This posting continues the line of reasoning from this post on applying mechanics from the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons to first edition adventure design. In a way, this is a deconstructivist experiment, pulling mechanic fragments piecemeal from one edition and adding to another; at the same time, though, Dungeon Masters have been developing their own mechanics outside of the official rule systems of all editions for decades, so it should be possible to import mechanics – not rules – without affecting the ambience of any given edition. Emphasis is placed on not transplanting rules because one of my goals in a current project is to enhance game play without making participants feel like they are playing a different edition.
The project giving rise to this issue – a 1e writing project I’ve not touched in years but would like to finish – was dropped years ago in part due to my not knowing how to proceed. It involved a siege, with hundreds of participants on either side. It was my intent to have this large-scale battle be part of the adventure, although, in true 1e fashion, the scenario wouldn’t demand the use of miniatures, battlemaps or a separate system such as the BECMI “War Machine” rules from the Companion Set Handbook or 1e Battlesystem Rules.
Initially, my plan was to divide the siege into smaller missions that the heroes, fighting for the defenders, would either undertake as a group, or individually, as captains of small groups of lower-level NPC defenders. The overall success of these missions would dictate the outcome of the battle.
That was where my planning stumbled. I had several resolution schemes sketched out, including a timeline-style mission schedule, point values for each mission, a success percentage calcualtion formula for missions the heroes didn’t undertake but would happen anyway, victory point totals, and optional missions for heroes who were especially enterprising or who, in the DM’s opinion, needed a little extra help with catching their total up with the enemy. There were problems, though: my system only accounted for players reacting to what the enemy did, and it didn’t have a clear formula, apart from my own fiat, on what value to place on player-initiated action.
I showed these notes to one of my players at the time, who stated, “there has to be a less complicated way of doing this.”
And he was right. Looking at my notes today, this is a perfect opportunity to apply the mechanics of a 4e skill challenge to this 1e adventure. Not that I would feel comfortable with degenerating some rather unique 1e combats to a series of single die rolls against each player’s chosen skill – it wouldn’t feel like 1e if I did that – but the concept of requiring a number of successes before a number of failures removes most of the calculations and gives more freedom to players.
Moving forward, I’m planning on starting by giving the heroes some basic reconnaissance about the disposition of the enemy. I’ll salvage my old mission timeline as a list of options for the enemy, but allow the heroes a period of planning their defenses, or perhaps some sorties if an opportunity arises, giving them a list of options, as well. We can come up with a brief description of what success looks like for each mission, and we’ll be ready to go.
While the combats will play out like standard 1e, the resolution mechanic will be the much simpler 4e skill challenge; when the heroes’ combat performance meets the criteria for mission victory, it counts as a skill challenge success, and if they don’t meet the criteria, it counts as failure. Should they attain enough successes before a specific number of failures, the attackers are driven off. Reaching the failure total first results in the enemy siege succeeding.
Using this method removes the necessity of maintaining a separate victory total for the enemy, and I can still make some pivotal missions more important than others by making them count as multiple successes or failures.
What do you think? Please consider sharing your thoughts in a comment to this post.