Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Winging it

Back in the old 1st and 2nd edition days I was almost always the DM. I'd been doing it long and often enough I had large numbers of monsters memorized and could basically make things up as I went along. I had enough supplementary materials (adventure modules and what not) that I could pull out if I needed a cool map or a better NPC name. They were definitely sandbox campaigns as I usually had only a couple plot ideas in mind and so the game often wandered down paths that I never expected.

Can this be done anymore? One bonus I've heard about 4E is that it is much easier for DMs to make stuff up on the fly. In 3.x this is really hard to do. Maybe its just because I rather DM anymore, or because I have other things to do with my time then memorize hundreds of monsters, but with things so much more complicated and detailed I'm not sure it could really happen anymore. I suppose you could keep a stack of premade NPCs that you could throw in when you need them and a bunch of maps but its much harder then it used to be do come up with new things in a smooth way.

I think this is why the adventure path has come to dominate our 3.x games. That pirate campaign with drow and pirates would be much much harder to run today then it was 10 years ago. With the APs you can still make minor tweaks like dropping or modifying encounters but most of the work is already done.

Could a sandbox game be run in 3.x without a ton of prework?


Rognar said...

Absolutely, I think it's possible. Some old-school gamers complain about the complexity of the stat blocks for 3.x monsters, but in reality, most of that complexity can be ignored if you want an on-the-fly encounter. Also remember, because 3.x has so much customization of monsters, you can use that to your advantage. For example, I want to create an orc war party right off the top of my head. Ok, let's say 6 orcs...attack bonus +3, 1d8+1 damage, 6 hp each. Now, I need a leader, attack bonus +5, 1d8+2 damage, 18 hp. Done. Does it matter how I came up with the numbers? Not really. The players aren't going to know what feats the orcs have, so any combination of ad hoc stats are believable. As long as you know the most basic attack options of the monsters you use, it doesn't matter what the other 12 spell-like abilities they have might be.

Rognar said...

A further point on APs, I am beginning to come to the conclusion that they assume optimized characters for survival. Some guys like that, but I find it limits play options. Suppose you like to play characters that are a bit more believable, a bit less minmaxed. Not only do you risk a pretty short lifespan playing such a character in most adventure paths, you are also endangering your buddies as well. I prefer a bit of sandbox play. It allows players to take on challenges they feel more confident they can handle, rather than always being the last line of defense against yet another apocalypse.

Obiri said...

The Dungeon magazines seem to be the best example of requiring min/maxed characters. The encounters are ridiculously tough. Having only played the last two sessions with you guys for AoW I can't say for sure but reading through the rest of that one as well as SC and ST, they are just tough, tough, tough.
The 3.5 paizo APs seem to be toned down a bit but that might be because most don't go over level 15.

The new APs assume you are only using the Pathfinder core rules, which removes most of your options for min/maxing. I think more normal characters will have an easier time of it because there is simply less ability to min/max.

Your points about making stuff on up the fly are valid. I guess you don't really need to have perfect stat blocks in your head as long as whatever numbers you use are somewhat realistic and reasonable.

Derobane-bane said...

I love sandbox campaigns best of all because you dont have to work so hard to create an illusion that the PCs are in charge. In sandbox, the PCs really do hold their own fates in their own hands. If the adventure sucks, PCs will just turn around and do something else. In adventure paths, if you dont like the story, go home.
That being said, sandbox approaches took me way more time to prepare. I would spend hours being creative, building NPCs, cities, organizations etc to make the adventure colorful and exciting. I was the authority figure on EVERYTHING and thus the world was that much more believable. In adventure paths, I would just read the magazine a couple of times and hope to remember 1/3 of the content so that I could run the game with minimal competence.

I would still choose to run the APs, though. I just dont have the time nowadays to be as involved as was when I was single.