Wednesday, September 28, 2011

N-Shots, With a Side of Minion Design

With my gaming time seriously curtailed, I've been thinking about short campaigns.  I ran a one-shot and found the form rather dissatisfying; it was, essentially, a series of short wargame scenarios plus a few puzzles, with very little character development or exploration.  Granted, part of the problem was that I made a few mistakes in terms of monster design; just because manufactured and natural armor stack does not mean that one should stack them.  Likewise, I dropped a solo hydra on the PCs during the finale, and found two problems.  First, Trailblazer's combat maneuver rules mean that hitting a hydra's neck is much, much harder than hitting its body.  This should not be; in theory I could've altered it on the fly, but I missed my chance.  Secondly, when you upgrade a critter to solo, you quadruple its HP, which in turn quadrupled the neck HP, making sundering the heads extra difficult.  In the end, the PCs just ended up damaging the body to death.

Trailblazer's short rest rules allowed the PCs to absorb absolutely tremendous amounts of damage; I estimated that the party took in total about 300 points of damage during the course of a single adventuring day, with no character falling unconscious at any time, minimal expenditure of permanent healing resources (cure wands, for example), and, the kicker, without a cleric.  These were 7th level PCs we're talking about...  maybe 70 HP tops on any given character.  It was just nuts.  The action points really saved their butts a few times, though, so that was interesting...  likewise, the party sorcerer built for ray usage and didn't cast a restricted spell the entire game.  A change of pace from the usual fireball storm.  We also had a glaive paladin / fighter specializing in sunder, a greatsword critical-hit fighter, and a bard / fighter archer.  The greatsworder had very very swingy damage; when he really hit, he killed opponents outright, but he also missed a lot.  The glaive paladin got pretty reasonable performance across the board, through sundering the hydra turned out to be a bad idea.  The archer was less than perfectly useful...  I attribute this largely to the high-AC monsters.  Ranged combatants need to be using rapid shot and similar to do decent damage, and the high-AC critters really shut that down.  Sorry, Tim.

This has led to some speculation on "mook design", if you will, where by mook I mean what 4e or True20 might classify as a minion.  They're weakish monsters who are fairly easy to kill, but are still a threat to the PCs.  I've employed mooks as such on two occasions; here in the mountain fastness of the lizard men, and in my TB Bloodsworn Vale game two summers ago.  Here, they had high AC but low HP, and were not fun.  In Bloodsworn, the zombie gnoll servants of Golgorroth had low AC, but took about two hits from the party monk or a good hit from a holy greatsword to take down.  Effectively, I conclude that 'fun' mooks should be easy to hit, and should take about two hits to kill.  This gives the satisfaction of hitting reliably and doing damage, and also makes clearing them out so you can get at their leader straightforward, but not trivial.  Missing is frustrating, but hitting and doing damage, even if you don't drop anything, is satisfying.  Ergo, even if the same number of expected hits are required to kill a mook, one with low AC and higher hit points is preferable as far as fun goes.

But back to one-shots.  I had never DMed a one-shot before, and my only experience playing in one had accidentally turned into a medium-length campaign of about 9 sessions in a single world because it ran long and we did a few unexpected things.  I recently, however, stumbled across a blog post by the Angry DM which effectively advocates picking up a new system with a new GM and playing a three-shot.  I find this to be a really good idea...  The human mind loves threes, and this allows a much less rushed storytelling structure along the traditional lines of beginning, middle, and end, with gaps in time and space in between the segments.  It doesn't have to be combat-combat-combat, and player choices other than strict combat-resource allocation start to matter, but can still be kept reasonably simple; putting a decision point at the end of each of the first two sessions creates four possible outcomes, which is relatively easy to manage compared to a full "go anywhere do anything kill anyone"-style campaign.

I don't know that I'll have the time to run a three-shot...  but it's something I'd like to keep in mind for the next time I get the itch, but maybe don't have time to run a full campaign.  Hell, a three-shot would be the perfect length for gaming with my family over the holidays.  Hmmm...

1 comment:

Tim Vaughan said...

A three shot does sound pretty promising. I was recently thinking about campaign design in a n-act structure like play writing. It affords the advantage of having a clearly defined end point for your players, as opposed to indefinite extension.

Then, if your players liked the characters, they can come back for a new, separate arc (as opposed to one super-long campaign).