D&D 5E Wandering Monsters 10/30/2013: Trick or Treat?

Blackwarder

Adventurer
I feel like he's almost getting it. He approaches getting it, but then gets a little wrapped up in his own particular style considerations.

I'm basically totally with him until he starts talking about "exploration encounters." I see what he's getting at -- exploration can sort of be thought of the interesting events that happen between point A and point B -- but I feel like thinking about it that way minimizes some of the really interesting things about exploration as a part of gameplay.

It might be worth thinking about the exploration itself as an encounter. That is, the players spend resources as they engage the environment, which depletes their resources, until either the party dies or gets what they need from the environment. Much like the arc of combat, only tracked over hours and days rather than rounds and turns. At the end, rather than beating the enemy, the PC's wind up finding what they're looking for or getting where they're going. It's less about the specific scene with the fountain, and more like "Mysterious Fountain" is a power used by the Ancient Ruins environment which is an attack vs. Will that depletes 1d4 survival days as the party sits around and puzzles out its mystery.

Thinking of it that way, things like searching for the dungeon entrance and save-or-die traps become more about the equivalent of HP depletion: not finding the dungeon entrance is like missing on an attack. Getting hit with a trap that kills you is like getting walloped with a powerful monster ability. The challenge here is can you survive the dangerous environment, overall, not simply about puzzling out individual rooms and scenes. If you never find the dungeon and have to go back to town because traps nearby kill you, it's like running from a dragon. It's not about dealing with a particular trap any more than it's about one particular blow from a sword.

In exploration, individual scenes are my attack rolls and hits, not the whole show.

In fact, I personally kind of conceive of entire adventures in this way. It's not kobolds with special powers, it's The Mithral Mines of Malglum that have a special Hoarde of Kobolds power that wears down the resources of the party.

And this is part of why 4e's more detailed focus on individual scenes really chafes. I don't want to spend an hour dealing with one mysterious fountain any more than I want to spend an hour wading through a group of kobolds. Give me 5 minutes and a result, and lets move on to the next interesting feature, because the game isn't about the kobolds or the fountain, it's about the entire arc of the adventure.

That said, I think he's mostly on the right path, here. His list is a good one, and his scratching the surface to see where the exploration fun lies is smart. He should just really be willing to abandon the idea that a game is a chain of encounter scenes, and embrace the idea that encounter scenes are just moments of slightly tighter focus within a bigger context (the adventure). Get with that, and you've got a chance to get a D&D game designed to capture the feel I'm looking for.

QFT

Excellent post, I totally agree, question I show we do it in practice, the new exhaustion rules are interesting, but I would much rather have something deeper (not more complex)

Warder
 

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Jeff Carlsen

Adventurer
I have not problems using the term exploration encounter to describe something you encounter during exploration. I think the revulsion comes from the idea of the large set-piece encounter, or the linear storytelling method of stringing together encounters. I think it's a good idea to bring the term back to its natural meaning.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
pemerton said:
if the players (I assume, rather than the PCs) fail to solve the trick, then they don't succeed at the adventure: either they come to a dead end, or they fail to get the widget they will need to open/close the treasure chest/portal of doom/whatever is the ultimate goal.

I think this is worth teasing out because it's something Wyatt seems to have an issue wrapping his head around, too. The idea seems to be that this "dead end" is a point where the gameplay just stops and everyone stares at each other and they kind of shrug and say, "Well, I guess you get the widget, because otherwise we don't have an adventure for tonight, that was a silly thing to roll for."

This seems to be the essence of the "trying to find the dungeon entrance" criticism, too. You could say that it's similar to "rolling Charisma checks to unearth the rumors that are really the plot hooks that take you on the adventure" kind of thing.

And I think it needs to be said that this kind of thing totally can happen. But it only happens with a particular playstyle/adventure design rubrick. One that forgets that anything that you're rolling dice for has a failure state as well as a success state. The dice aren't just there to give you a pleasant aesthetic while you're bonking around through a narrative, they're there to determine success and failure.

In D&D, the default failure state of pretty much everything is "you die."

So, what happens if you don't find the dungeon entrance? Well, you die. In old school D&D, you'd probably die from wandering monsters while you're looking for the dungeon entrance as they slowly whittle away your HP over the course of several days. New D&D (late 3e, all of 4e) makes that pretty much an untenable failure state, since random encounters and gradual attrition are not really part of the game. So what's the failure state for failing to find the dungeon entrance in D&D post-2008? Well....umm....

tumblr_m60y2stKnf1r64g7r.gif


It's totally cool if finding the dungeon entrance isn't really part of the challenge of the adventure. Unless the dungeon is crazy secret or hidden, it's probably not going to add much, and even if it IS, there's always some dude with a map! It doesn't NEED to be something with a possible failure state.

But having that be part of the challenge means that the party risks their lives to find that dungeon, and that they might die in just trying to find it.

So, in that respect, rolling Charisma checks to find the the lore that is really the plot hook is still kind of pointless. There's no real valid failure state (what, they're going to NOT find the plot hook? They're going to DIE finding the plothook? Pffft). But dying while trying to find the dungeon entrance or getting hit with random encounters while trying to puzzle out the clue or whatever are all valid possibilities, valid challenges for the game.

It's worth noting that usually, the penalty for failing an interaction check is the same. If you're negotiating with angry aarakocra to find your way through the woods or trying to calm an angry wolf pack or something, and you fail, they'll probably just take out their hostility on your faces (which should either be immediately lethal, or contribute to the overall lethality of the adventure). If you're not charming, you die.

I think there's room for more interesting failure states than death, too, but exploration and interaction by default in D&D are just as much about avoiding death as combat is, just at a slightly higher level. And forgetting that is what leads to things like rolling to find a dungeon entrance that you want them to find anyway. Kind of pointless to roll for something that you're not prepared to have fail.
 
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MarkB

Legend
And this is part of why 4e's more detailed focus on individual scenes really chafes. I don't want to spend an hour dealing with one mysterious fountain any more than I want to spend an hour wading through a group of kobolds. Give me 5 minutes and a result, and lets move on to the next interesting feature, because the game isn't about the kobolds or the fountain, it's about the entire arc of the adventure.

I'd just like to point out that 4e's exploration-encounter structure can be, and is, used at both narrow and wider focus. I've played through skill challenges that dealt with specific traps or tricks in a single room, but I've also played through skill challenges that encompassed the whole task of navigating from a beleaguered village to a villain's lair dozens of miles away across swamps and forests, or of putting together clues to find a particular location within a bustling city and then reaching that location ahead of competitors. And the latter have been enjoyable, challenging, highly interactive encounters.

In some LFR modules, roughly half the adventure is structured as a single extended exploration encounter, with combat or interaction encounters dropped into it at suitable intervals.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
I'd just like to point out that 4e's exploration-encounter structure can be, and is, used at both narrow and wider focus. I've played through skill challenges that dealt with specific traps or tricks in a single room, but I've also played through skill challenges that encompassed the whole task of navigating from a beleaguered village to a villain's lair dozens of miles away across swamps and forests, or of putting together clues to find a particular location within a bustling city and then reaching that location ahead of competitors. And the latter have been enjoyable, challenging, highly interactive encounters.

In some LFR modules, roughly half the adventure is structured as a single extended exploration encounter, with combat or interaction encounters dropped into it at suitable intervals.

Sure, that's a move that can certainly mitigate the intense focus on an individual scene.
 

pemerton

Legend
In D&D, the default failure state of pretty much everything is "you die."
I agree, though I think this is less true of 4e.

I also think that this explains a fair bit about certain trajectories in the game since (at least) the mid-80s, when people have wanted to run games with different failure states but have stuck to mechanics that don't really allow for them.

The dice aren't just there to give you a pleasant aesthetic while you're bonking around through a narrative
I actually think that for a good chunk of 2nd ed AD&D play, and at least certain approaches to 3E/PF adventure path play, that's more-or-less exactly what the dice are there for!
 


I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
I agree, though I think this is less true of 4e.

I also think that this explains a fair bit about certain trajectories in the game since (at least) the mid-80s, when people have wanted to run games with different failure states but have stuck to mechanics that don't really allow for them.

Totally. Death is a very binary result. ;) In my own 4e games, I've taken to minimizing death and using something like a goal tracker instead, where failure basically affects the end state more so than the immediate process -- let the goblins reduce you to 0 hp, and the goblins earn a success toward their goal and begin to over-take the city and now it's less about crushing the goblins and more about saving the city, for instance.

I actually think that for a good chunk of 2nd ed AD&D play, and at least certain approaches to 3E/PF adventure path play, that's more-or-less exactly what the dice are there for!

Personally, I think those kind of suck. ;) I mean, it does little real harm, but it's missing out on the more interesting potential of having your heroes fail, and dealing with the fall out from that. I can totally imagine a sandbox game where checks revealed plot-hooks, it just means you're going to need 3-10 different plot hooks bopping about at any one time (which is a LOT of pre-prep for most D&D e's!). It's easy to default to a DM mode of "roll this meaningless check while I figure out the answer to this question," but it just eats up time, if there's no real option for failure.

Olgar Shiverstone said:
Not quite.

In old school D&D, you win or you die.

Well, I did say failure state. ;)
 

Derren

Hero
I do not like the talk of "tricks" at all.
To me that sounds as if WotC considers obstacles etc. to be encounters the DM uses as sort of random encounter instead of having a prepared map of the area in advance at the PCs encounter whatever lies in their way.
I do not want to suddenly have a chasm appear before the PCs because the DM thought (or a table said so) that it is time for another exploration encounter.
 

Weather Report

Banned
Banned
I agree, though I think this is less true of 4e.

I also think that this explains a fair bit about certain trajectories in the game since (at least) the mid-80s, when people have wanted to run games with different failure states but have stuck to mechanics that don't really allow for them.

I actually think that for a good chunk of 2nd ed AD&D play, and at least certain approaches to 3E/PF adventure path play, that's more-or-less exactly what the dice are there for!

It seems a bit too hard to die in 4th Ed.
 

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