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Re-Thinking The Solo Campaign July 20, 2009

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Solo Game.
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I am taking a break from trying to rush into more solo play with my wife. The reason is two-fold: I don’t want to overwhelm her with too much D&D (we are supposed to play the Eberron campaign again this weekend) and I want to get more experience running battle sequences in order to speed up the process (by having a greater familiarity with the rules/system).

I will mention the sources of these ideas later on, but it struck me that I need to give Ela a greater chance of developing as a character. My wife has stated that she is not all that interested in roleplaying, so I am trying to be careful about how much focus I put on that aspect of the game…at least how blatantly I bring those aspects in. My hope is to design encounters that allow her to gain a greater familiarity with what her character can do. I also want to create a lesser reliability on NPCs and especially DMPCs, and so I took some great advice from the Wizard’s forums and decided to redraw up her character (using the Character Creator–using the free version, because I do not have a membership to DDI). This turned out to be a GREAT move. First of all, I was able to tailor the character more to what I feel she wants (as I said before, she expressed a lack of interest in drawing up her own character, so I did this so she wouldn’t have to). I also upped her ability stats to make her a far more epic character (not epic tier; I’m speaking of the story here, folks).

Last night I showed her the new character sheet for Ela Brightvale. I was surprised at the level of interest she showed in checking out all of the new stats, skills, and powers. She was very impressed with the sleek look of her character sheet (my wife loves interior and graphic design–it should have hit me sooner that aesthetics are going to be HUGE for her). She also took the time to read through her new powers and what not. That made me extraordinarily happy.

I also spent some time redesigning the character’s backstory and world. This will require a little ret-conning, but she was fine with that. The village of Brightvale originally was a town filled with humans, halflings, half-elves, eladrin, etc. This no longer the scenario. She nowlives in an exclusively Eladrin community and Tira Duskmeadow (the previously half-elf warlock) is now Eladrin also. I redrew up that character, making her powerful but not as powerful as Ela so as not to steal her glory. I left in the bit about the tiefling community that also resides in the Vale, but I made the relationship between these two communities much less stable. This also meant ret-conning the two characters that came to the rescue at the end of the 2nd encounter. They were both Eladrin in the story now, sent by Ela’s father.

Some Great Reads

I have been feasting on some great advice by excellent DMs on the subject of running a solo campaign. One that has been an invaluable resource is Oakspar77777‘s massive thread over at Wizards (he uses 3.5 from all that I can tell). Another great source has been CHGOWIZ’s Old Guy RPG blog. He is not using 4e for his campaign (he uses some mishmash of Microlite and D&D), but it has helped to see how he keeps it interesting for his wife, as well as her creativity in many scenarios. The other source that I have turned to a lot has nothing to do with solo campaigns but everything to do with learning how to DM: NewbieDM. He is actually using 4e, so that has been nice, plus he has great ideas for keeping the game affordable, but looking good. The last one I will mention is a collection of posts on ENWorld by some obviously intelligent DMs. Go check all of these guys out.

The Solo Game Begins July 6, 2009

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Solo Game.
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What Happened

Encounter 1 – The game started out under the premise that Ela and her best friend Tira were heading out to the woods to take her father some lunch. The two girls headed down the path, until they heard some voices floating over a small patch of trees alongside the road. They weren’t able to hear much, but the word “treasure” came through clearly enough to instill a desire to investigate further. Sneaking through the trees, they found a group of 4 gobling minions and 1 goblin runner huddled around a fire in a small clearing, laughing and bragging about their recent exploits of robbery, as well as the gold and gems that they had collected. Unfortunately, the goblins became alerted to the girls’ presence when Tira accidentally snapped a twig. Tira then panicked and immediately attacked, shooting the nearest gobling with a little blast of Infernal Wrath. The goblins retaliated, but the girls quickly gained the upperhand. As soon as their leader was killed, the last two remaining goblings fled; one was killed by Ela and the other was caught/grabbed by Tira. The girls successfully intimidated the gobling into telling them where their cave of treasure was and then, despite his cooperation, Ela suggested that they kill him immediately after he spilled the beans. She changed her mind in the end though, deciding to drag Yubnub (they discovered his name during the conversation) along as their guide.

Encounter 2 – They went to the cave, where they met a gobling minion sentry. He spotted their prisoner Yubnub and immediately grew hostile, both toward the girls and Yubnub whom he labelled a traitor. While some verbal sparring was taking place, a hidden gobling minion archer shot at Yubnub, barely missing him. Battle swiftly ensued and, while the girls were distracted/busy, Yubnub made a break for it. The two sentries were quickly killed, but right before the last one died, he cried out to warn his brothers in the cave. The girls hardly stepped inside, when they were faced by 5 more gobling minions. Things went well for Ela and Tira until a goblin sharpshooter showed up. The tides began to turn and the girls began to panic. Then, another goblin runner entered the cave behind the girls, flanking and helping to cause some serious damage. Tira soon fell unconscious and Ela, who was already bloodied, was left to fend for herself and her dying compainion alone. It looked terribly bleak for her, until some help showed up in the form of Corrin Reedson (lvl 1 halfling paladin) and Skamos Redmoon (lvl 1 tiefling wizard). They helped Ela beat the remaining goblins (but not before Skamos also fell unconscious), and provided some much needed healing.

Epilogue – Once the girls were safe, these two men explained their incredibly fortunate arrival; Ela’s father had grown worried when Ela didn’t show up with his lunch and sent them to make sure that she was fine. En route to her place, a gobling minion (Yubnub) came bolting out of the woods, obviously afraid and fleeing for his life. They grabbed him, found out what was going on and sprinted there to find her. The party of four found the treasure (gold and a few gems), and Ela found a dirty, worn, but obviously well-made cloak.

What I Learned

– I am aware that Ela’s father is a hunter and thus should not need someone to bring him lunch. However, it wasn’t until after I’d already said it that I became consciously aware of this fact. Since my wife did not seem to notice or care, I let it go.

– Hearing checks have become Perception checks. Luckily, me not knowing that did not adversely affect the game, because they rolled the (low–DC 5) Hearing check.

– Having an NPC is DANGEROUS. It is too tempting to railroad the game through an NPC. Tira took way too large a role in the development of what happened, and often times was the one who would pass her checks while Ela failed (my wife’s rolling for the first hour was abyssmal), which was understandably a little frustrating for her.

– I was a little surprised by Ela’s cold-hearted decision to murder Yubnub after they got what they needed from him. We didn’t bother choosing alignment when we started, so she certainly was free to let her actions decide her alignment. I was pleased to see my wife play her character in a way I would not expect from her in real life. Maybe she likes role playing a little more than she realizes… I hope I hope I hope.

– I planned the first encounter to be for just Ela and Tira, but for them to get in over their heads in the second encounter, heading off to a goblin infested cave on their own. My hope was that when the other two NPCs showed up there would be a feeling of relief and vulnerability. However, I learned that it does not matter whether or not that sort of Deus Ex Machina was planned before the game even began; it will feel like an impromptu decision by the DM to save the PCs from destruction. This is a problem; nobody likes a pity save.

– I am going to have to be patient in terms of getting my wife invested in her character and campaign. If she is not predisposed to the role-playing aspect of the game, then I can’t expect her to care about Ela or any NPC the first time we sit down to play.

Questions

1.  I am under the impression that the way to create an encounter is to take the level of the party, then multiply the number of members in said party by the standard monster value for that party’s level. Thus, for the first encounter I had two lvl 1 characters, so I used one lvl 1 skirmisher (which I valued at 100 XP, based off of other lvl 1 skirmishers that I found online) and four lvl 1 minions (obviously valued at 25 XP each) for a total of 200 XP. The second encounter featured seven lvl 1 minions (175 xp), one lvl 1 skirmisher (100 XP), and one lvl 2 artillery (125 XP) for a total of 400 XP. I staggered the offensive though, so that at first Ela and Tira were just fighting the minions. The 100 and 125 XP foes came in a few rounds later, right before the two additional PC/NPC characters showed up (the artillery had two rounds and the skirmisher had one round before the help showed up). Am I understanding encounter creation correctly?

– A subqueston is that it seems like almost every blog that I’ve read on the subject of DMing states that leveling up should happen every 13 encounters (on average). With my current understanding of 4e, it seems like leveling up would happen every 10 encounters (on average), because it is designed to give each member of a party 100 XP for each encounter. I do understand that as DM I have leeway in how I want to do this. I am just new to this so any help that you can give would be awesome.

2. In a solo game, how do you avoid the scenario where the PC takes one turn and then waits ten turns for all of the monsters and the NPC(s) take theirs? After our first game, my wife and I decided that she would roll for Tira (my NPC) and pretty much control the other two NPCs that showed up late. I would maintain control over Tira’s actions (simply as a way to provide help if needed), but the only aspect of control I would exhibit over the other two NPCs (Corrin and Skamos) would be in what they speak/say. This is both because the whole in-character roleplaying/talking is not her favorite part of the game, so this will help them feel like they are a part of the game. I have tossed the idea around of limiting how many monsters can take a turn each round so that it doesn’t take as long to get back to her turn, but I just really don’t like that idea for the sake of realism. Any ideas?

To End

I had a great time playing with my wife, but toward the end it hit me that she had way too much downtime while she was waiting for all of my turns to go by. My goal for next time is to keep her involved in the action more, either by limiting the number of monsters that she faces in any given encounter or to give her more control over the characters that accompany her. The latter is how we will start, and we will see how it goes from there.

Thanks for reading and any advice you want to throw my way.

Sources

As I said, I don’t have the 4e core rulebooks. What I used then was: the D&D Experience Quick Play Rules and pre-generated characters (found here at Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition blog), two maps from The Keep on the Shadowfell (as well as its quick rules guide), the 4e DM’s Screen (this was a life saver), some Miniatures (with their accompanying stat cards), and the internet.

Monsters used:

Lvl 1 Minion – Gobling

Lvl 1 Skirmisher – Goblin Runner (from Against the Giants)

Lvl 2 Artillery – Goblin Sharpshooter (MM pg. 137, from Dungeon Delves – Dangerous Delves)

Setting Up The Solo Game July 6, 2009

Posted by elopingcamel in 4e, DM, Solo Game.
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I was practicing running through the next encounter for the 3.5 Basic Game (so I’d be more familiar with it when I finally did run it with my little group), setting up my maps and miniatures, etc., when my wife walked in and asked what I was doing. I briefly explained and she surprised me by asking if I wanted her to play. I almost said, “No,” because I was so shocked. She has been a great sport in playing along with me and seems to have enjoyed herself in the process, but she has certainly never sought it out. Needless to say, I was excited.

The first thing I did with her was to ask her the following questions (which I completely stole from Oakspar77777, only tweaking my explanation of each to her slightly):

1. Game play/Mechanics: Role vs. Roll Playing – What aspect of the game does she enjoy more? I was surprised to learn that her favorite part is rolling and fighting. She does not care hardly at all for the back story or character development. That is good to know (although that is my favorite part, so it will probably cause for some interesting situations along the way).

2. Mechanics: Power – Did she want her character to be incredibly (and perhaps unrealistically) powerful or did she want to feel the challenge and be required to use her creativity/brains more to solve problems? She chose high power.

3. Setting: Fantasy – Did she want the world to be High, Mid, or Low Fantasy (see Oakspar77777’s examples of each)? She chose Mid.

4. Setting: Magic – Did she want the use of magic and magical items to be commonplace, extremely rare or somewhere in between? She chose in-between.

5. Setting: Tone – Did she want a darker or lighter feel to the adventure/world? Again she chose in-between.

6. Action/Setting Description – How graphic or censored did she want the game to be? She chose a PG Rating.

Asking these questions opened my eyes to what she finds enjoyable in the game, and sparked a few followup questions. Very quickly I learned that her least favorite part of playing was creating a character. This seemed so odd to me because that aspect of roleplaying is my favorite part. Ah well… So we used the Quickstart 4e rules and characters to just jump on into the game without having to drag her through the things she doesn’t like. My wife chose to play the Eladrin Ranger (originally named Riardon Brightvale), but changed her name to Ela. I quickly added some backstory elements to help make her being a ranger logical–her father is a woodsman/hunter (where she learned her tracking and woodland skills) and her mother was abducted before she was old enough to know her (thus explaining why she’d have so much time to run around the forest and become so independent/self-sufficient. It also helps to explain any potential racial enemy aspect to the game; we’d just choose the race that abducted her mother as her racial enemy). I also decided to name the town in which she was starting Brightvale, claiming that it was founded by an ancestor of hers. The town was described to her as a very small fontier town that has Eladrin, humans, half-elves, and halflings, but no dwarves. Also, there is a community of tieflings nearby that enjoys a fairly friendly relationship with Brightvale, although there are plenty of people in Brightvale that distrust the tieflings and desire not to deal with them. The last bit of back story I gave her was that her best friend is a half-elf warlock named Tira Duskmeadow (another 4e Quickstart character).

That pretty much sums up the game setup. I didn’t have much time to develop things, and, as I said, I am new to both DMing and especially 4e. The best we could do was just move forward and hope for the best.