So, I have been running 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons on Tuesday nights for some months now. This was an experiment by myself and other players to give the new 4th Edition (maybe not so new any more) a go. What we found was that the tendency of the rules to tie everything a player might try to do to a simplified modular process seemed to hamper creativity and made the players feel tied to those processes. Game play felt like a board game, and characters seemed like they came straight from an MMO computer game.
I believe 4E is doing what it intends to do by design. And as a board game it balances all its pieces so that everyone feels like they are getting a fair deal. But for us, a big part of role-play is what you do "outside" of the rules. The creativity the players feel that they themselves are able to bring to the table. The 4E rules don't encourage you as players to "break" them. As silly as it seems ... that's a mistake.
This past week, I decided to switch to Castles and Crusades. I have a first print C&C Players Handbook and a first print Monster and Treasure book which I bought from Peter Bradley (fantastic artist!) at the Troll Lords table at a local convention a few years ago. We are using these rules, but I understand the 4th Printing is out (pictured) and includes some improvements. If someone can clue me in on what I am missing, I may need to make that purchase. At least an electronic copy if nothing else.
Two of my players: my friend, Larry ... and the love of my life, Mendi. Each decided they did not wish to convert their 4th Edition characters and would rather start new characters instead. We chatted about it and all decided that it might be fun if their character's died in some spectacular way. Plans were made.
The last game ended in a cliff hanger as the party was attacked by a group of giant weapon wielding, armor wearing gorillas. I informed the group that these Gorillas had mental powers and that Tieflings (Larry's 4E character's race) were especially susceptible to the mental powers of these Gorillas. Larry played to the plan and when I told him that his character had been mind controlled and that he must attack the party, he of course, attacked Mendi.
The combat against the Gorillas was pretty exciting. I rolled two natural 20's against the same player. This left her at a negative 3 and unconscious. I looked up C&C's rules on death and it seems characters don't die until negative 10 (pretty standard old school) and don't start bleeding out until -5 (I think that was it ... which was happy news to me, because it meant the character was down but stable and not out and I hadn't started my first C&C session by killing (unintentionally) someone.
The character that was down was created as Mendi's character's twin sister. I saw it as a bit of good fortune that she fell early because she was the most likely to put herself between Larry's character and Mendi's character, and ruin one or both of their deaths.
Larry and Mendi happily fudged dice rolls at each other and the other players occupied with armored gorillas and a fallen comrade hardly seemed to notice them. That is, until Mendi announced that she had only two hit points left (who knows how many she really had, but this was what she chose to announce as she set up the group for her impending death) and Larry's fifth level Warlock, now a fifth level C&C wizard announced he was casting fireball.
Larry rolled 5d6. He rolled a total of 16. If Mendi made her save she would take 8 points of damage. Since she had just announced that she had 2 hit points that would mean she would be left with negative 6. Down, but still alive. The tension was palatable. The funny thing is, there was just as much anticipation for Mendi who wanted to fail the roll as there was for the the other players, who weren't in on the plan, and all hoping she would survive.
Now all eyes were on Mendi. There was no fudging this roll. Every player watched in anticipation. She rolled a 1.
Negative 14. Dead. I took great pleasure in describing the charred remains of Mendi's character as the other players all looked at me aghast! The player who played the character who was Mendi's character's twin was beside herself.
"What do you mean she is dead?"
"Isn't there anything we can do?"
"I will avenge you, my sister. I will!"
Then Mendi says, "My ghost comes to her in a dream and demands vengeance!"
Perfect. I announce to the player of the twin sister that her divine visitation from her dead sister's spirit demanding vengence has awakened her and that she is now up and has 5 hit points.
No hesitation, no questions, she charges straight at Larry. Boom! She hits him for 5 points of damage. He announces that he's at negative 2. That's not going to work. He's down ... defeated, but not dead. Mendi, playing devil's advocate coaxes the other player ... that's not going to satisfy your sister's spirit ... he's still alive.
I allow her an automatic critical hit for double damage against a helpless target and it's all over. Larry's character dies a bloody death at the hands of another player and everyone not in on the plan looks around in shock. Except for the player who killed Larry, she seemed exceptionally pleased with herself that she was able to avenge her sister.
It was awesome!
The remaining Gorillas are defeated and only after all is said and done do I reveal that it was all a set up, and that both Mendi and Larry have requested permission to make new characters.
At this point there is a great sense of relief from everyone and everyone shares how excited they were and how afraid they were that everyone was going to die.
Did I mention that, "It was awesome!"
Castles and Crusades may well prove to be more dangerous and deadly than 4E ... but it seems like that's okay with my players. I already feel liberated from 4E and free to interpret and house rule various aspects of C&C to fit my play-style and that of my group. Something I never felt I was able to do with 4E. The rules just didn't seem flexible enough.
The difference between 4E and C&C is that of Computer MMO RPG's and old school Tabletop RPG's, digital and analogue, Lego Blocks and a lump of clay. There is nothing wrong with 4E, but I think I prefer the freedom of a game where less is more.