Oh, me? I'm just some guy, you know?
Alternatively: I'm a 26-year-old student at the University of Memphis, majoring in Japanese, minoring in Weeaboo, with a certificate in being ridiculously nerdy. Inexplicably, everyone I meet in real life seems surprised that I am a nerd at all. I play just about every genre of games out there, with an especial focus on stultifyingly intricate RPGs and soul-shatteringly hard action games. I listen to a vast array of bands that bring me glee when I hear their sounds, and have a slim chance of overjoying me again when I meet someone else who's heard of them. I take and enjoy philosophy courses. I read obscure English poems. As my handle may indicate, I'm obsessed with Voltaire. I watch a whole lot of anime. I'm developing a penchant for beer snobbery. I'm writing short stories whenever I have time. I am prone to bouts of self-criticism and navel-gazing. I am painfully self-aware. I am, in short, nerdiness personified.
I don't hang around IRC much anymore, but I'll keep this ancient cockboard down there as a memorial to some truly rad people I don't see these days.
So, mercifully few people were watching our episode last night, and I say “mercifully” because I will freely admit that it wasn’t up to snuff with our first episode, nor will our subsequent episodes follow this trend. This is largely because we were doing something starkly different, with not as much prep time, and a vastly less experienced DM (me, derp). In short, this session sort of nosedove, but in a very educational way. Players interested in Legend will find this post helpful as you consider things like party makeup and optimization, and GMs may find a lot of the rookie mistakes I made (it being my first time running any content whatsoever) amusing and familiar. I should also note that the specific things that went wrong had very little to do with the Legend system, and more to do with the choices we made while playing.
Also also, if you aren’t big on reading, you can just skip ahead to the bulleted list, where I’ll say what lessons should be drawn from this, rather than exhaustively detailing everything that went wrong.
The Scenario: objective-based PvP. Specifically, two rival teams of bounty hunters, chasing a target they must capture. Only one team gets paid. This means the end goal of the encounter is one team standing, one team down, and the bounty down as well.
That is what was supposed to happen, anyway.
What actually happened: I made a pretty basic, elementary error when I designed this session. Namely, that I thought I could predict what my players would do, in any way, shape, or form. When I made the bounty for this encounter, I made a character designed mostly to keep itself alive and run. The NPC was pretty damn hard to hit with attack rolls, had some decent resistance to physical damage, and had good healing, some of which was automatic. The NPC was also a robot priest, named Clergybot. So far, so good.
Imagine my alarm when every last character sheet I got from my players was focused on physical damage and attack rolls. I hadn’t expected this when I made Clergybot, but it turned out she was almost custom-engineered to not ever be harmed by these characters. The melee players in particular would need three separate saving throws to even attempt to attack her, and then they had to contend with a fair bit of armor and resistance to their particular damage. Which she would probably heal through without even spending actions to do so.
So, that was my first major failure to predict how my players would behave (specifically, their builds). And although it was probably too late to change anything by the time I found out, I regret not even trying to either make a new target or outright demanding some changes in player builds (strongly-worded hints and suggestions went largely unheeded).
Which leads to my next error. I had persuaded myself that when the players saw how tough Clergybot was, they would realize that it would take the combined efforts of both teams to bring her down. The first player to attempt to attack her was made an example of, so far, so good. But, and it makes sense in hindsight (just like my logic made sense to the players in hindsight), rather than pour everything into trying to burn Clergybot down, they turned to easier targets: each other.
Which might have been alright, since this was supposed to be PvP, but it turns out that they were all really hard targets themselves, with the exception of one player. That’s correct, every player made their character deal damage in the same way, and every single character in the encounter except for one (the ranger) was particularly resistant to damage being dealt that way. That player then proceeded to get whaled on all night, while his partner (a Chirurgic Poet) burned his HP to keep the ranger alive. In doing so, he boosted his armor even more. Like, to the point where he would never be hit, ever.
So, there we were, with one player staying alive for now but headed for certain doom, his partner who now had very low HP but literally could not be harmed by his opponents, and whose attacks were crappy enough that once he was alone, he would be no real threat to his enemy. And the objective being firmly ignored (although major props to Will, the ranger, who despite getting punished hard in-game and having major distractions IRL, kept his eye on the prize and landed the only significant blow on the target all night). The players were headed toward a stalemate, which is no fun, and one of the players in particular had taken all the heat for the entire encounter, which is especially not fun when you’re not designed for it (Clergybot actually threw a heal his way, out of pity).
Meanwhile, ironically, Clergybot could bring the entire encounter to an end pretty quickly if she wanted to, because she was a spellcaster and could bypass all the huge armor and physical resistances everyone was packing. That’s right, we had managed to eff up our encounter to the point where the only way it would ever have an ending was a Total Party Kill. But at least that would’ve been closure. After all, these characters were one-offs, so nothing would’ve been lost and it would’ve been a fairly memorable end. And stupidly enough, I hesitated. It wasn’t how I’d planned it. In hindsight, plans are meant to change.
By the time I nutted up and decided to assert my dominance over my foolish players, it was too late to do so. The combat had bogged down, the players were demoralized by the apparent fact that there was no end in sight, and one player in particular took so long with his turns (and this is everything that isn’t supposed to happen ever in Legend, and shouldn’t have been an issue for his build) that all the flow of the match was lost. We didn’t get past my first major nuke against the party before the session was called due to general weariness.
No matter what else went wrong, though, we will always have the wonderful image of a mummy on a flying, pyramid-motif motorcycle (seriously, this character was beyond rad) charging a robotic priest, and as it entered the priest’s repelling aura, began to feel nauseous, before doubling over and vomiting up sand, its attack forgotten.
So, what lessons can we draw from this?
For the players:
1. Don’t make parties where every character has the same strengths.
1a. Similar to the above, a Sage, Elementalist, or other spellcaster is worth their weight in solid platinum when you’re up against a bunch of armor-stacking assholes.
2. If you are expecting 2v2 PvP, a build designed to do area damage in melee range is way less than ideal.
2a. If the GM says that he thinks your build isn’t good for what’s going to be happening in-game, he probably knows what he’s talking about.
3. Please, for the sweet love of every possible god, when you’re playing a pen and paper game, no matter what game, read the rulebook before you start playing.
3a. Know your character backwards and forwards before the session begins.
3b. Clear up any questions about rules before the session begins.
4. The fewer questions you have to ask in-game, and the less time your turn takes, the more actual fun you (and everyone else) will have.
4a. Start thinking about your next turn as soon as your turn ends.
1. Accept the fact that you don’t have the first clue what your players are going to do.
1a. Plan your sessions accordingly
2. Having surprises ready for your players is one thing. Having a bait-and-switch is another.
2a. If it feels like a bait-and-switch for the players, it doesn’t really matter if they could have reasonably expected it, frequently dropped hints or not.
2b. Your clever hints will always be not clever enough or too clever. Be direct when you are giving important information to your players. ‘Subtle’ may as well be synonymous with ‘silent’.
3. If your player shows you their character sheet and you feel that it is bad, say so. Be blunt about it.
3a. If you see the character sheet, and think it looks great, and say so, and then in-game you realize that the players’ armor, damage and attack bonuses are actually really low (whether due to math errors or poor optimization), you have officially given that player bad information. Double-check, pls.
4. If, during preparation, you are starting to get the feeling that your encounter is over-tuned, you may well be right. Make adjustments accordingly.
4a. If you find out that your players are going to get countered mega fucking hard by your encounter, change the encounter or change the party.
5. If you want players to pay attention to a target, don’t make that target really hard to hurt. Make the target a threat. This is a lesson I should have remembered from MOBAs. (Ironically, Clergybot had the necessary tools to make people scared, I just didn’t use them until it was too late).
6. If it’s obvious that the only way the encounter will end within the next millenium is a TPK or divine intervention, make it happen. The sooner you’re out of that encounter, the better, really.
So, that’s that. Not the best experience on earth, but what doesn’t kill us or our viewers will make this a stronger show. We look forward to internalizing these lessons deeply, and coming back next week with a hell of a show. Same bat time (Thursdays, 9EST, 6PST), same bat channel (Streamtoid). If you’d like to see what our show looks like when we run it with some modicum of competence, check out Episode 1 in the archives.