Saturday, September 17, 2011

Class Tiers (A.K.A. What do you mean we have another encounter today? I already cast all my spells!)

I have never understood this whole Tier system that I keep seeing on various forums. I think the tiers are set up as a Tier 1 class is the most powerful and tier 5 is the least. The main reason why I haven't understood it is because I've never really seen one of the base classes overpower the others (I am talking about base classes only, not classes from the many other source books or online resources. I find them to be rather broken).
And then it hit me the other day.
I realized why everyone keeps thinking that spell slingers are the most powerful and the other non-spell casting classes are not as good. I've seen it so many times before and never realized it, most spell casters will dump their powerful spells into the first encounter they run into. They do this and then the party will rest to let them recover their spells and/or special abilities, hence the 15 minute adventuring day.  I've seen this a bit in the game that I run on Saturdays. It's a 3.5 core books only game (with the Arms and Equipment Guide).  Right now the group is providing escort to a dwarven mastersmith as he travels. They don't have the option of resting for a day to get spells back after a difficult encounter (they got to once but that was because the bulette damaged the wagon the dwarf smith was driving and it needed to be fixed). It's great to see them trying to plan out how to use their spells and abilities so that they can last through the day. And I roll for encounters every 3 hours when they are in the wild lands, so there are days where they get 4 encounters in the day, and 4 during the night. Luckily, not all encounters have to be fights. Of course, the Wizard of the party is still first level and likes to hide behind his dogs.
So that's my take, I figure that most spell slingers use up all the spells they have in just a few moments of the first encounter and it looks like they are THE MOST POWERFUL CHARACTER IN THE WORLD!! Then they need a nap.
Don the Evil Bassman

Encounters (A.K.A. The story's speed bumps.)

I've been running a 3.5 D&D Core Book (and the Arms and Equipment Guide) game and it's been pretty fun so far. One of the best things about it is the encounters, all of them randomly generated. I cheat and use online generators for them.  Since they are in the wild lands I roll 4 times for the day and 4 times for the night, using d6s and if a die rolls a 1 then there is an encounter. If there is an encounter there is a base 10% chance that the encounter will be a major NPC from my world that they will run into and the other 90% are randomly generated by an online generator.
Some of these have been very interesting. 

Once a young copper dragon stopped by the party's camp one night to warm up by the fire before continuing to fly on home. Another time, the group came across some warriors and allowed them to travel with them. Another encounter was a bunch of pixies played pranks on the group while they were at camp and when the group played along with the pixies, the little fae gave the group items (also randomly generated and boy were those pixies nice!). I still give experience points even if the characters don't have to actually fight the encounter, but interact with it in some form or another  (They got xp for talking with the wandering old priest and his entourage, but none for the herd of bison they rode past).

Normally I don't scale down the encounters, I let the characters deal with it as best as they can. They were 3rd level (most of them anyway) when they were set upon by a Bulette (CR 7 I believe) It killed 2 of the horses pulling the wagon that was with the party, and trounced a couple of the members of the party. But they managed to kill the beasty. Then another encounter, randomly generated, was a Lich. Yes, a Lich. I decided that I would hit the random button again, got another lich.  Restarted the browser, got a Draco-Lich. Then switched to a different generator and got something not as potent ( I can't remember what it was now). Then I hit the button again on this new generator and it gave me another Lich. One of these days, I'll have to write up the wandering Lich, he lost the keys to his tower and he knows he left them somewhere around here..... And then the next time a group encounters him, he will have found his keys.... but lost his tower....

Have you seen my keys?
Don the Evil Bassman

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gaming Strategy (A.K.A. How to form and maintain a Spank Line)

I've been running a 3.5 D&D back to the core campaign and it's got me thinking about all the groups that I've played with in the past. I've realized that hardly any group worked together in any sort of tactical strategy in combat. Sure there was the obligatory consideration of spells but that was because we didn't want to hit by them, in the old groups I was with the wizards were pretty much jerks when it came to flinging spells. They didn't care who got hit as long as the enemy was taken down.  I'm glad that most of the groups I've gamed with since then are a bit more considerate. Still doesn't change the fact that there was little in the way of strategy and tactics in the combats that occurred.

Here is an example of a combat that I recall happening.

Group (First Edition AD&D): 4 Fighters (one was me), 2 fairly powerful wizards, 3 fairly powerful clerics, 1 Thief, 1 Monk, 1 Paladin.
Scenario: Coming down from hills, the party sees a group of 12 Gnolls, 3 Ogres, 1 Ogre magi, and an evil looking wizard. Nothing our party couldn't handle. We have surprise and the higher ground. Now here is the breakdown on what happened:

Surprise round: Thief charges to get a back stab on a gnoll, 3 Fighters, the paladin, clerics and monk charge down the hill screaming battle cries. The charging characters now realize that they were not close enough to get attacks on the surprise round. One Fighter (me) already has his bow out and takes aim at the evil wizard and fires, 2 hits, lots of damage, evil wizard is still up.  The party's wizards cast defensive spells on themselves.

Round 1: Gnolls get initiative, they charge into the chargers, all 12 are able to hit various party members, Thief goes down, still alive but unconscious. All the melee characters get to attack, they split their attacks among the gnolls, lots of hits but no one goes down. Ranged fighter goes, 2 hits on the wizard with arrows, evil wizard falls. The Ogres play with the paladin and manage to take him out. The wizards with the group finally get to go, they let loose on the battle field with powerful magics, the gnolls are dead, the fighters are all unconscious, the thief, paladin, and monk are dead, the clerics are hurt. Ogre Magi goes, uses a wand of fireballs, clerics are now down, but not dead.

Round 2: 1 Fighter and the 2 Wizards are still up. Fighter, still using his bow, hits the ogre magi with 2 arrows, ogre magi is still up. Wizards detonate spells on the area again, everything but the ogre magi dies, yes, that includes the clerics. Ogre Magi runs up the hill (it can move FAST) and smashes a wizard into paste, he is dead. Other wizard drops a fireball on the ogre magi, last remaining wizard falls, ogre magi is mad.

Round 3: Fighter and Ogre Magi, Fighter wins initiative, hits ogre magi with 2 arrows, ogre magi falls.

Because I stayed back and was trying to make the enemy come to me rather than me to go it I was able to survive and take them down. Of course, all the players were calling me a coward and such at the beginning of the battle, along with chastising me for not staying right next to the wizards. By the end of the fight (which took only 4 minutes in game time, but 2 hours real time) they said that it was luck that kept me alive and that my fighter was still a coward for not charging in. Only our DM knew that I had actually planned it out.

Here was my idea on how to handle this scenario:

Surprise round: All non-spell casters use their ranged weapons (Bows for everyone but the monk, and the monk would use his sling), 4 targeting the Ogre Magi, and 3 targeting the evil wizard. The wizards and clerics would detonate their long range, area effect spells across the enemy ranks. That would probably take out the Gnolls and severely hurt everyone else, though the evil wizard would have probably been dead.

First Round: Repeat actions from surprise round, with the exception of all ranged weapon attacks would be aimed at the Ogre Magi if the evil wizard was down. That would probably have taken everything out.

Second Round: If anything is still alive, melee characters drop ranged weapons and pull melee weapons and engage the remaining enemy that has charged the hill. That should finish any remainders of the enemy group.

Of course I didn't actually voice this to anyone but our DM and even then it was in a note that I passed him. I was about 11 or so when this happened and the group thought I was just a kid who only played because my dad was gaming. I don't think they ever caught on that I was the one causing all sorts of problems for them... but that's another show. Back on to the strategy side of things.

Luckily for me, all the groups that I have gamed with since then have understood a bit of strategy, at least in regards to spells at any rate. Don't think that I'm insulting anyone by saying that few people give much thought to a strategy when gaming. See, I'm a bit of an odd one when it comes to things like this, I LOVE thinking up strategies for various scenarios. Yeah, I'm weird. But in the few times that I have been party leader, our tactics have enabled the groups to take out creatures with relative ease, much to our various DMs frustration a few times.

You don't need to study everything in the books or even historical battle tactics, just get a basic idea of the rules and what the party members can do.  Here is my basic advice:
1. Range is your friend, in most cases. Make the enemy come to you, whittle down their numbers from a distance. Always concentrate on spellcasters if able to.
2. Spell ranges and area of effects need to be considered. No fireballing your melee people.
3. Melee attacker needs to have healing nearby if it is going to be a drawn out fight. They are going to be the ones who can keep the enemy from getting to the squishy members of the party.
4. Always try to get an enemy to come at you one at a time. One butt hallways are good for funnelling enemies down, but you have to be set up somewhere that more than one melee attacker can get at the enemy.
5. Running away is okay.  You don't have to fight to the death every time.

There are a lot of different strategies that can be used, but don't worry about getting bogged down in tactical discussion or planning. It's a game, not a war simulation.

Don the Evil Bassman