D&D Encounters – Session 1

I feel bad about posting this to my blog, but I also feel… justified. Understand: there are some things that were great about this night of gaming, and a large amount of the problems I had were due to a newer DM. That said…. I have a rant to make.

I wrote this the day after the game, and I’ll backdate it to appear in my blog on that date, but I sat on it and waffled over whether to post it here. Why? Well, some people reading this post know the DM in question, and I’m not particularly gentle in my criticism. Please realize– I’m ranting and blowing off some steam after a very frustrating game night.

Overall, especially having talked to other DMs and players in the Encounters program, after that session, I felt cheated. I was cheated of the excellent role-playing opportunities that this season’s adventure provided.

So, while I want to spare the DM’s feelings, I also hope he comes to realize that what he did was unfair, and robbed us of the experience (not XP!) that we should have had.

I played Encounters at my LFGS last night. If the DM from last night is reading this, please understand that I value your time and effort…. more than you value your players’.

Background: D&D Encounters is a short-session weekly game played in public at local game stores. It’s played every Wednesday, and runs in “seasons” which cover one campaign arc. Each season is about 8 weeks long, though some have been upwards of 16 weeks. The new season started last night.

We had 3 tables of players last night, which meant the “backup DM” had to step in. This is someone who is supposed to be prepared to run the game, or to play, but who will only be called on to run if there are more than 10 players (we had 16). Our group usually puts newer DMs into the backup role so they can learn the system without having to run it every single week.

He had not read the module. Session 1 of this season is a fight, followed by a very significant amount of RP with the dozen or so NPCs in town.

I wouldn’t know about those NPCs, though, because we never talked to them.

“OK, you guys meet on the road and for whatever reason decide to travel together… go ahead and talk among yourselves… and then you come to the river, where there’s a guy in the middle of the river and he’s going like this–” yep. Character introductions were “talk among yourselves” with barely a pause to actually introduce ourselves. I still don’t know the other party members’ names.

He started out with the fight set up and ready to go. He’s writing down initiative, and I say “my character’s name is…”

“Oh, I prefer to use real names.” I blinked at him for a long moment, trying and failing to think of a polite way to say “but I prefer that you support our immersion in the story.”

OK, we jump into the fight (me reminding the DM at one point that he had just skipped my turn)…. and then partway into the fight, the “wagon” we’ve been transporting transforms into a warforged barbarian, who catapults 10 squares into the middle of the fight and starts bashing things. Keep in mind, my little monk had spent 2 rounds trying to get over to that spot… but that’s okay. The DMPC can just jump there.

Yes. We have a DMPC in our Encounters game. Because he “thought you’ll need the help.” Really? Perfectly balanced party of 2 strikers, 1 defender, 1 controller, and 1 uber-healer? No. He wanted to play his build. I say build, because at no point did his character RP at all. Just did big nova-moves in combat.

Like this one: “Then the warforged throws his sword into the air and summons a column of rocks that fall onto the enemy, crushing him.”

Wat. Literally it was “rocks fall, everyone dies.”

By this point, I had already texted the event coordinator: “Don’t put me on his table ever again.” Harsh, but needed.

At one point, two of the players were in conflict over some decision, and the DM said “okay, you roll diplomacy, and you…” They rolled. I piped in with “or you could argue it out, like role-players.” I was ignored. In Encounters, because it is public play, players may not take actions against each other without the others’ consent. It kind of sucks for immersive RPers, but makes it easier to play with gamers who need limits on PvP. The dice face-off they did has to be voluntary. It wasn’t.

Anyway, we finish the fight. In 4e, you always have the option to decide if you kill your opponent or not. I had bought a set of iron manacles and slapped them on the big bad guy. The DM wanted me to roll a d20 without telling me at all what I was rolling for (so why have me roll?) The guys I downed were all alive, which I insisted on. One of the opponents (the one crushed by DMPC rocks) did die. There was a little RP in our interrogation, but not much. Combat had taken about an hour and a half (most of the other tables were done in 2 rounds).

Then we go to the town, and he packs up his dice. The event organizer has read the module and says “oh, no– everyone keep your d20 out. You’ll need it.” This is, after all, a skills part of the game– my specialty! (My character is all about perception and thievery… despite being a monk).

There are about a dozen townsfolk and locations we’re supposed to explore, and those townsfolk will give us the quests we need to decide among for the next session. Both other tables spent most of their time on that. We got “oh, the merchant you saved gives you some beer and says thanks. But he’s too tired to talk now. Good night.” Wat! At the temple, the big bad was turned over, and my monk tried to hang out a bit, but the DM just kind of stopped talking to me and said “so you’re all back at the merchant’s house with some beer.”

Uh, no. I was at the temple…. Oh, never mind.

I pipe up with “okay, we wait till morning, then ask the merchant some questions!” Because an overnight rest can take 5 seconds in the real world. Nope– he shot down that RP opportunity as well.

At that point, though, I wanted to go home, so I gave up. I was tired of bad DMing. I said to the event organizer “I guess our DM is tired. Oh, well.”

He wasn’t the worst DM I’ve ever had in over 30 years of gaming. He is descriptive of the combat moves– though his iron fist of narrative control meant that when I wanted to describe my monk’s move, he didn’t care and just talked right over me. So, maybe not the worst. But he’s in the bottom 5.

Next week, I’ve decided that my character doesn’t know any of the NPCs because none of them would talk to her (she’s a goblin, so this makes some sense in the story, and I’ll just try to catch up later).