Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Rhythm of the Old School

Running the Dwimmermount campaign has been a valuable experience on many levels, chief among them being how much fun I am having playing "D&D" again. I really can't emphasize enough the pleasure that this campaign has brought me. As I've said repeatedly in this blog, it's all well and good to theorize and philosophize about this stuff -- obviously -- but, without play, it's all largely meaningless. This is a hobby, after all, not a debate club and it's play that really matters. I've had fourteen sessions of this campaign since January (the most recent of which I'll post about later today or tomorrow) and they've all reminded me in various ways why I not only entered but stuck with this hobby for nearly 30 years. I think we all need to be reminded of that regularly or else the old school movement will, like many other movements, eventually become hollow and lifeless.

The other thing of which the Dwimmermount campaign has reminded me is that the much-derided resource management of old school games -- the mythical "15-minute adventuring day" -- is actually a boon rather than a bane. In the majority of our sessions, the party's explorations into Dwimmermount cease because the players decide that they've used up too many of their finite resources -- spells, potions, hirelings -- to continue without seriously risking their own deaths. They then head out of the dungeon either to nearby Muntburg or (more likely) three-days-ride-away Adamas to re-supply.

The result is that, with a few exceptions, most forays into Dwimmermount are not very long and typically end at inopportune or at least unplanned times. That is, the players can't anticipate when one of their front-line fighters is going to be slain by a giant ant or when their magic-user will run out of sleep spells. These events may in fact occur just as they're about to explore a new section of the mountain-dungeon for which they've been searching for some time or that they know will contain both great riches and great danger. But prudence -- that fine old school virtue -- dictates that discretion is almost always the better part of valor. Thus, they leave the dungeon keen to return as quickly as they can, because they are often on the verge of some new discovery. The finitude of their resources regularly ensures that they never have their fill of the dungeon in any given session; they are kept hungry for more, which ensures that the megadungeon holds their interest.

That's not the only benefit of managing finite resources, however. All these trips back to Muntburg or Adamas to re-supply and seek out new hirelings to replace their fallen comrades are opportunities to roleplay and to explore the world outside the dungeon. Some referees could simply let the PCs buy what they need without incident, treating it as a purely mathematical exercise and there's nothing wrong with that. Not every trip back to Adamas is an occasion for me to throw some random encounter at the party or to introduce some eccentric NPC -- but many are. I relish those opportunities, because they're where I get to ground the characters and the dungeon in a larger context and to create a "web" of connections that I can then later use for ideas, both within and without the dungeon.

Many of the emerging "plots" of my Dwimmermount campaign were extemperaneous inventions of mine as a result of rolls on a random encounter table or simply riffing off one of my players' comments about his character's activities in the city. Those inventions were made possible by the fact that the PCs aren't self-sufficient. They have to leave the dungeon and return to their home base, sometimes several times in a session. I don't see that as a flaw in old school gaming; I see it as something praiseworthy, for, without it, there'd have been no Jasper the alchemist or Saidon the spoon-wielding cleric of Typhon or the Argent Twilight or many other now-integral elements of the campaign. Because the characters only adventure 15 minutes a day, as the saying goes, they had to fill the other 23 hours and 45 minutes with something. That something is the stuff from which a campaign is made, the stuff that keeps the players coming back week after week keen to keep playing.

Resource management is, in my opinion, one of the key features of old school gaming. Its removal, or at least its watering down, is a marker for the end of that style of play. I also happen to think the impetus behind its removal is built on a fallacy, one that equates any form of "downtime" as antithetical to fun gaming. My experiences with Dwimmermount over the last six months have taught me that, while resource management guarantees that, at some point, the characters must pause for a time, that's not always a bad thing. The action may end when the PCs leave the dungeon, but that doesn't mean the adventure does.

57 comments:

  1. Great post. I found that my dungeon game organically developed in the manner you describe, as well, and I think for the same reasons. And I like that rhythm much better than the epic quest in four weeks model that seems to be popular with newer players. It just feels "right" or more "real."

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  2. Agreed. There's just something about the reality of limited resources (and the lethal dangers inherent in attempting to stretch them too far) that for some reason reinforces my preferred view of PCs as a grubby lot of thieves, grave-robbers, mercenaries, and killers for hire.

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  3. Very well put James. It seems that this is the "topic" of the day...

    http://rollad20.blogspot.com/2009/06/exactly.html

    Except of course, yours is very well worded.
    ;-)

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  4. One of the reasons that the 15 minute adventuring day is seen as a problem is that the new school is so dependent on plot, which introduces the problem of time. If such and such is not done by this particular time, the whole plot blows up in the everybody's face. Thus, one either has to seriously suspend disbelief beyond the breaking point and allow players to either recharge or survive encounters they shouldn't, or push players and characters beyond their resources and see them fall like flies — and once again endanger the plot.

    Thus, we've seen the power creep of PCs becoming much more powerful at lower levels — to ensure they can accomplish all that they need to in the given timeline of the overall plot.

    One of the wonderful things about the old school rhythm is that such time pressures rarely, if ever, exist because the driving force is not a plot, but rather the actions of the players themselves. Thus, as James has pointed out, a 15-minute adventure day is perfectly acceptable — and leads to opportunities in gaming that otherwise would not exist.

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  5. I'm sorry, but I'm just not convinced.

    First off, newer versions (I've been playing 4e for 6 months now) still have LOTS of resource management. Entire combats go by where the dominant thought pattern is "We're going to die and it's because we used up our dailies in the last encounter." (And then we survive, somehow, barely.)

    Second, there can be a kind of flow with RPGs, and being forced to go back to town can break it.

    Just disagreement, not criticism.

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  6. FrDave, very astute, and got what I was trying to go for in my response in a far more eloquent manner.

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  7. Good read, James. Resource management is one of the cornerstones of dungeon crawling. I do however borrow or introduce house rules that increase these resources, one of my favorites being the stanch wounds option. Trips to town remain a vital element of the campaign, but the players are able to cover new ground more often. Removing the important “trip to town” link to the surface world also serves to diminish the mythical feel of the dungeon. Players should sigh with relief every time their characters emerge once more into the light of day.

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  8. I agree, FrDave's comment was very observant. Also not what I would have said, but very persuasive.

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  9. I think a healthy mix of James' and Dave's extended duration/desperate to re-surface is the key.
    Make the PCs half-dread going into the area of operations, but joyously glad when they can resurface and re-supply.

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  10. What I find interesting is that if you play by the book, and do your crawling and them go back to town after resources run out only to go back again, you are missing out.

    Now, I think this is where the lack of "fun" complaints show up (cue Mike Mearls). If you do nothing more than stock up and then go back, then the break is just an annoyance.

    But, very little is said about that part of many games. Sadly.

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  11. As I've said repeatedly in this blog, it's all well and good to theorize and philosophize about this stuff -- obviously -- but, without play, it's all largely meaningless. This is a hobby, after all, not a debate club and it's play that really matters.

    Yeah. This is a huge reason I find Dragonsfoot and other sites a turn off these days, and why this blog and a couple of others are far more inspirational for actual gaming.

    We game once a month, at most, due to RL demands on time and energy (work, kids, SOs, etc.)You think 12 pages+ on initiative gets me geared up for play?

    Play. Or don't. But the endless ruleswanking just sucks the joy out of it.

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  12. Great post. Amongst our favorite gaming moments, a good number take place in the lead up or aftermath of adventuring. To me, gaming has always been about the organic development of plots as players poke their noses into dangerous places. I don't understand why characters shouldn't run out of torches, get wounded, or get too weighted down. -It's an essential part of what drives the gaming story forward. We start as players with character sheets, but the goal has always been to forget that part. You just went over an underground waterfall. You cleric pal is dead. Your torches are ruined and you are pretty badly wounded yourself. What are you going to do? Healing surge? -I think not.

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  13. I think Father Dave has an excellent point.

    I think the rhythm of Old School play is a bit more "military". Military life is often described in terms of periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. How many firefights do you want to have in a given day? One or two is probably enough for anyone.

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  14. The "15 minute adventuring day" has nothing to do with watering down resource management. If anything, it makes it more important.

    Instead, it's a break from 3e, where each spell cast beyond the first made an encounter easier and easier. Contrast with older editions, where a second or third spell typically gave diminishing returns. Fireballing the orcs a second time was a waste, because the first one killed them.

    3e characters had a strong incentive to fire off all their spells as quickly as possible, whether via buffs or attacks.

    4e moves away from stacking buffs to cut down on alpha striking. Resource management pushes to the group, rather than the individual, to make the press on/go home decision a group one, rather than a measure for one or two players.

    4e also has more inherent risk in the move on/go home decision, because it lacks any instant win spells like sleep or web. In my years playing AD&D, we always knew we could risk one more dungeon room as long as we had one of those spells available to us.

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  15. Plot as time pressure arose in 3e specifically because of the advantage in blowing all of your spells at once.

    The changes in 4e had nothing to do with allowing for more time sensitive plots. If anything, they were made to get away from that style of game.

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  16. I think that the "go back to the shop then come back to the dungeon" thing, day in and day out, seems too much like so many rpg video games I have played. "Shit! Almost out of health and mana potion! Back to the shop, chop chop!"

    One of my favorite mini-campaigns was when I had a party ship wrecked on Isle of Dread for several games. Talk about resource mgmt! Sure, now and again some treasure with heal potion and what not might show up (or potions made by a shaman - I did have a primative "shop" at the wall village). But the lack of an armorer and clothing shop had the paladin with partial plate pieces for armor after a couple of high combat scenarios. Also, after three games of clothing getting bloodied and sliced and torn, the party started wearing local clothing. By the time they made it back to civilized lands, they looked like extras from that old "Zulu" movie with grass skirts, skin shields, and feather-adorned spears.

    James, you get a pass easy because you are going for old school tropes with purpose and that is ok. Still, you might let the party stay in one of the dungeons empty rooms (you know you got 'em, it's old school). Camping inside the dungeon is an experience players should have. Also, some camping on the outside of the mountain itself will lead perhaps to interesting flying monster encounters. Just to mix it up a bit.

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  17. Camping in the dungeon...yeah, that's when those iron spikes come in mighty handy. :)

    In response to Mr. Mearls' second post, plot-as-time-pressure was pretty much standard by the time 3E came out, I think, so it's not surprising its mechanics played to that. Plot uber alles was becoming common before 2E was released, at least from my experience (Ravenloft!).

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  18. In response to Mr. Mearls' second post, plot-as-time-pressure was pretty much standard by the time 3E came out, I think, so it's not surprising its mechanics played to that. Plot uber alles was becoming common before 2E was released, at least from my experience (Ravenloft!).

    Yeah. I never understood how or why people ran packaged stories. Maps and settings YES! Stories? No. IMHO no module or supplement should ever suggest what the players should or might do. It's long been a joke that our group of players always ignore the most developed material and focus upon the least developed morsel we can find. However, I don't think it's an accident, we just have a nose for it. -That's where the best gaming is at.

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  19. Here’s the issue, though. Even if your campaign is not a railroad centered on an almighty plot, sometimes (in real life and in fiction) events ARE time-sensitive. Sometimes you need to chase the Orcs who have just raided the town and stolen villagers, or get to the Tower of Zorn before the bad guys do, or track down the Werewolf before he kills again. If the mechanics of the game enforce a pause of multiple DAYS or even weeks) to rest, heal, train, (etc), then you break both narrative flow and suspension of disbelief.

    Sham’s “stanch wounds” house rule is a classic example of how (for decades) people have patched D&D’s systems to add a little more stamina to characters.

    The “15 minute adventuring day” has elements about it that are interesting and potentially fun. But the basic concept has (for the most part) historically been an obstacle to fun. Now obstacles can have a positive outcome, in that they encourage DMs to get creative and come up with fixes (like Sham), but they’re not a virtue when it comes to rules.

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  20. IMHO no module or supplement should ever suggest what the players should or might do.

    That's a bit extreme, don't you think? Being forced into tough situations and making hard choices is an important aspect of roleplaying - at least from a character development standpoint. Many gamers like plot-driven campaigns - after all, what fun is a cool setting if there aren't any cool stories there? I can see that you probably feel that the players make the story and that the module should stay out of the way, but sometimes you need to put that plot in there to get the players invested in the game.

    I think what 4e gives you that some of the earlier iterations were lacking is a predictable pacing structure. As a DM, you can be fairly certain how far your players are going to get before they need to turn back. That's hugely useful when planning adventures, or trying to structure an evening's play. I can't tell you how many nights we sat down to play a 3.5 game and had the game either end too quickly because someone landed a massive crit or save-or-die on an enemy. The opposite was also true in 3.5, that sometimes the evening just dragged on too long, because people were out of spells, or saving spells, or something equivalent.

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  21. "The “15 minute adventuring day” has elements about it that are interesting and potentially fun. But the basic concept has (for the most part) historically been an obstacle to fun. Now obstacles can have a positive outcome, in that they encourage DMs to get creative and come up with fixes (like Sham), but they’re not a virtue when it comes to rules."

    I think that this type of dialogue is most constructive when commenters avoid speaking in absolutes. James' variety of resource management is a different style of play, that's all. Having to turn back from the dungeon because of poor planning is not an "obstacle to fun", it's simply a different kind of fun.

    Try it sometime.

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  22. "I think what 4e gives you that some of the earlier iterations were lacking is a predictable pacing structure. As a DM, you can be fairly certain how far your players are going to get before they need to turn back."

    I agree that this is valuable in a game like 4e, where combat encounters are emphasized and take a fair amount of time to set up. 0e encounters take much less time to set up, so the DM can develop more of them to take into account player unpredictability. You'll notice that in the original LBBs, Gygax recommends that the DM plan out some four or five levels of dungeon before the first game. That's because it's not terribly time consuming to do so, and necessary in a game that's quite often more about exploration than combat.

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  23. James, you get a pass easy because you are going for old school tropes with purpose and that is ok. Still, you might let the party stay in one of the dungeons empty rooms (you know you got 'em, it's old school). Camping inside the dungeon is an experience players should have. Also, some camping on the outside of the mountain itself will lead perhaps to interesting flying monster encounters. Just to mix it up a bit.

    I agree with this sentiment. I especially hope that every trip back home is a little more eventful than the occasional wandering monster/NPC.

    Throw some mother nature at them. Toss a blizzard in their way. Bury their typical trails in a mudslide.
    Drop a tornado within sight of 'em. It's just one more way to challenge them beyond what's underground or in the minds of monsters.

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  24. "I think what 4e gives you that some of the earlier iterations were lacking is a predictable pacing structure." -- asmodean66

    Like clocking in at work, clocking out for lunch, clocking back in, and then out at the end of the day?
    Sounds like 'Papers and Paychecks'.

    Life, especially dangerous living, is not at all like that. That alone ruins any sense of verisimilitude, IMO.

    The military comment above, by Korgoth, seems to ring much more true. One simply cannot take for granted that an engagement with the enemy will wind-down in one's favour. Re-supply and the severing of supply lines (running back to town at a moment's notice, or catching a second wind without amphetamine usage) is part and parcel of scouting/advanced formations in actual conflicts, and has slaughtered millions of poor bastards over the centuries.

    Without a corps of dedicated muleskinners, a group must simply, 'soldier on' as best possible, let alone, 'hold the line' of defence against the foe.

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  25. IMHO no module or supplement should ever suggest what the players should or might do.

    That's a bit extreme, don't you think?


    No, I just want settings and possible hooks. No path the characters are expected to take. It's just the way we've always gamed. In fact, I didn't like a lot of the 'old school' modules beyond their maps.

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  26. Sounds like 'Papers and Paychecks'<


    Heh heh, there can be no doubt the pretty lady is old school! ;)

    By my mid-late teens (app. 1981) we were using more story elements and recurring NPC's as villains. I'd say that the characters in my long-running gameworld stopped being graverobbers and more like Heroes in E. Burroughs and R.E. Howard circa 1982. Most of us had our girlfriends and such playing regularly, and now that I think of it they might have had an impact of the move from the dungeon tropes to adventures with some story elements ( a railroad through a sandbox?).

    I ran one of the few pure dungeon adventures for the group at that time, White Plume Mountain, and the game fell flat. So long before 2nd edition, we were moving on from Gygax cliches to a way of running/playing that I think was evolved and more mature.

    But right now in my current game I am longing for some old tropes. I mentioned to my latest group that they would soon be at a dungeon and might encounter gelatinous cubes and such. Our newest player, a 20 year old 3.5 player, was like "Gelatinous cube? ha ha! Are you fucking kidding me!" Made me feel pretty lame, but I'm still going to have the damn cubes.

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  27. Sometimes you need to chase the Orcs who have just raided the town and stolen villagers, or get to the Tower of Zorn before the bad guys do, or track down the Werewolf before he kills again. If the mechanics of the game enforce a pause of multiple DAYS or even weeks) to rest, heal, train, (etc), then you break both narrative flow and suspension of disbelief.

    For my own part, my suspension of disbelief has often been broken the other way. Events which in real life would probably have played out over weeks or months are over in 24 hours of game time, because the PCs are utterly relentless.

    And if a situation does come up where the players must act with dispatch, even though their resources are nigh-exhausted, then all more opportunity for them to show their true colors. Will they push on despite exhaustion and risk, or will they slink back to town to buff up, while the werewolf rampages on?

    This is not to say that resource management is a feature wanted in every game. If I'm playing Dogs in the Vineyard, I want to be making challenging moral choices, not counting bullets and measuring powder, and if I am playing Mutants & Masterminds, I want to be slinging energy bolts and making grand soliloquies, not wondering when I last ate.

    But for a certain type of gritty low fantasy, aka D&D fantasy, my 10' pole and my 30# sack are just the ticket.

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  28. Like clocking in at work, clocking out for lunch, clocking back in, and then out at the end of the day?
    Sounds like 'Papers and Paychecks'.


    Heh, that's funny. I was actually thinking more along the lines of a narrative structure, like the acts of a play or the chapters of a book. You never heard the Three Musketeers rambling on about supply lines. They must have had them, because they had food and drink, but it wasn't important to the story. What was important was romance, danger, plotting, revenge... in short, adventure. Now, don't get me wrong. Some people really like sandbox-style resource management games. Personally, I don't. I have enough of that in my day-to-day as it is!

    I agree that this is valuable in a game like 4e....0e encounters take much less time to set up, so the DM can develop more of them...
    This is a good point, and one I hadn't thought of. Too often I think of D&D as the sort of game with heavy, mechanical combat, which is the way we've been playing it since I started, in 2nd edition. Lighter combat rules would allow you to place more emphasis on other aspects of the game (although, I don't think I'd make resource management a high priority in any game I ran)

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  29. @Brunomac: |fist-bump| Represent. ;)

    @asmodean66: I can see where you are coming from, however, I rather doubt that the Musketeers, alone, would survive long in most D&D Underworlds versus slimes and undead, either. :) In other words, it kind of mixing metaphors (like that horrible Star Trek/x-Men crossover).

    As always, YMMV.

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  30. I don't think I'd make resource management a high priority in any game<

    I think a good example of how I handle the the resource mgmt came up at the game the other week. An player wondered about arrows, and if he should be keeping track of them. Well, I assume that he starts with around two dozen, and has been getting back at least half from dead enemies. So I just said. "Buy a new batch at the next town, and assume you have just under a dozen left right now."

    I tell my players to spend money on their own for stuff like that. I say "it's no fun earning money if you don't spend money." I leave it up to them to count off coin for daily stuff like food, drink, and arrows. What I would worry about is them buying a house or a ship - then I want to know how the money flows. Same with most resources.

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  31. like that horrible Star Trek/x-Men crossover<

    Ye Gods. That was around the time I stopped buying comics on a regular basis. Thanks for saving me thousands of dollars, cross-over hacks.

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  32. I don't think I'd make resource management a high priority in any game

    I admit that it's a bit foreign to have to check myself and remind my players that they need to switch out torches and cross off rations and the like. But I can't wait for the day that they're three levels down and their last torch is starting to flicker. Mu-fucking-hahaha!

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  33. sometimes (in real life and in fiction) events ARE time-sensitive. Sometimes you need to chase the Orcs who have just raided the town and stolen villagers, or get to the Tower of Zorn before the bad guys do, or track down the Werewolf before he kills again. If the mechanics of the game enforce a pause of multiple DAYS or even weeks) to rest, heal, train, (etc), then you break both narrative flow and suspension of disbelief.

    If anything, not having to pause for a while to heal your wounds or resupply is what would break my suspension of disbelief. If the party is badly wounded and the orcs are making off with half the villagers to their slave pits, it is far more dramatic and heroic for the decision to immediately set out after them be one that might well doom the party to a noble death because they were already weakened and did not have the supplies for an extended chase into the mountains, and conversely stuff like healing surges and encounter powers that make sure a party doesn't blow its wad all at once make it an easy (if unbelievable) decision to instantly set out after those dang orcs! If verisimilitude is what you are after and you don't want to suspend your disbelief screaming from a building by a rubber band, then stuff like stopping to heal and resupply makes perfect sense. If you want to play superhero and think that just because you got slashed to ribbons five minutes ago, that shouldn't stop you from engaging in a half dozen more epic fights before bedtime, then stuff like healing surges and encounter powers make perfect sense. These are just different preferences; some like a more gritty, low-powered fantasy rpg, and some like superheros in chainmail.

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  34. I don't think there has to be an inconsistency between good narrative and resource management.

    It's true that the Three Musketeers may not have had to worry about supply lines, but plenty of fictional heroes have had to worry about running out food, or running out of ammunition.

    We had a recent battle where the party faced a wave of undead. They formed a shield wall with the toughest fighters and then the rear echelons hurled holy water - very effective. Because we keep careful track of such things, we knew that each of the six characters had 5 vials. And there was a definite dramatic tension as the supplies dwindled but the undead kept coming. You simply can't get that sort of tension -- the tension that comes from a "culminating point" in a battle, as Clausewitz would describe it -- unless you're paying attention to resource management.

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  35. plenty of fictional heroes have had to worry about running out food, or running out of ammunition.

    Sure, but they run out of them when the plot dictates. In a roleplaying game, the DM can be the governor of such affairs, using resource shortages when dramatically appropriate to create tension. This allows you to cut out the tedium associated with resource management, but still obtain the dramatic tension.

    The other "problem" with games that are heavy on resource management is that it often feels like you're playing Accountants & Actuaries. You need to sit down, keep a careful count of each arrow you use, how many you're able to get back after each battle, how long since you re-filled your lantern, how many flasks of oil you're carrying. Is the dramatic tension created really worth the time you spend doing the paperwork?

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  36. Sure, but they run out of them when the plot dictates. In a roleplaying game, the DM can be the governor of such affairs, using resource shortages when dramatically appropriate to create tension. This allows you to cut out the tedium associated with resource management, but still obtain the dramatic tension.

    But that isn't real tension then is it? I mean, I know the GM is just doing it for drama and my character will be just fine. Personally, I prefer when both the GM and I aren't sure if the PCs are going to make it out alive. I think that's the trade off. Of course, there are many different degrees of resource management and it can be taken too far.

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  37. You need to sit down, keep a careful count of each arrow you use, how many you're able to get back after each battle, how long since you re-filled your lantern, how many flasks of oil you're carrying. Is the dramatic tension created really worth the time you spend doing the paperwork?

    Ah, it can be a species of fun keeping track of that stuff. Players have to consider carefully what they can take along with them, knowing that there are consequences if they mistakenly leave something behind. I get to watch their supplies dwindle, knowing that they're balancing their desire to push ahead with a real possibility of getting stuck in some dismal passage without any food or light. Plus, in the early stages anyway, all that resupplying eats up their funds pretty good. By the time they can afford a mule, it feels like a minor victory.

    I'm not saying it's for everyone, or for every game, but it's an enjoyable style of play. I actually consider it more fun to keep track of the necessary resources than to level up a 4e character, which I find offers all the enjoyment of manipulating a spreadsheet.

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  38. Back to the military analogy:

    If my combat load-out is too little, I am not only risking my life, I am risking by partner's as well. The action of him handing me another magazine is not only a force-divisor, but imperils both of us at precisely the moment the perpetrator of violence is looking for; sees the decline in output of firepower, is then emboldened, and the tide changes.

    This stuff really matters, folks, regardless of whether it is in contemporary setting, or a pseudo-mediaeval one. I know, sure as sh!t that I go over my gear each time before I take my post, and know that until the boys in blue arrive, my partner and I are entirely responsible for our own safety, let alone that of those we've been hired to protect.

    Keeping track of arrows, rounds/mags, or power-cells is the difference between life and death.

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  39. I concede that the above assumes a non-Plot-driven game play style, and that isn't the only sort. Yet, it was the topic of the OP.

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  40. Personally I never saw the "15 minute day" before 3e. Back in the day with 1e, the party usually had the resources to stomp through a very large number of encounters in a day; with Weapon Specialised Fighters/Rangers, Cavaliers and such Unearthed Arcana madness easily trashing the poor monsters.

    The 15 minute day was an emergent property of 3e's (a) much tougher monsters, (b) Buff spells and (c) abandonment of the 10-minute Turn as the standard measure of time in dungeon exploration.

    I managed to bring back a 1e ethos in my current 3e game by using old modules & monster stats, and de facto 10 minute Turns. I've sometimes seen 3e-isms like the Raging Barbarian push on into the next encounter, but this kind of behaviour has negative consequences and in extremis I'll even boot the player if they're getting other PCs killed.

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  41. Kudos to Alexander for referencing Clausewitz!

    Kudos to Timeshadows for great imagery!

    I'll play in either of your campaigns anytime! I wonder how many magazines/arrow bundles I can really carry effectively...

    Actually, my recently-started campaign over Skype with a bunch of my old players has been very gratifying. They have all instinctively embraced the resource management idea from the get-go among other old school styles.

    Anyone who pays attanetion to military actions knows that solid, sustainable logisitics is often far more important than firepower. The U.S. didn't win WW2 because we consistently outfought the Germans and Japanese - we won because we could flood the entire world with our troops and oodles of material.

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  42. But that isn't real tension then is it? I mean, I know the GM is just doing it for drama and my character will be just fine.

    I'll give you two scenarios. In the first, the DM rolls a die on a random encounter table and it says that rats have eaten all the party's food supplies. In the second, the DM just decides that the party's food has been eaten by rats. When he looks up from behind the screen, he says the same thing either way. "Your food has been eaten by rats. You have nothing to eat." The situation should create dramatic tension, regardless of how you got there.

    To say, "I know that the DM is creating this drama and therefore it's irrelevant" is metagaming. It also ignores the larger point, which is that the DM created the entire dungeon and all the encounters. Thus, all the drama in the game springs forth from the DM. A good DM should also be fudging die rolls here and there to help things go smoothly. To have an utterly random, impartial system requires a computer, not a person.

    Personally I never saw the "15 minute day" before 3e.

    2nd edition had this problem, too. A cleric got 1-2 heals/day at first level and it was all too common for a few bad rolls to put a party in such bad shape that the cleric was out of healing and you could just head home. Also, you always had the wizard with his half-dozen spells that were spent in the first two encounters.

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  43. asmodean, the example at the beginning of your last post is unfair. We're not discussing a random table in which one of the examples is rats taking your food. The PCs use the resources; they aren't yanked away by a table. The resource management has to come from the players, not GM fiat.

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  44. "I'll give you two scenarios. In the first, the DM rolls a die on a random encounter table and it says that rats have eaten all the party's food supplies. In the second, the DM just decides that the party's food has been eaten by rats. When he looks up from behind the screen, he says the same thing either way. "Your food has been eaten by rats. You have nothing to eat." The situation should create dramatic tension, regardless of how you got there." -- asmodean66


    IMO, a Classic-play style GM wouldn't tell you that the food had been eaten by rats.

    S/he'd say, "Do you take any special precautions as you camp out in the Dread Foyer of the Mad Mansion?"

    The players would say what they would say, and that would be that.

    Then, at the watch in which the rats begin scuttling about, the person on watch would be told,
    "You see something moving in one of the provisions bags. What do you do?"

    See the differences?
    1). The players still get to act
    2). The provisions aren't all in one bag, so as not to be lost in one single calamitous event -- why? Because each character has their own provisions written down on their individual sheet (or 3x5 card).
    ---

    "A good DM should also be fudging die rolls here and there to help things go smoothly. To have an utterly random, impartial system requires a computer, not a person." -- asmodean66


    Why? Why does the GM need to fudge rolls? Didn't these fools go into a hornet's nest looking for trouble?
    If the encounter 2d4+1 rats, or 2 Bullettes, its an encounter. One doesn't *plan* to bump into a Bullette in a dark alley any more than they *plan* to bump into a small swarm of a dozen rats in the well-patrolled City of Shaledove. It just happens...
    ...like a car accident, or an IED/EFD.

    'Them's the breaks', as they say.

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  45. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  46. This is one of the more... interesting rationalizations I've seen for this phenomenon.

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  47. @Welleran: Cool, thanks! Next time you're in South Florida, drop me a line. :)

    Oh, BTW, 12 30-round magazines is pretty much standard load out for contemporary 'warfighters'.

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  48. @Welleran: But you already knew that, didn't you? Are you Naval Surface Warfare? SBU?

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  49. [quote] If you want to play superhero and think that just because you got slashed to ribbons five minutes ago, that shouldn't stop you from engaging in a half dozen more epic fights before bedtime, then stuff like healing surges and encounter powers make perfect sense. These are just different preferences; some like a more gritty, low-powered fantasy rpg, and some like superheros in chainmail.[/quote]

    Carl: Which is less appealing? That in one edition the PCs are (relatively) fresh and ready to go five minutes later, with serious rest meaning overnight? Or that in another edition it’s going to be at least 3-4 days before they can even consider giving chase without it being pure suicide? For example, say at 4th-6th level in 1E, where it’s going to take quite a few Cure Light Wounds before a beat-up party is even close to healed up? The truth is that no edition of D&D really serves BOTH to provide for realistic delays due to serious injury AND to allow for heroics like we see in movies and books, where the protagonist might be seconds from death one moment, but ready for another deadly battle shortly thereafter. The 3.x editions are probably the closest to a working compromise, with systems allowing both for verisimilitude & cinematic heroics, but at the cost of pretty extensive mechanics, which really bog down at higher levels. And it still doesn’t really allow for both of the above situations.

    [quote]For my own part, my suspension of disbelief has often been broken the other way. Events which in real life would probably have played out over weeks or months are over in 24 hours of game time, because the PCs are utterly relentless.[/quote]

    Rafial: Fair point. I have an issue with that too. Personally I’m not totally happy with the rest/healing pace of any D&D edition. Sometimes I’d like to see a PC be laid up with a significant injury. But I’d really like them to have the ability to chase after a bad guy following a nasty fight too. As it stands, no edition really provides for both options. I guess you can get close in earlier editions if the party keeps a substantial stock of healing potions in reserve, but I’m not fond of characters being so dependent on STUFF.

    I’m also considering a house rule for 4th under which there’s a chance that any character who has been hurt beyond a certain point (maybe unconscious, or brought down under their raw CON score in HP) has sustained a lasting, serious injury, which will impose a penalty until he has a certain number of days’ bed rest. Maybe a movement penalty for a fractured leg, a hit penalty for an arm injury, a penalty to their max HP/total number of surges for a lung/torso wound. Something to ground the action in reality a bit more and encourage them to occasionally take a serious break for rest and recuperation. I’ll probably make it a simple d6 chart, too, in homage to OD&D. 

    [quote]Keeping track of arrows, rounds/mags, or power-cells is the difference between life and death.[/quote]

    Timeshadows- With this I concur. No matter which edition of the game I’m running, we keep track of this kind of thing. I agree that it’s more realistic to run out when you run out, and that accounting for ammo and light sources is quick and easy enough to not get so boring that you can justify ignoring it. YMMV.

    Cool discussion.

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  50. I’m also considering a house rule for 4th under which there’s a chance that any character who has been hurt beyond a certain point has sustained a lasting, serious injury, which will impose a penalty until he has a certain number of days’ bed rest.

    I just saw a great system someone developed to represent serious injuries in 4e using the disease track mechanic. This probably doesn't make much sense for people unfamiliar with 4e's disease system. Basically, you would treat a broken leg or other injury just like a disease that takes a long time to heal. It was a very elegant modification of the existing system - I wish I could remember where I saw it - Keith Baker's blog, maybe?

    Timeshadows - I don't want to get into the fudging rolls discussion, because it's way off topic. I only used it as an example of the way a DM can manipulate the game without the players knowing. If you like to run/play in games in which the party is regularly obliterated by statistical anomilies, the more power to you.

    More to the point, I see what you're saying about resource management and how a classic-style DM might try to run a game, but I don't think I'd ever want to run a game that way. I see it as bringing trivialities to the forefront of the game. It makes me wonder: do you want to play the supply chain game or the adventure game?

    I have one other thing that relates back to the original post, and that I find really cool about classic-style games. That is, a random encounter or event can become very big and important to the story. That's very cool when it happens and extremely rewarding for the players and the DM.

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  51. Timeshadows: No, submariner. I only carried a 9MM and 4 magazines in Iraq which was no burden at all!

    Regarding resource management and drama, don't forget the reverse situation. That pile of rations left by the evil high priest just slain might be more valauble to a starving party than the gold they also captured. Using mundane items as a "reward" is something I do periodically for a bit of drama. It actually works great if the players are into the game. Magic fountain that the water becomes mundane after taking it away? Sounds like a great source of potable water to me to keep them going. FYI, speaking of water, it will run out MUCH faster than food will.

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  52. Resource management is worth including in any edition of D&D because it creates interesting decisions for the players:

    Do I use this healing potion now, or save it for the next hit - if I survive it?

    Do I cast my last fireball on this group of enemies, or hold onto it for when were up against something tougher?

    Do we risk going on with only one torch, or turn back now and buy some more?

    Do I waste my last arrows on these goons, or close in with a knife so that I can use them later?

    ...and so on. As has been mentioned earlier, this creates tension. I'd like to add to that by saying it creates interest by forcing the players to make hard choices.

    To summarise: Hardships can *emerge* out of the resource management that keep the game *interesting*.

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  53. @Welleran: Thank you for your service.

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  54. @asmodean66: I don't like fudging dice rolls, and it's always been lots of fun for me.

    But that's the beauty of the game(s), you can play them as you like.

    Cheers.

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  55. The post (by Michelle, I believe) about 4e's resource management makes an interesting point - there definitely is a certain element of resources present. However, I think it's different enough to bother some people.

    The first of the two basic resource mechanics in 4e is that a short 5-minute rest recharges your encounter powers and allows you to spend healing surges until you recover all your hit points. The surge mechanic basically means that magical healing (by spell or potion) isn't useful for much of *anything* except "a few more hit points come back during combat instead of right after it ends." Surges at every rest *also* means that characters will (unless they are very overextended or very foolish) enter every fight at full or nearly-full health.

    This drives me a little bonkers: Not being able to walk into a fight wounded removes a lot of drama and tension. It also seems weird for a character to be beaten on all day and still be able to walk into a fight at the top of his game. You could make the argument he's down some resources from losing healing surges, but in practice when I've run the game, it doesn't much matter. When you can only really use 2 or 3 surges in a single encounter, having 9 out of 12 remaining is not really much of a disadvantage.

    The other resource mechanic is that characters regain daily powers and all their healing surges at the beginning of every day. This has some even stranger implications that threaten to wreck suspension of disbelief for me. (YMMV, naturally) What it means is that even in a normal recovery absent any healing magic, no injury of any kind (including one that brings you to 0 hp and comes within a hair of killing you) can *ever* last longer than one night. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but that's so far from the truth, it's almost like you aren't playing a person anymore!

    But the really big problem with resource management and 4e is that nearly any other form of resource, including just about any gameworld or equipment consideration, has had its impact removed or seriously mitigated. While you still need food and water (assuming the DM enforces that), half the ranged attack powers don't even bother to tell you how much ammo they use up. (This constantly comes up for me with Blinding Barrage, the 1st-level Rogue Daily. The flavor text makes it sound like you would need to throw at least several knives or whatever, but they never even venture a guess how many anywhere in the rules.) Monsters don't really hurt gear anymore. Even the Rust Monster just kind of puts magic swords in timeout until you get them reforged (which requires nothing but a wizard and the dust from the monster's stomach). And my personal favorite: you don't need lanterns anymore, ever, because any wizard can cast Light as often as he wants at no cost.

    The main resources that you juggle in 4th are both abstract quantities existing only in the rules. But those aren't actual things in the game world, and don't deepen immersion in quite the same way. In-game objects tend to just get swept under the carpet. You could make house rules to fix that, but given the sheer number of modifications that would entail (going through all the ranged attack powers, for one), is it even worth it?

    4e's not a bad game if you don't care about that stuff, but there are just some parts of the game that 4e can't handle unless you want to spend hours of drudgery revising powers.

    With the missing resource game back in, though, a 15-minute workday does make sense, especially in an environment where you don't travel around much. Megadungeons and wildernesses take a long time to explore because there's a lot of constant wandering around and searching the area. Cities, or smaller modern dungeons? Of course your workday is short - events consolidate into the couple hours you run errands.

    Ultimately, I think it comes down to people trying to measure the challenge of two very different encounters - a small encounters met as part of a series, and a large stand-alone battle - by the same flawed yardstick.

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  56. Rob: Those are all valid points. I still enjoy 4e a lot. Then again, the campaign I play in is very role-playing and plot-heavy, and the combat encounters less common; thus, the entire resource issue is simply not as important.

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  57. I'm starting a online 4e campaign right now that is very wilderness-based. I'm actually trying for a sandbox feel, inspired by Chgowiz's very interesting comments on this.

    I'm definitely against the "15-minute workday" idea, mainly because I've seen it misused a lot in a crpg-esque way. Get into fight, cast spells until enemies are ash and powder. Rest, rinse, repeat.

    James, what you're describing isn't really a "15-minute workday". The fact that the PC's are travelling, having encounters and such to get rested up and re-stocked means that you're just adding different types of "work" in the sense of different activities in between pure-combat encounters.

    I've been trying to consider how to incorporate a degree of resource management (be they health resources, or magical or supply resources) into a 4e game.

    I think one way to do it is to play enemies and creatures much more dynamically than the standard "encounter" format or dungeon calls for.

    I've never really understood why, for example, if a couple rooms of orcs get killed, and the party retreats to find a place to rest up, the rest of the orcs don't gear up, find the troll and come looking for them. They better hope they left the dungeon at that point - cause they ain't going to get 8 hours of rest!

    I'm thinking of using healing surges in 4e to simulate the effects of food, exhaustion, exposure and such. I'm going to house-rule that an 8-hour rest returns 2 healing surges, but to get back to full surges, you need a full-day rest in a SAFE place. I know that sleeping in the forest when I know that the goblins are looking for me would not be condusive to "rest".

    Also, I'll use skill checks to determine "wilderness survival" - finding food, shelter. Failure or partial success will cost healing surges, as the party gets tired and beaten up. Good resource planning will give them bonuses on their checks.

    I am finding that 4e isn't very well-adapted to the more hard-core, count-your-arrows style of resource management we see in older versions of d&d. I know that that sort of game doesn't really do it for me, but I think that using the Obsidian variant skill challenges and reducing the return of healing surges will give me an interesting type of wildernessy resource management.

    After all, making interesting choices is a big part of what makes all games fun. Sounds like we all have different ways of encouraging that in our games, and it's neat to read some of the other ways people are doing things.

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