Review of Advanced Encounters: Alternative Objectives by Sneak Attack Press

When I was back in college, we had a very active gaming club, and even had enough members to staff a fairly successful gaming convention once a year. During one convention, the local newspaper sent a writer over to talk to the con coordinators, but predictably, we were all busy running around fixing the myriad problems that arise during a gaming convention. So the impatient journalist chatted with one of the members we had staffing the front desk – a young sophomore who didn’t have much gaming experience and played, if I recall correctly, card games like Illuminati and humorous board games like Awful Green Things from Outer Space.

So when she was asked by the reporter what was a role-playing game all about, she really hadn’t played any in her brief time in the club. http://www.neuroglyphgames.com/rpgb.../wp-content/uploads/2013/02/alt-obj-cover.jpg" align="right" border="0" alt="" style="padding:6px;" />So she told him her impressions of RPGs, which cursory outside observer might get from watching a session or two:

“The essence of roleplaying is to find monsters, kill them, and take their stuff.”

/facepalm

Most role-players are likely mortified by such an out-of-left-field perception of our favorite hobby. But when you consider combat encounters in games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or any other fantasy RPG, if someone doesn’t know why the battle takes place, it might look like killing monsters and looting their treasure is a really big part of the game!

Sneak Attack Press has some ideas on how to make combats in D&D 4E and other RPGs feel less like a slaughterfest, and more of a dynamic part of the storyline. In the second of the publisher’s Advanced Encounter series, the author offers up Alternative Objectives to challenge players and give combats an added twist.

Advanced Encounters: Alternative Objectives

  • Lead Designer: Matthew J. Hanson
  • Illustrations: Malcolm McClinton (cover); Joyce Maureira, Miguel Santos, Ståle Tevik (interior); Tom Fayen (cartography)
  • Publisher: Sneak Attack Press
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: PDF (40 pages)
  • Price: $5.95 (PDF available from the RPGNow)

Alternative Objectives
is the second book in Sneak Attack Press’ Advanced Encounter series, presenting different challenges to add to combat encounters in D&D 4E and other fantasy RPG systems. The book offers seven different types of objectives, as well as other factors that can affect the challenge level of an encounter using alternative objectives. Finally, the author presents six combat encounter which use the Alternative Objectives detailed in the book, ranging through all three Tiers from Level 1 to Level 25.


Production Quality

The production quality of Alternative Objectives is quite good, with an easy-to-read two-column format, and a pleasant but solid writing style. Examples which demonstrate key ideas are found in a gray-gradient shaded boxes scattered throughout the book, and were quite handy for giving concrete encounter suggestions for a concept being discussed. The PDF also has both a table of contents and bookmarks, so navigating to specific topics is a breeze.

The illustrations were a bit sparse, but nicely drawn in black-and-white with a bold heavy ink style, suggesting deep shadows as one might find on a dungeon delve. The cover art was colorful, but a bit too busy for my personal taste, lacking a real focal point in the image. The maps on the other hand are simple but well-drawn, with unambiguous notes and markers showing starting placement for NPCs and PCs on each. It might have been a nice touch to present another section of the maps without notes and markers, so that GMs could print them for use at the table, but its lack does not diminish the neat and tidy utilitarian quality of the maps.

There are always alternatives…

Alternative Objectives
is a bit more of a theoretical treatise on building D&D 4e encounters than was its predecessor in the Advance Encounter series, the Terrain Toolbox. Whereas the previous book gave a score or more of examples of terrain and hazards which might be present in a combat encounter to increase the challenge, Alternative Objectives presents ideas and concepts, both concrete and abstract, for adding a unique objective which must be completed – other than beating up on monsters – to “win” a fight.

In many respects, Alternative Objectives expounds on the three-and-a-half pages presented in the official 4E Dungeon Masters Guide 2, found under the “Encounter as a Story” heading. Where the WotC writers gave the topic a simple but not very detailed explanation, the author of Advanced Encounters: Alternate Objectives presents not only a more detailed way to infuse story elements into a combat encounter (or skill challenge), but even gives many examples that DMs can use or expand on for their own D&D 4E campaigns.

So what is an Alternative Objective? The author sums it up in the introduction as:

Alternate objectives are other goals that you can include in your combats. These encounters still feature bad guys to fight, but they also feature other tasks for the PCs to complete. This could be anything from rescuing hostages, to destroying an evil relic, to just holding on to a scrap of land long enough for reinforcements to arrive.”
As can be seen, an Alternate Objective is more than just a goal, but is inspired by the elements in the adventure’s story, but bringing them into the framework of the combat encounter to make it more challenging and more dynamic than a typical slugfest.

Alternative Objectives
is divided into three chapters: Objective Types, Other Considerations, and Sample Encounters. The author identifies five different types of objectives that can be added to a combat, such as Escape or Obtain, and two different variations on those types, such as Breach which is the opposite of Escape. The author even suggests an eighth type of objective which can be done by combining one or more objective types into a new more challenging objective. Each type of encounter is discussed in some detail, and then offers one or more concrete samples of how it might be used, beyond the GM Theorycraft.

The second chapter is fairly short, but has come important topics to consider for using an alternate objective in an encounter. Use of skills, special rules on respites and rests, and even options for “winning” without fighting the encounter are all concepts the author presents, again with good analysis and examples.

The final chapter of Alternative Objectives contains six sample encounters – three Heroic, two Paragon, and one of Epic Tier – which demonstrate in detail how the theories presented in the first half of the book can be used practically in combats. The encounters have interesting back stories, and utilize one type of alternate objectives within the action. The encounters are well written and balanced, coming complete with an adventure hook, monster stat blocks and maps to use if a DM wants to add them to his or her campaign.

Overall Score: 3.8 out of 5

Conclusions

There’s a lot to like about Advanced Encounters: Alternate Objectives, in spite of it being a pretty theory and concept laden piece of work. There is some very cool ideas presented in the book, and the author does a great job of explaining them, and how they can be used to make a D&D 4E encounter more excited and challenging, as well as more tightly tied to the storyline of an adventure. Both Dungeon Masters of almost any skill level will almost certainly get some new ideas from this book - and many of the concepts can be used by GMs of other RPG systems, despite the work being written in 4E terms.

Overall, it’s a lot of good DM/GM advice, encounter building tips, and lots of examples – including pre-built combat encounters using alternative objectives in their make-up. It is worth taking a look at by any GM wanting to add a bit more pizzazz to standard fantasy RPG battles.

So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 3.5
  • - Design: 3.5 (Good layout, solid writing; a bit theory heavy, but with decent examples and explanations)
  • - Illustrations: 3.5 (Cover was too busy, but interior art was very good; cool maps for encounters)
  • Content: 4.0
  • - Crunch: 4.0 (Very crunch heavy; lots of theorycraft and ideas to inspire new combat potentials)
  • - Fluff: 4.0 (Plentiful examples; nifty combat encounters demonstrate game theories practically)
  • Value: 4.0 (It’s got DM theorycraft, lots of examples, and six sample encounters – a lot of stuff in there!)
 

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Bagpuss

Hero
1. Your link to the image in the article is faulty.
2. Killing things and taking there stuff is a really big part of those games, of course a lot else goes on but the killing and the looting is still a big part.
 

MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
Publisher
Thanks for the review!

I just want to add that Alternate Objectives (and all the other books from Sneak Attack Press) are on sale this week in celebration of GM's Day.
 

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