Player Assumptions

Friday night was our 4E D&D game and it happened that we encountered two huge air elementals while trekking up a wide road that was carved into the side of the mountain. To our right was the upward slope and to the left was the steep downhill slide. On the monster’s first turn, one of the elementals shifted 15 squares to engage the main party directly.

I play the wild mage (sorcerer) and figured that I had just the thing…

ME (referring to the tornado miniature): You said this is an air elemental, right? Does it look like that–it has a spin?

DM: Exactly.

ME: Archie casts Howling Hurricane and the zone centers exactly within the elemental’s space BUT the tempest I call forth whirls in the *opposite* direction dissipating the elemental.

Here’s the text of the power for reference:

Howling Hurricane Sorcerer Attack 9
The cries of the wind compete with the sound of thunder as you bring forth a screaming vortex that spins your foes about.
Daily * Arcane, Implement, Thunder, Zone
Standard Action * Area burst 1 within 10 squares
Target: Each creature in burst
Attack: Charisma vs. Fortitude
Hit: 3d8 + Charisma modifier thunder damage, and you slide the target a number of squares equal to your Dexterity modifier.
Effect: The burst creates a zone of swirling wind that lasts until the end of your next turn. You slide each creature that starts its turn within the zone 2 squares. As a move action, you can move the zone 6 squares.
Sustain Minor: The zone persists.

The DM played out the attack exactly as any other attack on a corporeal being. In other words, we played by the rules-as-written with no regard to any narrative logic that I tried to toss in there.

Is that right? I suppose that depends upon you point of view.

Even if you are completely new to D&D, everyone comes to the table with assumptions about how actions will play out. At first, our expectations may be as broad as that, barring some intervening force, a fall is going to hurt. The more you play, the more assumptions me make based upon our cumulative experiences… Radiant damage is super-effective against undead. don’t accept ‘gifts’ from Fey. If you are in the dark, you might get eaten by a Grue.

Playing by the rules tends to enforce what players already know about the game. That can be a benefit. I bet that I can walk into any shop for an Encounters session and know pretty much exactly what I’m in for. If we all did our own thing all the time, it may be harder to find players and bring them up to speed when you spend half your time reminding them about how your game plays different.

On the other hand, sometimes, playing by the rules feels counter-intuitive. Never mind that my narrative play was overlooked or dismissed… why isn’t an air elemental insubstantial? It is only logical that this is a monster that you shouldn’t be able to overcome by main strength and… well the train of thought went on from there.

More and more often I’m looking at encounters from our game and thinking about how I would make them better or at least have them make more sense. I wish that wasn’t the case. I would much rather be engaged and contributing than being taken out of the game by having one of my assumptions of how an element of the game works.

We’re playing War of the Burning Sky, if you are interested in checking it out. I won’t be looking because, you know, spoilers.

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~ by Hunter Rose on March 18, 2012.

2 Responses to “Player Assumptions”

  1. FWIW, as the DM I would have run with that power dissipating the elemental. Narrative would trump the RAW for me.

    In a similar vein, I think you might find this post over at Thought Crime Games interesting: http://www.thoughtcrimegames.net/raw-rai-rip-ir-a-world-of-rules-acronyms-and-semantics/

    • Thanks for the link! I especially agree with the following:

      “It is interesting to note that, to a large degree, rules systems are actually stand-ins for trust. The more trust we have, the more we can build a game on IR [Informal Rules]”

      “The less trust we have, the stronger that RAW [Rules as Written] must be, and the more we expect it to line up with RAI [Rules as Intended]. If you are playing in an RPGA game you expect rules to be standardized because you are playing with strangers.”

      That pretty much hits it on the head for me.

      Players and DMs have different comfort levels when it comes to how rules are (or aren’t) implemented. I grouse about our 4E DM from time to time but I am playing with friends. I tend to overlook the faults most nights.

      BUT, i’m playing pretty much every major edition of D&D right now (AD&D/OSRIC, 3.5/Pathfinder, 4E) and I find that I very much prefer the narrative style. While rules are meant to help, I find that 4e in particular tends to encourage players to think only in terms of their character sheet.

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