Rasenna and the Realms

Michelle's first game of D&D 4e as DM

(“Rasenna and the Realms” sounds like a cover band name.)

Today I originally wasn’t going to play D&D. Then I said I could, which led to it possibly happening, which led to it definitely happening, which led to it not happening. So, I’m left with some unexpected free time tonight, so I thought it would be worth talking a little bit about the two D&D games I’m in and comparing and contrasting them. Both games are using D&D 4e (or the fourth edition of the Dungeons & Dragons rules, for those who don’t speak fluent nerd).

The Realms

The first one is the game that Michelle (my wife) is running for about 6-7 of us. I don’t know if she ever gave the campaign a title, but it’s set in the Forgotten Realms, so in my head it’s just “The Realms”1 Since most of the group were 4e newbies and this is the first time Michelle’s been DM in, I believe, ever, we’re keeping it simple – only PHB and the Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide, and she’s running a pre-constructed adventure (Scepter Tower of Spellgard). We’ve been running off and on since around Thanksgiving with a group of people with a variety of experience – from those who started in the late 70s and early 80s to those who know about this D&D thing, but haven’t really gotten around to it yet. Michelle’s been really open about taking it slow and making sure we learn the game.

What we learned pretty quickly is that, whether because of the writing or because of how Michelle’s reading it, the adventure isn’t working out. Fights are either way too easy or staggeringly difficult, but I personally don’t care very much because they’re generally entertaining, and Michelle’s good about playing the monster’s tactics so that each encounter feels a little different from the last one. There’s also a wonderful amount of purely open discussion between all of us – at one point, a player flat up switched out his dwarf for a Dragonborn because he didn’t like his character, and right now we’re seriously debating abandoning this adventure and starting a new one because it’s just not panning out. While I’ve talked a lot about open player communication in my blogcast, I was surprised to see it work to good effect in a D&D game.

Initially we talked about the level of roleplay and background we wanted to have in the game. I advocated just bypassing roleplay and background aside from bits of color between fight scenes, but other players wanted to have more of a reason to be together and hang out, so I acquiesced. Over time, we’ve evolved a game that’s basically a bunch of fight scenes broken up with bursts of roleplay for color, so I’m pretty pleased, but most of the roleplay ends up being my Lawful Good elven cleric (and party leader) being kind of a dick to the more chaotic party members. At one point I called myself on it, and I’m going to try to push my roleplay in a different direction that’s more conducive to party unity while still providing some good inter-party tension. I don’t think I’ve found that yet, but it’s a work in progress.

Rasennan Summer

The other game I play in is more typical of the online gaming communities I hang out in. It’s called “Rasennan Summer,” and it’s based in a custom game world that Ethan’s been running in for, as far as I know, forever. He even has one of those new-fangled campaign wikis that the kids are all going on about. However, the short version is probably best explained as Assassin’s Creed II meets D&D with a dash of lighthearted comedy. Only with more dead people.

Initially I joked about remaking Ezio before I decided to sit down and make my “real” characters. Over time, I kept toying with different ideas, until I realized that my half-elf noble rogue was… well, Ezio. Further, every one else was enjoying making ACII jokes (including an unexplained hatred of archers on rooftops), so I decided to own it. This actually led to a really good conversation between Ethan and I about using established characters as a shortcut to player understanding while you slowly evolve the character into its own unique personality. The other characters are equally entertaining – a huge peasant that is strangely talented in a wide variety of things, the Leonardo di Vinci-style alchemist with an unhealthy obsession with fire, and the surly and withdrawn necromancer that acts as a tolerant straight man to our antics.

As such, there’s a lot more roleplay in this campaign than in the previous one, but on the other hand there isn’t as much table talk. While the game is just as funny at times (at one point, I was sore the next day from laughing so hard), the jokes are more in the game world than between the players themselves. There’s a lot more politics as well, and many of the fights we have are with other humans rather than supernatural creatures. Also, Ethan has a lot more experience as a DM than Michelle does, and is a lot more comfortable rolling with the punches when we throw him a curveball. His pacing of combat is a little more tightly controlled, but I think a lot of that is because he’s dealing with a group of 4 characters instead of 7.

Different Roads to the Same Goal

The first thing that struck me after playing both games is how you can take the same game system and come up with two very different experiences. Sure, roleplaying games have a long history of encouraging players to take the game and make it their own, but still there’s this assumption at times that each game has a particular way to play it, and it’s refreshing to see the exact same game played in two very different ways.

The other thing I noticed is that I’m having a blast in both games. I think if the games were more similar, I might end up comparing and contrasting the two campaigns more, finding the problems in each. But because they’re farther apart in style and tone, it’s more like playing two different games that happen to share a common backbone. Even if you take the assumption of “one true way of playing” out of the equation, there’s another assumption that players fit into particular boxes and enjoy only certain kinds of games. The fact that I can go back and forth between games and look forward to both with equal excitement is a great reminder that not only to different people approach the same game with different sense of fun, but that the same player can approach the same game with a different sense of fun.

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  1. When it’s not “Michelle’s D&D game, that is.