Gaming Memories: No Limits and Spectacular Failure

Ever since PAXEast came along in Boston, I’ve been looking forward to it each year. Especially after last year, when I devoted most of my time to the Wizards of the Coast gaming area. Now I love my regular gaming group. We meet every couple of weeks and it’s a ton of fun. However, I really love playing with new gamers and people who haven’t gamed in a long time. There’s an excitement there that’s contagious when players realize or remember why this game is so fun. I’ve seen it not just at PAXEast but at Game Day events or when introducing the lone new person the game. Two things seem to alight this realization more than others. The idea that you can try anything and the idea that failing can be fun.One of the modules I ran for WotC at PAXEast was Learn to Play. If you have time at your next con I suggest running a few of these. Few people are more enthusiastic to play then the people who wait in line just to learn. The good folks at WotC gave us some kick solid advice. “Tell them to a roll a d20 and get them to have fun.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, but it really is the core of the game, and it helps to think of it that way.

Players, even experienced players, can get distracted or overwhelmed by their character sheets. Getting players to ignore the sheets really helps showcase what makes tabletop games different than video games. There are no limits to what you can try. You’ll never hit the invisible wall because the designer didn’t script the rest of the street, because you have the DM to continue on with you.

I had two groups move through a small dungeon to eventually face a young white dragon. Both groups got to the dragon in different ways, and both approached it differently. Both groups also had their smiles spread wide when facing this iconic foe and experimenting with the limits of the game.

The first group fought the dragon. They got the dragon between two rooms and flanked it the best that they could. Their health faltered and the dragon seemed no worse for wear, until the rogue got an idea. “Can I back flip onto the dragon?” he asked me. “You can try, but its would be a very difficult check to make.” A look of worry. “However, it would probably be pretty awesome.”

So the rogue went for it, flipping several feet down the hallway and then flinging himself into the air. His acrobatics check was particularly low. The dragon jerked his neck, the rogue slipped, and he fell belly side up in front of the dragon’s maw. They loved it, and the rogue even offered to spend his action point to try to get in an attack as he was falling, which of course I allowed. The party was looking pretty bleak when time ran out. I used a smile face die to epilogue each party member, with the players helping to interpret what each face meant.

The second party found the dragon all together, and it was quite the surprise. He was sleeping. They woke him. Someone had a feeling that this was bad news so they started lying. I don’t remember all the details but it was hilarious. They took a wrong turn, they were just leaving, they all just simply love white. They kept built off how the dragon reacted to each one and it just kept getting more elaborate. Then they ran. Their first instinct was that they lost. After all, they had not defeated the dragon. I corrected them. They had not lost, they simply failed to kill the dragon. They succeeded in living, with treasure no less! I retold the fate of the previous party and they felt pretty good. They got it. They won. They went into an encounter where they had assumed dragon death was the only path to success. That would have been the goal in a video game. Then they decided how they would win. I like those smiles of realization.

I can’t wait for Learn to Play next year.

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Filed under D&D 4E, Gamer Memories