Tag Archives: Living Forgotten Realms

Living Forgotten Realms Battle Interactive

I received my judge assignments for the upcoming Winter Fantasy convention. I’ll be running CORE5-3 Lost in Wonder during all the afternoon and evening slots on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. On Saturday, I’ll run a table for the Living Forgotten Realms Battle Interactive event.

Battle Interactive events unite a ballroom full of Dungeons & Dragons players into a single, shared conflict.  A year ago, I had no interest in running or playing in such an event. I envisioned an nine-hour slog through a giant combat encounter, further dragged down by the need to administer the movement of characters around the battlefield, and with a taxing suspension of disbelief required to account for the high-paragon superheroes running with the 1st-level mooks. (I wrote about the dissonance that occurs when you compare fourth-edition characters of widely different levels in Two problems that provoked bounded accuracy.)

Last spring, when I volunteered to judge at Origins, I must have selected the ADCP series along with the other events I would judge. I failed to realize that event ADCP4-2 Lost City of Suldolphor was a Battle Interactive. I’m happy I made the error, because I had a blast running a table. Actually, if I hadn’t “volunteered,” I certainly would have found myself among the many judges drafted minutes before the event. I still would have had fun, but I prefer to be prepared.War In EuropeAs it happens, the Battle Interactive does not use a single giant map, like a D&D version of War In Europe. The BI plays as a series of timed challenges, shared by the entire room, with the combined results from each table contributing to the final outcome. At the individual tables, the players tackle an instance of an encounter scaled to level. These encounters represent a segment of a larger challenge faced by everyone. The encounters include non-combat objectives, making them more dynamic and interesting than a simple slug-fest. The time limits imposed on the encounters maintains a breakneck pace as players race to complete their objectives in the allotted time. This was no slog. For each encounter, each table has the option of sending one player to contribute to sort of skill challenge involving other volunteers from across the room.

Much of the fun comes from the chance to play D&D with a large number of enthusiasts in a single, grand experience. Everyone at my table became passionate about contributing to the shared success of hundreds of players. Dan Anderson, the adventure’s author, and Sean Molley turned in great performances as the WeavePasha and Ala’Ammar. They set the scene and objectives for each encounter in character. For my part, I loved the excitement, the brisk pacing and, since I ran a level 18 table, the chance to bust out my purple worm and titan minis.

Next: Update on elemental miniatures and 3D battle maps

Tips for battle maps and dungeon tiles

I do most of my dungeon mastering at conventions and game stores. This post shares some of my tricks for working with battle maps on the go.

Wizards of the Coast includes pre-printed battle maps with Encounters and Lair Assault adventures as well as most of their published adventures. I love the maps, but they never lay flat. The folds and creases always seem to topple figures on the map.

To solve this problem, I purchased a sheet of Plexiglas from the window department at the local home improvement store. Laying the sheet on the printed map forces it flat and prevents it from sliding. You can even mark up the sheet with a wet-erase pen. Suitable Plexiglas sheets cost about $15.

Living Forgotten Realms adventures encourage you to use dungeon tiles. As I’ve confessed in other posts, I prefer to bring the best possible production value to the table. Particularly if I’m running the same adventure several times at a convention, I feel like the extra effort of assembling maps pays off.

For the times when I plan to set loose tiles on the table, I spread sheets of non-slip drawer liner, available anyplace that sells housewares. The liners grip the table and keep loose tiles in place. The lightweight material easily rolls up for transport.

For all but the simplest layouts, loose tiles take too long to arrange on the table, so I like to assemble maps in advance. I use removable mounting putty to stick the tiles on foam-core art boards. Office supply stores sell both the boards and the putty. Get the white putty, and not clear removable mounting dots, because the clear stuff sets after a while and will damage the tiles.

I transport my maps and Plexiglas in a cheap, $10 artist’s portfolio case.

Next: Evolution of the skill challenge

Two Problems that Provoked Bounded Accuracy

One of the key design features of D&D Next is something the designers call bounded accuracy. Bounded accuracy reins in the steady escalation of bonuses to checks and attacks that characters received in earlier editions. I love bounded accuracy.

To explain my affection, I want to consider two problems with (nearly) unbounded accuracy in the third and fourth edition.

Third and fourth edition both assumed a steep and steady increase of plusses to your skill numbers as your character advanced. This rewarded you with a sense of accomplishment as you saw your character improve, but the increases led to problems at higher levels.

In third edition, at each level, characters received an allotment of points to improve selected skills. If you reached high level, and concentrated your improvements on the same skills, you gained huge bonuses to those skills.

The huge bonuses created a dilemma for dungeon masters and authors trying to set DCs for high level adventures. You could set very high DCs that challenged players who specialized in a skill. These DCs were impossibly high for non-specialists, so if the party lacked a specialist in a particular skill, the task became flat out impossible. Alternately, you could set low enough DCs to give non-specialists a chance, but these DCs grant the specialists an automatic success.  (Again, by specialists, I just mean a character who concentrates skill improvements on the same skill, not a super-optimized character.)

Third edition assumes that the DM will justify the sky-high DCs required to challenge high-level specialists by describing obstacles of legendary proportions. At first level, the rogue must climb a rough dungeon wall; by 20th level, he must climb a glass-smooth wall covered in wet slime—in an earthquake. At first level, you must negotiate with the mayor; by twentieth level, he’s king. And you killed his dog.

In the skill section of the third edition Epic Level Handbook, the epic-level obstacles become absurd. Here we find the DC for balancing on clouds, sweet talking hostile creatures into sacrificing their lives for you, and so on. I understand that some folks enjoy playing characters as mythic, godlike creatures, but to me, that game doesn’t seem like D&D anymore. Given the rarity of epic play, I suspect I stand with the majority.

Fourth edition tried to resolve the problem of high-level DCs becoming either impossible for typical characters or automatic for specialists. The system grants every character a flat, half-level bonus to checks. Now skilled characters maintained a flat +5 bonus when compared to their peers. Everyone enjoyed steady increases, but no one fell too far behind. This approach fixed the math, but when you compare characters of different levels, it defies logic and breaks your suspension of disbelief.

By level 10, a wizard with an 8 strength, gains the same ability to smash down a wooden door as an first-level character with an 18 strength.

“Wow, Wiz, have you been working out?”

“Thanks for noticing. My strength will be 9 soon.”

Of course, Wiz never gets a chance to show off his new prowess, because those DC 16 wooden doors have all been replaced by level-appropriate, DC 20 barred doors.

In truth, the players never really advance because they stand on a treadmill.

You can see the treadmill on page 126 of the 4e Rules Compendium in the “Difficulty Class By Level” table. Using this table, your character no longer gets better at easy checks, she just faces higher DCs. That table makes Living Forgotten Realms adventures work across entire tiers.

Fourth edition is inconsistent about whether the rising DCs in the “Difficulty Class By Level” table represent increasingly legendary barriers in the game world. For example, the DCs for breaking doors rise as the doors become sturdier. But social skills tend to be pegged to the DC-by-level table. (The system just assumes you killed the king’s dog.) The Living Forgotten Realms adventures used for organized play mostly abandon any attempt to flavor the rising DCs as increasingly legendary challenges. The challenges never change, just the DCs.

By reining in the scale of skill bonuses as character’s advance, D&D Next solves both problems. The system does not reward players with the same magnitude of improvements as their character’s advances, but the small improvements are real improvements, not steps on a treadmill.

While bounded accuracy solves problems, characters still need to stand out from their peers. A specialist should stand out and enjoy a chance to shine. The current ability bonuses are too small to achieve this. You can read my opinion on ability bonuses and checks here.