D&D 4e and social conflicts?

21 September, 2009 at 10:49 pm (roleplaying-games) (, , , , )

Way back when 4e was previews and rumours I remember there was some talk of social conflict system. I haven’t heard much since, which is no surprise, as I don’t really follow most blogs focusing on 4e. Friend asked about the subject, so now I’m asking you:

  1. Is there a distinct social conflict subsystem in 4e? Particularly, distinct from skill challenges and skill rolls.
  2. If yes, is there some nice summary available somewhere? I have PHB and do not intend to spend any money on the other books and further I do avoid illegal (though morally justifiable) actions.
  3. If not, are there good examples of social skill challenges available online? I do not subscribe to the Insider and do not intend to do, so it is not very interesting for my purposes.
  4. Any good quality actual play reports featuring social conflicts that are handled mechanically would also be appreciated.

Thanks for help.

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Ropecon 09: briefly on zombies and cinema

10 September, 2009 at 7:51 am (actual play, Ropecon) (, , , )

Tommi Horttana, brother of a friend of a friend whom I had not met before, wanted to play some forgish games and another friend of a friend did not know how they were different from most roleplaying games. I prepared to create some horrible abomination on the fly, but luckily Sami Koponen of Efemeros fame happened to be nearby and the game he was playing in ended. So, we played some scenes of (the Finnish version of) Zombie Cinema.

The remarkable thing was my continued difficulty in playing games with shared narration and explicit scene framing. The others were pretty much pros or natural talents, it seemed. Small part of my poor performance is the heavy reliance on visual media (movies, TV) and the effects used therein, which I am not familiar with. The significant part is, I think, that though I can make scenes where something happens, I don’t have a feel for that something is supposed to be in this style of play. The good part is that now I have a new way of looking at storytelling.

I’ll be playing in a Burning Wheel campaign where I’ll try to make a dramatically interesting character. We are almost past the mechanical parts of character generation, so hammering beliefs and instincts is what remains. Just to not make things too easy for myself, I’ll try playing a religious character who is quite fervent about it and is not a sword-wielding maniac or overtly abrasive. This ought to be interesting.

Further, a bunch of us at Jyväskylä have been trying to make a short movie-like object. Success has thus far been mixed, but the parts I have found to be most enjoyable are the scripting/brainstorming sessions. They have also been the most challenging, which is appropriate. One lesson learned is to only include the relevant: Communicate something about a character or keep the viewers on track about what is happening, basically. (The other people make sure that inserting random bursts of action is not my problem.) Maybe this ties back in to playing a dramatically interesting character and to scene framing.

Note 1: Tommi Horttana is one of the designers of Lies and seductions, a free (as far as money is concerned) computer game for some non-open operating systems. It should be about relationships. I don’t play many computer games, but interested readers might want to take a look, as Horttana is quite smart as far as people go.

Note 2: Zombies.

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D&D, old and new (Ropecon 09)

5 September, 2009 at 2:18 pm (actual play, Ropecon) (, , , )

In Ropecon I played Fane of the poisoned prophecies as GM’d by mister Raggi. After the con I’ve played four sessions of 4e.

Minor spoilers regarding the Fane shall follow.

Both of the games were mediocre, but for different reasons. The Fane felt somewhat directionless; we entered the place, killed some stuff, discovered some healing herbs, moved on, encountered a Cthulhuan camel, and so on. There was a big secret that we did not uncover, though the clues were there. I’m not certain that figuring out the secret would actually have been useful. On the treasure side we did find the herbs and one shelf of books, but the value of either was dwarfed by the appetite of the disenchanter-camel. Overall, I think the game might have been better if we had had a concrete goal or reason for being there. A good resource hoard to search for, say, or something more personal. Also, second journey in would likely have been more meaningful.

On the system side, we had one combat that felt too long (the moon chamber). All of them did nicely evoke a sense of danger and the need to move on, which was, I think, the point.

Overall: The play itself was fun; interacting with the environment and guessing at the level of risks. The combat system is pretty incidental I’d go as far as to further simplify it or abstract it away, since what happens inside combat is not, at least for me, that interesting. Props to James for not naming the monsters. It does make them feel more sword and sorcerish, probably due to facing the unknown and otherwordly, and less like D&D fantasy (Dragonlance, Forgotten realms, …).

Yeah: Every character made it out alive, though two, including my fighter henchman, were unconscious.

As for the game of 4e, we had some fights, found some traces of drow conspiracy, had some fights, attacked some underground temple and were all killed. Verdict: 4e is far more deadly than old school D&D. Maybe our only healer being one-shotted during surprise round also was a contributing factor.

4e does not prohibit people from roleplaying; I don’t see any relevant differences when compared to 3rd edition. What is relevant, and what is striking in contrast to old D&D (which does not have much encouragement for roleplaying, either) is that modern D&D has combats that take awfully long time. I take it that people enjoy such combats, but I would rather be roleplaying. In addition, such awfully long combats create the illusory dichotomy between using rules and roleplaying, so harming much discourse on rpgs.

Our game would have been better if we had more players familiar with the rules. Right now there was insignificant amounts of fumbling and me and the GM keeping track of rules for other players. Roleplay was, as always, as meaningful as we made it.

Overall, I probably will be playing 4e (or 3rd edition) only when there are no other interesting games available. They are still preferable to almost all board and card games, though. Chess might be counterexample, if I bothered learning it properly.

So, mediocre games but for different reasons. Clearly different games, also, with similarities being in the name and some cosmetic stuff.

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