This latest session of the Storm Point game was a little different. First of all, one of the players has left the game after many years ((Bye, Pedro! Thanks for playing!)), so the group is down to five. Second, we had a request to wrap up extra early, so I didn’t have much time to stretch things out. Given both those things, I decided to take a bit of a chance to see how things would fall out if I tried something the group wasn’t expecting.
As you may have gleaned from these posts, the group for this game is very much of the beer-and-pretzels, kick-in-the-door-and-get-’em style of play. We use the game primarily as a way to socialize with each other, and attentions are such that we play a pretty bare-bones flavour of 4E – we have combats, and we have the scenes that move you between combats. I try to weave enough of a story that the group genuinely cares about what they’re doing when they get into a fight, but not much more than that ((This is different from other groups and other games I run. It’s just the style that fits the needs of the Storm Point game best.)).
This session, though, I decided to send up a test balloon to see if they’d be open to something with a little more complication to it. I figured that, if it worked, I could make some changes to the campaign to fill it out a bit. If it didn’t, well, we had a short session to suffer through.
I started the evening talking about the effects of the heroes taking out crime boss Channah the previous session, and letting the players talk a bit about how their characters were fitting into Belys. Then I had Bitaryut the Blind, whom they had met at their feast a few weeks back ((And whom they don’t trust. At all. He’s a fortuneteller, and they know I have a deck of many things from The Madness at Gardmore Abbey, so they’re just waiting for him to make them draw a card.)), ask them for some help. According to Bitaryut, the scion of one of the genasi families who rule Belys had been disowned by his parents based on information provided by Bitaryut. In revenge, this genasi had stolen Bitaryut’s scrying crystal.
Bitaryut was somewhat reluctant to come out with a lot of details about what this genasi had done that got him disowned, hinting that there were children involved, but not going into specifics. He was able to provide the location of the thief, and offered the group a favour as a reward for returning his crystal. When pressed, he provided some backstory on the family and the thief they were chasing – they were a family who had manufactured war machines in the war which had destroyed the Empire of Nerath, and the thief was holed up in the old war machine foundry outside the city.
So, our heroes schlepped out to the old foundry and found the genasi and a bunch of war machines that he had managed to repair. And this is when things started to go a different direction.
I had managed to instill enough doubt in Bitaryut’s honesty that, for once, the gang didn’t shout, “Get ’em!” and charge. They actually ((If I sound somewhat incredulous, it’s only because I’ve been gaming with these guys for many years.)) tried talking. After a little while and some tentative maneuvering, they got a different side of the story Bitaryut had told them ((Well, not really told them. More like hinted at and implied.)). In this version, the thief was a victim of politics and Bitaryut’s machinations, and he had stolen the scrying crystal both as revenge and as a stake now that he had to leave Belys.
It was an interesting and gratifying moment for me. I had statted everything up for a fight if it came to that ((It usually does, after all.)), but I was very interested in seeing the players take a different tactic. I ran the whole thing as a conversation, with very few rolls – no one tried to intimidate anyone, and I think there was one Insight check to see if he was lying, but everything else came down to straight roleplaying.
In the end, the group convinced the thief to trade them back the scrying crystal in return for a teleport to Storm Point and an introduction to the leaders of the town. Their idea is that he, with his war machines and the texts he’s discovered on repairing and manufacturing them, may be a valuable addition to their old hometown. There was a little bit of threatening here, of the “We’ll kill you if you mess with our town” style, but generally it went without a hitch.
And, of course, I awarded them full XP for solving the problem without resorting to violence.
So, why did I do it this way?
As I’ve said, this campaign tends to focus on creatures to fight and challenges to overcome ((Said challenges usually involving fighting creatures.)). Part of the reason for that is the dynamic and attention span of our group, as I noted above, and part of it is that combat is the thing that D&D 4E does best. I’ve been reading the little bit of information being released about D&D Next, and it’s been causing me to re-evaluate some of the things I’m doing in my current D&D game.
It occurred to me that I was being lazy. I had tried some more elaborate storylines earlier in the campaign, and they had quickly got lost or ignored, so I stopped working on them, instead putting all my prep time into coming up with interesting combat encounters, along with just a few linking elements. And the group seemed to like that.
But we were feeding into each others’ assumptions. I assumed that they weren’t interested in anything besides combat, and they assumed that all I was interested in giving them in this game system was combat. The playtest reports from D&D Next talk about how much freedom of action there is in the game ((Understanding, of course, that this is very early days, and the game is in active development. Judgment must be reserved until the final product is available. But it looks really promising.)), and how it emphasizes interaction and exploration as well as combat.
Hell, it inspired me. I figured I’d throw some options in, and we’d see how things went.
What do I take away from this? Just because the game is working doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be improved if I change things up a bit. I can be a bit daring and, it seems, my players will follow. And that’s awesome.
I’ve got to think about how to keep this up in the game. I count it as a great success.