 4E Reconciling 4e's rough edges with Story Now play

Wow!! These all sound awesome.
I want to understand a bit more about how you as a GM managed the spotlight for all these storylines from a prep/procedure standpoint? Can you tell us a bit more about how many of these individual plots advanced within the same session? Was it that each session one of these threads got most of the spotlight, or did you jump around more freely? How closely did you follow the notion of "the party stays together"?

Ah! This is the dream.
Well, there was this one time when the party was getting up around Paragon and at that point IIRC another player joined and there was a Warden and a Bard, but anyway, they pissed off this dragon that was using them to collect stuff for him, just because he liked to collect stuff. So its a Mercury Dragon, which in Draconomicon2 is your basic spy type guy. That got quite mixed up in the Rogue's stuff! Then the dragon dropped them through a portal to the Feywild, so that got them tangled up in the Wizard's stuff, and so on and so forth.

That story arc was an oddball though, because I stole the description of Mithrendain, the Eladrin city, from a Dungeon adventure, and it had a bit of plot goo stuck to it involving traitors and fomorians and whatnot. So I fed them the first 2 encounters from that storyline. First was a straight up fight where the PCs drop out of a portal on top of an assassination attempt. No problem, I think I just used it as-is. The party beat up on the nasty looking assassin dudes, all is well! There was, however this horrible SC that was supposed to involve them going to a party and it was all pretty much pointless, no matter what happens they move on to whatever came after that. So I just ignored most of the blather of that and spent a half hour remaking it into a setup where they could end up allied to any of 4 different factions. It was an odd one, because you can't really 'lose', so I think I kept the "if you lose the good guy leader gets poisoned" loss condition, and basically let the PCs rack up successes against 4 different success tracks to see which faction they ended up in.

As it happens my recollection is they ended up part of the "we just want business as usual" party. Oh, and I threw in that this was actually a machination of the Wizard's family! Then the warlock wanted to find a hag because he got a clue the hag could help find his mother (but this was really the player wanting to get a 2nd pact, and he thought hags would be a cool option). So the PCs next landed at a hag lair, which was fairly tense as one of their allies got served for a snack! The warlock ended up with the hag pact, and a weird rod that had a hag eyeball fused to the end of it (I forget which item it was, a rod of something obnoxious).

I think after that they pretty much went into the "mess with the fomorians" part of the original adventure, and one of the PCs ended up plunging into the chasm in the final encounter and being swept into the Feydark by the torrent. That was the bard IIRC, and we never did discover what happened to that character. IIRC the player moved to Colorado or something and dropped out. Anyway, those last couple combat encounters I think all I did was add a few touches to the monsters, since they were older stat blocks.

But then after that adventure they went to find a vampire. Oh, no, they wanted to go vist an ancient ruined necromancer's tower, but they failed the Skill Challenge on the way there, and ended up trapped in the vampire's castle instead. That was all just made up on the spot, though the tower and existence of the vampire and some associated lore was already established in my setting. In the end they made their way to the castle basement, after the cleric got to have lots of fun blasting undead, and learned that there was an entire other nuther castle in the Shadowfell that they needed to visit, in order to get the final piece of the artifact set that the cleric needed to fulfill the prophecy. That was a whole other skill challenge to get THAT gate to work, another 'made up on the spot' thing, but it was entertaining, the players decided they needed various particular objects that had to be found in the castle to open the gate.

I think there was also a thing with the Rogue that we invented about getting some info for her family about some nefarious thing the vampires did to them way back when. Like they wanted to try to get that family kicked out of Court or something. Oh, and the wizard got inducted into the Order of the Spiral Tower IIRC and there was a whole thing about her needing to find a certain sword implement. By that point prep was pretty dead, except for making some battle maps.

So, basically, any given week's story, or month's story arc usually isn't going to engage everyone directly in their 'big things', but the warlock is always getting the creepy feeling he's being watched, and then he gets gifted with an actual eyeball, hahaha, that was funny. But his internal character was always touching his play. Can he trust anyone? He's friends with the rogue, but then someone says the wrong thing and he's back to not trusting her.
 

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Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
That was a whole other skill challenge to get THAT gate to work, another 'made up on the spot' thing, but it was entertaining, the players decided they needed various particular objects that had to be found in the castle to open the gate.
How did that conversation go at the table? Were you like...
You guys want the gate to work? Ok, what do you think you need to make that happen?
Or
Here are some ideas of what would be needed to get this gate to work, you need at least 3 of the 5, the more you have the more stable the gate will operate. What do you do?
Or
Something else?

What you wrote above seems to indicate it was the first?
I have to ask - were your players coming from a 3/3.5 game? Or from some other RPG tradition?
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
Like - the two D&D 5e games I am running, both groups sort of expect me to come up with the story. One is my high school group who most haven't played since our AD&D game in 1983 - not sure how they would handle things. This is the group when I say "tell me what you do to try to find the secret door" they say "I roll Investigate" :rolleyes:

I could probably reboot the other group and toss out Tomb of Annihilation, and go full prepless GM play and build off the character backstories. They might like that tbh. Maybe I'll try that after Tomb of A, even though it might be trickier in 5e. OR - hear me out - maybe I'll ask them to play... 4e!!! :ROFLMAO:
 

How did that conversation go at the table? Were you like...
You guys want the gate to work? Ok, what do you think you need to make that happen?
Or
Here are some ideas of what would be needed to get this gate to work, you need at least 3 of the 5, the more you have the more stable the gate will operate. What do you do?
Or
Something else?

What you wrote above seems to indicate it was the first?
I have to ask - were your players coming from a 3/3.5 game? Or from some other RPG tradition?
Yeah, I think it was like, the players get to the basement, and one of them said something about how places like this must be closely linked to the Shadowfell, and then the wizard said something about "yeah, I thought about visiting there. Remember that holy man said something about Zorb (another Spiral Tower wizard) went the First Land (Shadowfell) with the Sword of Light." (something like that) So then the cleric used Consult Mystic Sages and learned about what had to be done (and that counted as a success).

So it was kind of the players, though to be honest the thought was lurking in my mind that this powerful vampire 'clan' must have something like that, etc. So I might have said something that started the ball rolling, but I can't remember now, this was like 2010. After they decided to try to investigate then I gave them some things they had to accomplish. They needed something like the life force of an innocent, so they spent a good while working on that one. It got them to explore all of this first castle, which was fun because it was like classic haunted house! Actually I think it was October, lol.

These players, lets see... Two spent a lot of time playing 3.5 and 2e etc. When 5e came out they ran that for a while, and then went back to 3.5, lol. OTOH one of them also ran a pretty decent Dungeon World game for a while. There was another that didn't have a huge amount of RPG experience, but he was a sharp guy and picked things up really fast. I think in some ways he was wanting a kind of Neo Trad warlock experience, but he was pretty happy with our game, he played for a couple years. I'm not sure about the other 2, I didn't know them as well, but I expect they were pretty trad D&D players. Everyone got into it pretty well. I mean, we never really sat down and worked through the theory of what we were doing. The Wizard was played by my sister, I think she's mostly just into the fantasy aspects of play, doesn't make a wide range of characters, but has a lot of experience.
 

Involved an external conversation about the lines between Trad, NeoTrad, snd Story Now GMing. Figured I’d drop this in here as its relevant and fodder for conversation.

People have attempted to run 4e as Trad and it has significantly struggled to do so. A lot of people have run 4e as NeoTrad and it works because the transparent and enormously functional dials of 4e allow for “tuning” (GM curation of difficulty to match assurances of PC conception realization and thematic arc integrity).

But one of the primary reasons why 4e plays so nice with Narrativist and Gamism priorities is this:

I NEVER have to modulate the challenge dial to ensure the Story Now dial. I can always have the accelerator to the floor (within the bounds of system parameters) for both.



It can surely be a fine line. The best way to examine that line is the organizing principles of the content you’re introducing as GM. The following will all produce divergent results:

* What does my setting backstory and metaplot continuity say should happen here (?) > Introduce that content.

* How can the present situation give assured expression to the player’s conception of their PC’s thematic arc (?) > Introduce that content.

* How can the present situation test what this PC purports to be about (through their player and system) so we can discover the truth of it (?) > Introduce that content.

———

None of those give expression to Gamist priorities. That is a either a separate axis entirely to these thoughts or a coefficient attached to each.

* How can the present situation introduce a maximally compelling and consequential tactical or strategic decision-space (?) > Introduce that content.

IMO, the reason why Story Now play “plays disproportionately nice with Gamism (G)” is because (most of the time) I can integrate the answer to that challenge-centered bullet directly above with the organizing principle listed above for SN content. For the other two, there will be serious tension or competing priorities that have to be reconciled with:

Press the G button too hard and you threaten the integrity of a player’s conception of their character or threaten the expression of their thematic arc satisfactorily resolving in line with that player’s preconception.

Pressing the G button sufficiently hard to optimize compelling and consequential decision-space means going outside of metaplot continuity or setting extrapolation.
 

heretic888

Explorer
I am really enjoying this thread

But

I played 4e, and ran a bit of it (Scales of War for my kids)... And then started to shift my attention to Dungeon World et al when tney came out... And I feel like what I read in the 4e PHB and DMG (tbh, like many, I only read the DMG for the magic items) doesn't exactly support this play.

I know I already asked about the Narrativist background text; but now I'd like to ask what 4e texts support this style of play? Hopefully they are among the texts I already have. Sadly I don't have any of the Essentials books (and probably won't seek those out...)
Kinda surprised nobody mentioned the DMG2 in response to this ..
 



Kinda surprised nobody mentioned the DMG2 in response to this ..
You spoke! ;) Its a good point. DMG2 certainly has a lot of stuff related to presentation of story. I'm not sure it necessarily reflects a very narrative or story now position though. Take the SC on P96 "War By Other Means", this SC doesn't just outline the goals of each side and some special mechanics, it also tries to nail down a lot of the plot elements from the start. Venna will try to bribe a character, Likewise Anders will do the same. Diplomacy - a character steps in as an advocate for one side or the other.

This is fine, but think about this challenge in a true Story Now perspective, the very FUNCTION of a challenge is different. This challenge is like a mini-game to play out on a pretty set board. Many things can happen, but if I was running it things would be much less defined. OK, the personalities of the negotiators, who the sides are, what they want, lets assume play prior to the declaration of an SC has established that. So, lets just play to see what happens. Maybe the PCs off someone, maybe they pay a bribe, maybe they demand payment from one side or the other. Heck, I have no idea, I'm just the GM, I don't make up any of the story! I can definitely use the SC mechanics to structure this encounter, but I don't need a lot of the definition, its going to fight against me. So, as a Story Now GAME DESIGNER, I'm not going to write DMG2 (at least this section) the way it is actually written.

And now, going back and reading the first couple sections of Chapter 1, it reads almost like a bit more polished version of the 2e DMG! This is pure trad! Create and relieve tension, even if you have to fudge! There is some decent advice that any GM can use. The bit on 'Decision Points' has some good bits. Its the same in the "Cooperative World Building" section, which certainly assumes that the generation of fiction belongs entirely to the GM and can only be 'loaned' to the players! Again, pure unadulterated trad straight out of AD&D!

Again, DMG2 contains a lot of useful parts, and its general mechanical description of SCs and including an explicit 'advantages' system and such can be really useful for Narrative play, but whomever decided what did and didn't go in (and most of the first 2 chapters are slightly edited Dragon articles), Kim Mohan perhaps? Or Bill Slavicsek? don't seem to be interested in story now!
 

heretic888

Explorer
You spoke! ;) Its a good point. DMG2 certainly has a lot of stuff related to presentation of story. I'm not sure it necessarily reflects a very narrative or story now position though. Take the SC on P96 "War By Other Means", this SC doesn't just outline the goals of each side and some special mechanics, it also tries to nail down a lot of the plot elements from the start. Venna will try to bribe a character, Likewise Anders will do the same. Diplomacy - a character steps in as an advocate for one side or the other.

This is fine, but think about this challenge in a true Story Now perspective, the very FUNCTION of a challenge is different. This challenge is like a mini-game to play out on a pretty set board. Many things can happen, but if I was running it things would be much less defined. OK, the personalities of the negotiators, who the sides are, what they want, lets assume play prior to the declaration of an SC has established that. So, lets just play to see what happens. Maybe the PCs off someone, maybe they pay a bribe, maybe they demand payment from one side or the other. Heck, I have no idea, I'm just the GM, I don't make up any of the story! I can definitely use the SC mechanics to structure this encounter, but I don't need a lot of the definition, its going to fight against me. So, as a Story Now GAME DESIGNER, I'm not going to write DMG2 (at least this section) the way it is actually written.

And now, going back and reading the first couple sections of Chapter 1, it reads almost like a bit more polished version of the 2e DMG! This is pure trad! Create and relieve tension, even if you have to fudge! There is some decent advice that any GM can use. The bit on 'Decision Points' has some good bits. Its the same in the "Cooperative World Building" section, which certainly assumes that the generation of fiction belongs entirely to the GM and can only be 'loaned' to the players! Again, pure unadulterated trad straight out of AD&D!

Again, DMG2 contains a lot of useful parts, and its general mechanical description of SCs and including an explicit 'advantages' system and such can be really useful for Narrative play, but whomever decided what did and didn't go in (and most of the first 2 chapters are slightly edited Dragon articles), Kim Mohan perhaps? Or Bill Slavicsek? don't seem to be interested in story now!
While not disagreeing with anything you say here, I was specifically referring to the sections on cooperative worldbuilding, asking players questions and building upon the answers, PC relationship structures that anticipated Apocalypse World's Hx by about 2 years, terrain powers as an expansion of Rule 42, alternative rewards as an adjunct and expansion of magic item wishlists, and elaboration of using powers and rituals in skill challenges (a specific exapansion of the DMG1's Say Yes philosophy in the context of SCs). The section on re-skinning the fiction of PC build options is probably apropos here, as well.

I'd say that's quite a lot of actionable content for Story Now purposes, but perhaps you got less mileage out of it than I did.

Honestly though, I was really thinking of the section on Asking Questions primarily in my last post. It is extremely detailed and exhaustive and quite frankly puts most PbtA texts with a similar MC move to shame. Impressive considering this text predated Apocalypse World by a few years (although admittedly not the movement that led to its writing).
 

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