Saturday, March 28, 2009

What Would King Arthur Do?

When D&D3e introduced challenge ratings, it was to help DMs balance encounters to provide PCs a robust encounter that would neither under- nor overwhelm them. It was a good design idea, but ultimately, many PCs found themselves wandering through a Goldilocks land where the average encounter was neither too easy nor too difficult, but juuust right.

Does that sound like the Fellowship in Moria facing the Balrog? One of the hallmarks of old school gaming—particularly in wilderness adventures, but also in the dungeon environment—is the knowledge that some foes are beyond you.

The DM has a responsibility to create a fun and challenging environment for the PCs. Usually this means presenting them with adversaries they can overcome if they bring all of their resources and wits to bear (though success may not always come through combat).

But if you're playing old school, don't rush into every encounter confident that the DM has stacked the deck to give you a fair chance. If there's a T-Rex in the next valley, are you really up to tangling with it after those five orcs nearly had their way with you? Probably not, but nothing's going to stop you if you have a mind to try. Perhaps you have a brilliant plan to overcome your weakness—if you do succeed in felling the beast, fortune and glory are rightfully yours. But don't rush in all wussy and 2nd level hoping that some mitigating factor—namely the magic of game balance—has rendered it weak enough for you to kick its butt in a straight-up fight. Remember that lawyer in Jurassic Park?

In the old school tradition, sometimes overcoming foes means circumventing them. Or, in the immortal words of King Arthur...

This post was inspired by a Trollsmyth post in which Trollsmyth says much the same thing, only better. It's well worth checking out.

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