My Favorite Editorial   6 comments

That Frisson of Disgust, That Tingle of Fear

I haven’t been very good about doing blogs lately.  Either I’m not having that much fun, or I just can’t find time to write them.  I have been working on a fantasy art calendar for Tunnels and Trolls, and I hope to have that published in the next week.  Meanwhile, tho I’m sure I’ve run this editorial before, probably just last year, let me run it again, and I’ll stick some new art into it.

Two weeks ago at HuntCon, a friendly gaming get together here in Phoenix, I got to run A T & T adventure for 4 gamers.  We did, as far as I know, the first ever adventure in Dwarf World.  My players all had new characters.  I started them out in the frying pan–being chased by the Black Dog people (I invented the Black Dog people on the spot because there were two big black dogs at the party, pets of the host, who were hanging around with us gamers on the back patio) who simply wanted to kill them all, and they swiftly jumped out of it into the fire.

This was the first T & T game ever for 2 of my 4 players.  They were horrendously outnumbered, and in a terrible situation.  Don’t you just love it when you can set up a game like that?  Players really have to get creative when just running out and killing everything in their path isn’t going to work.

Image

Do you remember your first fantasy role-playing experience? Do you remember struggling to understand unfamiliar rules, the effort to fit your character into that of someone not yourself? Do you remember the dread with which you faced your first monstrous foe?

There has never been anything else quite like it, has there?

As you continued to play, you learned what to expect, and how to turn the tables on your Game Master. You learned how to balance a party of delvers to deal with all emergencies, how to anticipate traps, and trick monsters. You learned when to fight and when to talk. And as you learned all these things, your character found artifacts of power and grew ever more potent and dangerous.

And now that you are a 20th level wizard-warrior with a pet dragon capable of dishing out 6421 points of hit damage, spells capable of halting time or destroying a mountain, armor that can protect you from a nuclear explosion – now that you have achieved all your desires, don’t you find yourself looking around wondering where the next challenge will come from, and not finding any?

Wasn’t it better when you were just a first level wizard, agonizing over whether to throw a TTYF for 16 whole points of damage on that charging monster, and then hope the party can protect you until the combat is over, or whether to vorpal the blade of the best warrior and possibly strike a few blows of your own with the quarterstaff?

The truth is that we as human beings gain just as much pleasure from making small decisions and gaining small victories as we do from making earth-shattering decisions and saving the world. We are each our own world, and when you manage to elude that horde of MR-5 rats and scramble to safety, it is as good or better than causing the earth to open and swallow 20,000 attacking Ores. The first is just a personal triumph; the second example is history. But what do you as a person relate to more – personal triumphs or history?

There is no doubt that the longer you continue to role-play, the better a role-player you will become, and the more effective your character will be during the game. But when you can effortlessly wave your hand and destroy that hulking troll, the satisfaction is gone from the game. When you had to think fast, dodge, rig a landslide, lure it into a pit, the challenge and thus the fun was greater.

The Black Dog People probably looked like this.

Which brings me to my point – low level games are more fun than high level games. Being powerless and fighting for your life is more of a thrill than being godlike and annihilating the opponent. High level games turn into bragging contests, where players and Game Masters try to top each other with one super feat after another. Low level adventures are more the kind of thing you could see yourself actually participating in.

And that is why, in over 25 years of role-playing, I have never actually developed a character higher than 9th level. High level characters are like gods, and if I need a god, I’ll make one up (Gristlegrim, Lerotra’hh) when I’m the Game Master. Or. I’ll ask the current G.M. to do a divine intervention.

Then again, if a beginning character dies, you can always roll up a new one – no great loss! But if a high level character gets toasted, then you lose months or years of role-playing labor. No wonder AD&D allows practically unlimited resurrection of dead characters. It’s a power trip, and once you accumulate a fair amount of power, you really hate to lose it.

The solution to having the most fun, of course, is to retire those high level monstrosities – turn them into NPCs. Perhaps someone will encounter old Drax the Demon Dodger and get his help on a particularly difficult mission that all those first to third level types had no chance with, but your emotional investment is not tied up in Drax. Instead, it’s with Itchy the Kid who’s just finding his first magic kazoo.

Turn your high level characters into Kings and important NPCs when you run an adventure for others.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. High level games can be awesome, but low level games are a lot more fun!

Oh, and I’m happy to report that my characters got a chance to do something heroic at the end of the adventure.  They fought and killed an Obsidian Spider that was tougher than all of them put together, saved their Dwarf guide who had earlier saved them, and wound up with a fortune in rubies.  Then, since we had been playing for about 3 hours, I used a Deus Ex Machina device to wrap up the adventure in a hurry and end the game.  Everybody felt both tested and rewarded.  I thought it was an excellent way to introduce new players to T  & T.

If you’ve ever played Dwarf World, or have any opinion about high level vs. low level adventuring in frps, please go ahead and leave a comment.

–end

P.S.  All the art in this blog was done by David Ullery.  He has a massive new solo adventure available at http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=99174.  And guess what?  It’s for low level characters, and is lots of fun.

An elemental battle--delver versus hungry reptile.

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6 responses to “My Favorite Editorial

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  1. Great post, Ken.

    I like low level gaming lot more too. For me I think the sweet spot is about 2nd to 5th level. As a player, I only ever got one PC above 8th level (retired at 9th) in hundreds of games. Having said that, I do hope my current D&D campaign (a reboot of the previous setting I’d run for a year and a half, with new 1st level characters) reach ‘name’ level and get to carve out a stronghold, raise an army or defend a castle in a siege, and do some of the ‘end game’ stuff I always read about but never played myself. Then they can retire and make room for the next band of upstarts.

  2. And that is why, in over 25 years of role-playing, I have never actually developed a character higher than 9th level.

    I’ve mainly GMd, but to the same point… even in my longest running and most played campaign the PC barely reached 9th level.

  3. How have I managed to miss past publications of this? No matter. This echoes my own thoughts. It also echoes the direction my tastes in fiction are going. I find that I am far more interested in the poor bloke who is trying to get his next meal than the fellow with the fate of the entire world on his shoulders.

    G’Noll

  4. I like low character games. The problem is that I tend to get them killed a lot. Those that did survive collected dust as there aren’t enough high-level adventures for me to test them in. The reality is that I’d probably get them killed in a high level adventure too.

  5. I agree with Mike about the “sweet spot” of RPGs. Probably has to do with my start in the 1970’s where 4th level was a “hero” and 8th a “super hero” so you spent most of your time somewhere around 4th level and retired when you hit 8th. (I played OD&D back then; sadly didn’t actually play T&T until much later.)

    How is it that I haven’t heard of DWARF WORLD before this? Looks awesome and I need to scare up a copy somehow!

  6. I do agree-although there is another kind of frustration about creating a charcter over an hr or so and then getting it killed in a few seconds!which happens to me a fair amount.but then – i love the idea that when you start with a given handful of characters together you have no idea which will survive and which wont.(a bit like my favourite graphic novel/200ad story Bad Company-every week one of em got wasted or more,and you never knew who-no star trek ‘red jumper syndrome ‘ there. Kharrr Nallll

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