This last Thursday was the first session of those characters being level 3 and the one fight of the evening demonstrated some of the common challenges GMs face.
Missing a player. It happens, but with a bi-weekly game it can be a killer. It was especially bad because this was a Level+2 (“orange”) encounter with an elite Brute (meaning that its defenses and to-hit rolls were nearly that of a Soldier), 2 Soldiers and 2 Artillery and we were missing our Warlord, the only Leader. This is the type of encounter where the players are expected to dig a little for the victory and this is made all the harder when one of the characters is being driven by someone who doesn’t really know all the ins and outs.
I’m pretty much of the opinion that you can cancel a session of a bi-weekly game once a year, maybe twice, before problems crop up. Heck, bi-weekly games are bad enough with the busy lives most of us lead. As a GM, I die a little bit on the inside every time a player says, “does anyone remember what we were doing last time?”
Amateur Night. Adam missed with five attacks over the first four turns, including rolling a 4, calling a “frustration Action Point” and rolling a 3. It was awful. I was rolling about 50% and I was doing the best out of all of us. What does a GM do when the players’ dice go ice-cold? Well, if your players are anything like mine, they do not react well to the feeling that you took it easy on them. In fact, they’re quite likely to be actively resentful. During the encounter itself, it’s probably best to just let the dice fall where they will.
On the flip side, there’s nothing that says that you can’t adjust subsequent encounters. In a serious pinch, you can allow the characters to take an extended rest, though I would consider this the last resort. Most of the time, as long as bad dice rolls don’t kill characters, you can simply commiserate and move on. After all, we all have streaks of bad luck.
Technical Malfunction. Creating custom monsters can be a lot of fun, but learning to template the powers properly can sometimes be tricky. Josh’s Brute was swinging a big ‘ol club and he wanted it to hit more than one person. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, each with their own consequences under the rules. Perhaps the most common way would be “Close Blast n (probably 2, maybe 3), all creatures in burst.” The problem with this template is that the characters are likely to spread out to gain combat advantage, making the power much less effective in practice than on paper. The Brute could also end up hitting its allies. This power feels like one giant slam, which is not what he was going for.
“Close Burst 1, one or two creatures in burst” has many things to endorse it, though we have to be sure that those qualities are what we want. For example, this template punishes melee Strikers because the Brute will not trigger marks as long as the other target is the Defender. The one Josh went with, “Melee 1, one or two targets”, goes in the opposite direction. Because each of the attacks is separate, the Brute can end up triggering marks.
The “Final Fantasy VII” Effect. I continue to believe that FF7 and its kin made us unpleasant people to game with. Part of the evolution of gamers is that, once we find a game mechanic that is particularly effective, we keep doing that until something makes us stop. It’s spammy and it distorts encounter design. In my game, Come and Get It is the main culprit. In Josh’s, it’s Conductive Defense on the creature the Paladin has marked. Yeah, it works, but man is it annoying. Speaking of which, I think I’m going to go pull that power off my character now.
Kill them all!