Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There Will Be Blood

The Narthex presented an interesting option for players. Rather than just barge through the front door of the Chamber of Eyes, they could trick or reason with the goblins inside to gain entry.

That's great, but if the end result is avoiding combat, Thunderspire Labyrinth wants none of it. The next encounter, entitled "Guard Room", states:
If the adventurers enter through the double door, regardless of how they gained entry, the goblins recognise them as foes and attack.
That's an imperative. There will be a fight. And if the players avoid the main doors and creep in through the balcony?
If the PCs approach from the balcony and avoid being noticed, they gain a surprise round.
That's a surprise round of combat. The initial flirtation that Thunderspire had with non-combat conflict resolution ends here, and doesn't resume for quite some time. From this point in, the players will be wading to victory over the corpses of their enemies whether they like it or not.

That's not all bad. Combat is what 4th Edition does best. And if we remember back, one of the possible quest hooks required players to eliminate the Bloodreavers, which was going to be tricky to achieve without a bit of hack-and-slash.

The real problem is that the players are offered a choice at all. Giving them three options for entering the chamber when they are all just going to result in combat will make players feel railroaded. If there's not going to be a choice, you're better off being honest and leaving a direct confrontation as the only available route right from the beginning.

9 comments:

Maelora said...

This is my issue with 4E in a nutshell. In earlier editions, combat may or may not have been the MAIN thing.

But now it's the ONLY thing.

Greg Tannahill said...

It's not so much that 4E doesn't do things other than combat (although it certainly doesn't mechanically support them). It's that the combat is so clearly the focus of the rules that it overshadows all the other available possibilities.

Thunderspire can't seem to make up its mind about this. When we get to the Horned Hold you'll see it's absolute suicide to treat it as a pure-combat area, and yet the module offers no real help for the bluff-and-stealth tactics that are necessary to survive the place.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that the choice is meaningless. The door is a decent non-combat challenge with several methods of overcoming it. The following combat is best seen as a seperate challenge. Gated content as you called it in a previous post.

I do find it weird though that the guards can be intimidated into openning the door and then immediately attack. Openning the door just doesn't make sense if they are scared of the players.

Nick

Greg Tannahill said...

Nick,

That's an excellent point. You certainly can see the various ways of getting in as content in themselves, rather than as a choice as to what content will follow them.

The problem I have with that view of things is that they're essentially challenges for which the players go unrewarded. The result of using diplomacy is the same as using intimidation or stealth, or, ultimately, for doing nothing, as the DM will have to have the goblins emerge of their own accord to progress the adventure.

rpgtreehouse said...

I'd say that gaining a surprise round is a reasonably sized deal actually. They are rare enough in and of themselves through the H series.
My players felt like it was a small victory to have snuck in the back way.

Maelora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maelora said...

It seems pretty much like a false choice then, as you say.

What's also interesting is that later modules in this series seem to do this in reverse. H3 offers the possibility of allying with various factions, but none of which actually helps the players or provide a reward.

'Dark Queen's Enclave' is even worse, as it actually punishes the players for taking a diplomatic option. It allows you ally with some drow, who will then attack you via ambush further down the line. It provides for a harder battle than if you'd just attacked them straight away.

This seems to be the intention of WotC and 4E. Everything must be 'fun', and there is no definition of 'fun' that does not involve heads hitting the floor.

Anonymous said...

I still think the door is interesting content. Environmental barriers have often caused memorable occurances in 2.0 & 3.5 games that I have been involved in. It just seems like it needs better linking to the encounter that follows.

If the players couldn't figure out how to breach the door in a game I was running then I would have the hobgoblins come out on to the balcony with crossbows or something. When the hobgoblins start firing the players will be on the balcony faster than you can say feystep, plus they will be punished with an encounter slightly harder than was printed (soft punishment for failing the door encounter). It seems like nothing similar to this has been printed however.

Also I know that the reward sheme is the heart of the dnd style RPG game formula. However rewarding players for every little achievement can cheapen the experience when real obsticles are defeated. Or in reward schedule speak - randomly not providing permanent rewards makes players more willing to keep trying for the reward. As backward as that sounds.

Nick

By The Sword said...

When I first got a look at that map with the balcony, I said to my self, "Why aren't there hobgoblin sentries on the balcony watching the door?" It just makes sense that the warlike hobs would want to guard their home from intrusion and not just hide behind a door.

And what happens once you get past the door and a fight starts in the next room? Do you then have to contend with the hobgoblins at your rear, who just let you through the door as well? That actually sounds like a good tactic on the part of the hobgoblins, i.e. let the PC's through the door and attack them from both sides. Then why bother with the skill check?