Friday, November 25, 2011

Fourthcore: For Real This Time

So we finally got around to playing C1: Crucible of the Gods. This scenario is a first level introduction into Fourthcore gameplay by Save Versus Death. The premise of the adventure is that every twenty-five years the gods want to drown the world in saltwater and heroes of the generation must journey into the ziggurat and face the trials of each of the four gods to appease them and prove that civilization is worthy enough to continue. I have a metric shit ton of respect for Sersa V and his guiding principles of Fourthcore, this scenario is one of my favorite published adventures. The scenario is intelligently and expertly designed and just savagely unrelenting in its unwillingness to let you make any mistakes. 

Short version of the post: I feel like we botched it.  

Earlier in the week Fred requested that instead of playing the next Hekinoe scenario on the weekend, we play Fourthcore. I was not opposed to this, and had him ask our Facebook group what they thought. Some responded with a Hell yes, others took a pretty significant time to respond. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but I had no prep work done for this scenario as I was trying to focus primarily on Hekinoe. 

I feel I should point out that there may be spelling and other errors in this post, I am typing with Cathulhu on my lap and she has decided to savage my wrist because the typing is jostling her too much. I love cats. 

So, I kind of kicked everything into gear when we all agreed to play Fourthcore and spend three quarters of a day off prepping my battlemats, writing notes on the more fiddly encounter mechanics and random elements of the game, and did some printing for the card decks needed for the scenario. Over the course of the week I read the adventure about a dozen times to make sure I had it all handled. Now, this is all standard DnD prep work for scenarios. The difficulty is that I wasn't as prepared as I needed to be. I am just unused to running pre-made adventures and making your own campaign world and scenarios gives you something of an intrinsic knowledge of the scenario that really cuts down on the effort needed for prep work. So I kind of botched it there. 

Fourthcore isn't necessarily no holds barred tricky/killer DMing, it is more along the lines of a competition. The players are competing with the DM. I feel like Jeremy isn't a good fit for that style of gaming. Jeremy is great to talk to about the fiddly bits of the background of Hekinoe, but he is not a rules man. He has never really "gotten" any edition of DnD. He does enjoy 4th Edition and has a solid handle on it. But Fourthcore isn't straightforward in its interpretation of the rules of 4th Edition and does a lot of things that are advised against in the DMG. He did fine in what we did play of the scenario (I'll get to that later), but I think some of the more epic encounters would have ended up like the Tomb of Horrors where his character just kind of stood in the middle of a room doing nothing while a trap went off, not because he couldn't do anything, but just because he didn't know what to do and isn't really a critical thinker when it comes to rules in DnD (background and plot is an entirely different issue, one at which he excels). At a point like that in a normal campaign where I care about my players and their characters I would say something like "Well, you have a Perception skill, perhaps you could use that to find the trap and then use Disable Device to disable it." In Fourthcore, you don't do that. The players explore and interact with the environment with no prompting or advice or reminders from the DM, except in a few specific instances.  

The way the scenario ended up was that everyone was late and it lasted for about an hour. Which kind of blew and is what I mean about botching it. Showing up late was annoying because, you know, it is fucking annoying and Lance had stuff to do later, but we got to bullshit for a bit, so that was cool. Fourthcore is about Hellacious challenges and bloody death and unfortunately the guys did not get to experience any of that. There are four trials in the Cruicible, one for each of the gods and kind of centered on each god's schtick. Lyth is the mother of beasts so they had to answer some riddles about monsters that have existed in every edition of DnD and Asar-Seght is the god of rituals and human sacrifice, so they had to perform a golem creating ritual. The scenario is designed so that you only need three of the four divine skulls in the ziggurat, if you happen to get all four there are significant rewards for doing so. So, the guys botched the first two trials. They didn't die or get dismembered, they just failed the riddles of Lyth and the skill challenge to create and animate a golem, which meant they could not complete the scenario. So instead of glorious death and dismemberment, the scenario ended with a muffled yawn. Not how I wanted to end my first Fourthcore session. 

I feel like the failure of the Asar-Seght ritual was more on me than on the players and low skill check rolls. The presentation of the skill challenge in the pdf is very general with the idea that a lot of DMs implement skill challenges differently so they left stuff deliberately vague, aside from a few specific tweaks. I kind of left it just as vague in my implementation, so there wasn't much structure to the whole thing. So I feel like their fumbling was more on me than them. If/when we go back into the ziggurat, I think I would give the challenge more structure and use some ideas Lance grabbed from a podcast he listens to. There is something to be said for allowing the players to justify which skill they're using and why it is appropriate for the situation, I like that, but I feel like the challenge was too general and unstructured and at times they didn't have a clear understanding of what they needed to do.

Martel had a few qualms about the design of Fourthcore and I feel like I didn't adequately address them the day of the scenario. One of her curiosities was about the so called over the top rewards of Fourthcore as a reward for the overpowered challenges as these scenarios don't seem to be a series and are more designed along the lines of one shots played and played again until you win. The standard rewards for Fourthcore are far more powerful than the standard rewards for regular DnD. There was a lot of loot available in the ziggurat and it is consistently more useful than a +1 sword or wand. Additionally, some of the rewards in a Fourtcore adventure are keyed to the adventure in such a way that they have obscenely beneficial abilities in certain circumstances in the scenario. There are several objects that can be found in the ziggurat than can make certain challenges almost mundane.  

Another issue that she had was that if each generation knows that the trials are coming up, wouldn't they have trained and trained and been generally awesome at the challenges of the ziggurat? Which is a nice solid line of logic. In a normal campaign. Fourthcore does not care whether or not the background logic makes sense. There is a dragon in the ziggurat. What the Hell does it eat in the twenty-five years between adventurers showing up? Everything else in the place is undead and the dragon sits alone in its section with some trees. Fourthcore is very game centric, the world is a window dressing only there to facilitate the player being where they are doing whatever the adventure is about them doing. 

So in closing, I would like to try Fourthcore again and I hope everyone else would be into it. Anyone else have any thoughts on the whole thing?

Music: Schaffer the Darklord - The Rappist
Music: Schaffer the Darklord - Cat People
Music: Schaffer the Darklord - Nerd Lust

Incidentally, the kitten went bonkers when I put on Cat People, as it does feature a variety of feline hissing, mewing, roaring noises. I was humorous. 

1 comment:

  1. I do think this particular game has more of a one shot feel to it. The puzzles are fun and very meta game ... so if we were to replay it, we'd definitely have a better idea how to handle the riddle challenge. The skill challenge was kinda hecticand chaotic ... that was the biggest frustration I had. I'd love to replay this module to see what else the ziggurat holds.