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

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).
Yeah, I agree, there's plenty in DMG2 that will help you a lot with Narrative and Story Now play, and some bits that seem almost tailor made for it. It is just striking the degree to which a lot of the language is couched in more traditional terms, like the part about collaborative world building. A lot of the ideas will very much benefit low myth play, but its all written as if the GM is 'god of fiction' and is merely delegating some work to the players under his supervision.

I mean, by the time DMG2 came out, we'd already pretty well worked out playing in a fairly narrativist fashion (like we'd moved from XP to basically just giving out levels and treasures as reward/consequence of fictional happenings). I really liked DMG2 though and got plenty out of it, I just largely ignored some of its point of view. It was all pretty much just advice anyway. The "Cooperative Arcs" piece and all the stuff in that 7 or 8 page section can be pretty useful though. I always just hankered to have it all revised in a really pure outright Narrativist version though, hehe.

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@Manbearcat, I'm still very interested to hear your thoughts with regards to Objective DCs and Story Now Play. Mostly to learn because its something I'm not fully grasping yet.

Apologies. I’ll get something meaty up when I’ve got a chance here soon. Reacclimating to US hours has taken a toll and I’ve been really busy this last week.

I’ll try to get something consequential up this evening or tomorrow afternoon!

I'm feeling left out of this conversation :) And have been running 4e recently or, more accurately, my retroclone that's about three parts 4e, one part Apocalypse World, one part 5e, and one part Other Stuff. (And I'm just rewriting the death rules to be more AW inspired including a rule that when you make a death save you give someone else a (standard) action and if you fail your third everyone gets one). And getting rid of the rough edges including the character builder was definitely a goal. As was the entire essay on skill challenges and explaining what they are most useful for - handling ridiculous plans.

@Manbearcat, I'm still very interested to hear your thoughts with regards to Objective DCs and Story Now Play. Mostly to learn because its something I'm not fully grasping yet.

Alright, I've got a small window here so I'm going to discuss Mouse Guard Mission Obstacles, "objective DCs", and holistic design.


Shortages, epidemics, minor social upheaval, outright uprisings or rebellions, war, Scent Border maintenance or problems, and the dangers of the outlands of Darkheather and Wild Country.

The typical duties of the Mouse Guard are protecting the settlements of The Territories from threats and from each other. From Lockhaven, the patrol will go on expeditions that entail the responsibilities of patrolling, path clearing, trail blazing, carrying mail, escorting, weather watching, hunting predators, maintaining the scent border, rescuing mice in distress and mediating disputes.

Now each Mission will fall under the premise of play, will then fall under the typical duties, and will then be materialize specifically as something like: SPRING: The shipment of seeds hasn't arrived yet for planting season at Ivydale. Whatever happened, its out there on the path between Ivydale and Shaleburrow. Recover the seeds before planting season or it will be a hungry winter.


Alright we have a Mission that engages deeply with the premise of play.

* Now players write their PC's Goals for this Mission.

* Now the GM has 4 Mission Obstacles to put in front of the patrol. They'll have a solid idea for 2 that they'll theme around weather, wilderness, animals, or mice. These 2 x Obstacles should address the premise of the Mission (which addresses the premise of play). But they also need to be situations that challenge the thematic material embedded into one or more PC mice; goal, beliefs, instincts, relationships.

* So the GM has 2 x Obstacles (of the 4) "in their back pocket." These will get purposed and themed on the fly as the situation resolves (the GM should try to bring in the other two obstacle archetypes that they haven't brought in yet while still challenging a particular mouse in some interesting way).


* Natural Order is a hierarchy that indexes naturalistic relationships ranking based on the ability to prey upon one another. This ranking has a mechanical effect when it comes to the ability of one ranked creature to kill, capture, injure, or drive off another rank. This will look like "objective DC" relationship maps.

* Obs are set up as 1 (easy), 2 (medium), 3 (challenging), 4 (hard), 5 (very difficult). 6+ might occur very, very infrequently, and when they do, they're always going to be extremely threatening (virtually impossible to overcome without a deep marshaling of resources + some luck).

* You "Factor" (add up the threats/hardships/details/circumstances the obstacle/situation entails) in order to derive the total Obs # (the rating of the obstacle to surmount via successes with your dice pool). This will look like "objective DC" handling.

* Handling Failure. Failure happens in the form of either (a) Twists which represents an escalation of situation/a new obstacle which makes things more threatening and interesting if you're a player (or "worse" if you're an actual mouse in The Guard) or (b) the prior obstacle is resolved but one or more mice (depending upon Help) suffers a condition.

* You need both successes and failures for the Advancement of your Skills and Abilities.


* The accreting fiction of Missions generates more fiction and more Missions. The mice of The Guard change with the crises and rallies and lessons of the Missions, the changing of Seasons, and the reflection come Winter (a particular phase of the game).

Ok, so we've got Natural Order and we've got "Objective DC" handling for our obstacles/situations. Despite this:

* Why does Mouse Guard not turn into a game undergirded by the feel of process simulation; of intense scrutiny/belaboring of internal causality?

* Why does the game not turn into a turtle-fest where conflict is to be hedged against and avoided?

* Why does the game not become an experience that is decoupled from player protagonism and PC dramatic need?

The answers are above in the "what" each aspect of play/game engine prioritizes and accomplishes, and in the "how" it does so via the way each aspect interacts with and interlocks with the other. Hopefully folks can tease that out based on the abstract I've written above. And then, hopefully, folks can examine how that intersects with the way 4e "does what it does" up to and including the question "are 4e's DCs subjective/objective/both(?)" and "how much does that matter given the holistic design of the game engine of 4e?"

I'll leave those answers as an exercise for readers and I'll get back into the thread at some point in the future if this particular conversation angle has any purchase.


* Why does Mouse Guard not turn into a game undergirded by the feel of process simulation; of intense scrutiny/belaboring of internal causality?

* Why does the game not turn into a turtle-fest where conflict is to be hedged against and avoided?

* Why does the game not become an experience that is decoupled from player protagonism and PC dramatic need?

I'm gonna gather my thoughts about this and respond this weekend!

I'm gonna gather my thoughts about this and respond this weekend!

Hopefully its clear, but the exercise I'm inviting folks to engage with is:

1) Identify what is the prerequisite substrate of the agenda of Story Now play.

2) How does a particular instantiation of interconnectedness (incentive structures, premise clarity, transparency in procedures and authority distribution and particularly "who gets to decide what play is about") within system/game engine facilitate that play agenda despite the idea that one component of system/engine may seem to on its surface discretely defy that agenda?

Alright, so a quick post on Acrobatics in 4e in Combat that give expression to Story Now play. Skill Challenges have been covered to death (by myself and others) so hopefully that is enough out there that this isn't necessary. But if its requested, I'll make a post on Acrobatics and Skill Challenges.

I'm going to include two play excerpts (as best as I can remember them...this was over a decade ago now!) for a swashbuckley Eladrin Bladesinger PC in my last 1-30 campaign.

Within the combat engine, there are two ways that Story Now priorities can be made manifest:


See page 42. These have been talked to death. The principle of "Say yes or roll the dice" governs this play. An easy genre credibility test then resolve it mechanically via system architecture. One moment of this that I can recall in Paragon Tier (I want to say it was around level 16 so lets go with that) was when they were fighting on the ramparts of a ruined castle.

1) The player of the Bladesinger asked whether the parapet of the ramparts they were fighting on could be sufficiently failing/crumbling so he could dash across them and trigger a Terrain Stunt via a CB3 attack vs Fort centered from an adjacent parapet square after he dashed across. I said "of course."

2) He made his Move Action w/ an Acrobatics check vs the unstable ground (looking at his level 21 sheet and reverse engineering, it appears he had like a +19 Acrobatics w/ 2d20 for Acro/Ath for Agile Athlete so nearing auto-success vs Medium DC 22) to get to where he needed to be to balance on the parapet and trigger the collapse of the ruined section.

3) Now we had to formulate the level 16, Terrain Stunt. Pretty sure it looked something like this:

Ruined Parapet Topple
Standard Action
Requirement: You must be on the parapet, adjacent to the origin square, and succeed at Acrobatic check (DC 22) or Slide 1 square toward the effect area and fall prone.
Attack: Close blast 3 (creatures in the blast); +19 vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d8 + 5 damage, and the target is knocked prone.
Miss: Half damage.
Effect: The area becomes difficult terrain.

He easily made the Acro check, killed a Minion, damaged a Standard and knocked it prone/put it in DT all around (so it couldn't Shift from him, thereby confirming an OA if it wanted to pursue an NPC they were protecting in the combat...and this character was punishing with OAs/MBAs).


This piece doesn't get as many headlines, but its a big part of dealing with Hazards/Traps (particularly at the table where the conversation is vigorous around these things). Hazard/Trap Countermeasures can entail Skill Challenges (where Acrobatics can be deployed), but the primary way they're used is to either (a) reactively Immediate Action mitigate/evade the effects (or the worst of them) or proactively turn them off UtEoYNT or otherwise deal with them via Minor/Move/Standard Action depending.

Because this isn't spoken on a ton, I'm going to include the actual DMG1 text on this specifically (and, as always, this should be integrated with all of the rest of the rules text):

4e DMG1 p86

There is always more than one way to approach a trap or hazard. Even the best designed traps feature potential design holes that a player might exploit to counter a trap. Sometimes the best or the most fun ideas for countering a trap or hazard come as a flash of inspiration during play.
Remember the first rule of improvisation: Try not to say no. When a player suggests a plausible countermeasure for a trap, even if that possibility isn’t included in the trap’s presentation, figure out the best way to resolve that using the rules: a skill check or ability check against an appropriate DC, an attack, or the use of a power. You can always use the DCs that are included in the trap’s description as example DCs for using other skills and abilities.
In short, always find ways to reward quick thinking and fun when it comes to traps and hazards. Outsmarting traps, hazards, and villains (and even the DM) is fun for players, and first and foremost, your game should be fun.

So the same ethos and procedure that informs Terrain Stunting, but for Countermeasures vs Hazards/Traps. At Epic Tier the same character was adjacent to a large pool of Demonic Slime in the Abyss. One of the other PCs was in there and they were going to take a bunch of damage and another control effect at the start of their turn unless someone intervened. They asked if they could spend a Move Action vs High DC Acrobatics to like Legolas across a small section (I think it was 2 x 2 or 4 squares) to render it "parted" UtEoYNT as a Countermeasure. Failure would mean the Eladrin Bladesinger was now in a square of the Demonic Slime Hazard (therefore suffering the Hazard's triggered attack). Success would get their buddy out of their dire peril for the moment.

I want to say they needed a 13 and had 2d20 to hit it. They barely got it. It was a cool, thematic moment in an extremely dangerous and pivotal combat at Epic Tier.

So...yeah. Acrobatics, Terrain Stunts, Hazard/Trap Countermeasures, Story Now priorities and execution.

I don’t have much to add other than this attempted summation: The skills/DC framework plus some intuition about how to create stunts or ad-hoc powers makes 4e as good as any other story game that does those things. But 4e ALSO has a full on tactical combat game in it, which typically overshadows the other elements.

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