Feedback on MIBG as Encounters Adventure

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This post is directed specifically at the in-store Encounters program.

We currently run with four DMs at our FLGS, all running D&D Next rules in the MiBG adventure.

Pros:

  • I love the MiBG format as a retail release. 
  • It is much more story and roleplaying based than past Encounters offerings have been. This offers a more rich and immersive experience. It offer the DM more freedom to improvise and follow character interests. 
  • I find the product itself to be very nicely done with fantastic art. The DM screen was an awesome idea, I use it tons. 
  • I like that it was offered as a retail product that other DMs that are not affilliated with a shop can obtain and run on their own terms.
  • I like the additional materials that were offered such as the alternate events.
  • I like the supporting content in the latest version of Dragon and Dungeons mags.

Cons:

  • This adventure, because of the story-type delivery and player choices requires much more DM preparation time. I'd like to see tools like the ones suggested below to relieve the DMs burden.
  • There are many sessions were there is no combat at all, which is fine occasionaly, but for Encounters, players want a combat encounter or at least a skill challenge more times than not. As a DM on a time budget, you try to work a little of all three pillars, (exporation, interaction and combat), into each session. I find that the nature of this story makes that difficult.
  • I'm very dissapointed with the Encounters store packets. The small player maps and dice were not enough to identify the Encounters program as the flagship organized play offering that I know WotC want it to be. Key battle maps and a supplement to aid the DM in adapting the adventure to a 2 hour per week adventure would be what I would expect. This offers the DM the freedom to use it or not depending on their available preparation time.
  • The sections or stages are written in story format and very difficult to refer to on-the-fly while DMing. You can not easily scan to a section to find the information you need to deliver to the players at a glance and that interrupts game play. It's fine for home games, not so much at the shop. This is another good tool that the Encounters packet could provide. 

​The bottom line is that this adventure is fantastic and a great offering, but needs more support from WotC to be friendly or appropriate for the time constrained format of the in-store D&D Encounters program. I believe this can be achieved and shouldn't require a change the shelf product. I think it can all be made available in the Encounters packets and online supplements to aid the DMs, (similar to the Alternate Events file). I understand that WotC is trying out a new format that doesn't "railroad" players as much. I think that's great and support it. Unfortunately, it doesn't work well for Encounters so tools to supplement and support the organized play community would be very welcomed.

I agree with your points.

I think they could send DM kits: a pamphlet with a list of specific encounters, and maybe two or three poster maps.

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D&D Next: VALOREIGN Home Game Development, Kalani's Homebrew and Original Content | General Campaign Stuff: Bawylie's Budget Dungeons

"D&D is an elf from Tolkien, a barbarian from Howard, and a mage from Vance fighting monsters from Lovecraft in a room that looks like it might have been designed by Wells and Giger." -- TiaNadiezja

My LCBS informed me that WotC only provides 1 free copy of the DM set for Encounters and if the store needs to run more than 1 group they must purchase additional sets. That seems kinda crappy.

For some reason nobody in this town wil run Encounters in anything other than 4E and 4E is not setup to be heavy on RP which really makes these Encounters sessions boring as hell.

...are you trying to start an edition war, Gonchar? Because that's how you do it.

Anyway... I agree with Spykes that having the product be available for non-Encounters DMs is a good idea. I kind of would have liked to see it made available after the current season is over, to encourage people to come to Encounters, play it, and then decide they want to take it home to run for their own tables, though.

Plus, it'd be nice to reward DMs for the public play program with lewt and incentives like that. Especially since we already are paying to run the season.

The physical product itself?
Nice, but overpriced. For the sticker price, I'd expect a hardback book with a tearout map or two (like the Neverwinter book). An appendix with the multi-edition stats instead of two packets I have to pay to get printed, or consume printer ink with would have made even the product as-is much more acceptable. The DM screen is a nice touch, and I could have accepted that in lieu of a map, to be honest. But not being a hardback book, but instead using the DM screen as a sleeve? Not cool, for the advertised price.

A price drop, or an increase in quality product, are the two ways I'm going to continute this pay-to-do-a-thankless-job-already model of public play. I like Encounters as a way to bring people into the game. It brought me into 4e to play. But the product and the model of public play, as it stands this season, is discouraging.

Content?
Mmm, love me some campaign guides. I really do. The kind of fluff that's in here is exactly why I buy products. It needs some crunch (as an example, compare any "Heroes of <setting>" or the Neverwinter CG to this) to go with it. I know we're "between editions," but this should have been in the product. Even if it was as the packets we have to download (but, you know, without the downloading).

Sweet mercy, though, on structuring a public play event like a home game. Encounters, as I've discovered (and had it pointed out to me), is great for running down a set of tracks and then leaving lots of hanging threads to build a home campaign off of. I think that's what makes the program really shine, it's that it's an intro/demo to the fundamentals and then lets you run wild after. It still would be okay and manageable if the product layout were a little less... wall of text. I'd like to see it broken up by pullquotes, more sidebars - anything that would make flipping through and being able to visually identify key elements of each phase of the module. Because, as mentioned, it's really hard to do on-the-fly referencing in the middle of a session with the layout as-is.

(For example, during the tax collector encounter, a little sidebar, in a dropshadow [I know, I know... dropshadow...] box that says "ENCOUNTER: IF the PCs engage [toll collector's name who escapes me] they find: [bulleted list] - 1 TAX COLLECTOR - 6 FLAMING FIST THUGS - 2 CIVILIANS (carrying the moneybox) - 2 LAMPLIGHTER BOYS" and maybe one more line that would say "TERRAIN FEATURES TO NOTE: The alleys in this section of Baldur's Gate are rarely more than 15' wide" )

Flowcharts and timelines make me happy, as a DM (and a person). If I could see, for the season, a general timeline infographic that says, "Day 1: Founder's Day... Events: Duke Abdel's Assassination <page reference>" with another one saying, "Day x (stage y): Ravengard Runs for Office <page reference>,"  is just simply ideal. Or maybe a double-truck spread that has a timeline for each of the factions, including intersection points on events.

We've been given a lot of great information and a lot of freedom to use that information for this season in this product. Because of its free-form nature, it's REALLY important to be able to flip back and forth and find an important bullet point in a crunch when a player asks about something. All this great information, and no really great way to parse it, let alone disseminate all of that to the players without a lot of extra work on our end. That works for a home game that isn't on a time limit, but public play shouldn't have important notes hidden away in blocks of text without any visual emphasis. (Arguably, good design would disctate you put that in the product even for home game DMs, because it's just visually more appealing.)

tl;dr
1. I love what I'm reading. I love what I'm playing. There are some SERIOUS design and layout flaws with the product that's supposed to be used for public play, or at all. The information is not readily available, at a glance, at the DM's fingertips. (It should be.)

2. Price point. It's marketed online as a "hardback." It's not. The stapled packets I bought are NOT worth $34, because the entire product isn't even in the shrinkwrap (see the two downloadable supplements DMs, public and private, have to print out). Drop the price, or put out an actual hardback on par with the Neverwinter CG.

3. Public Play DMs shouldn't be punished (ie, charged) to basically push product and bring people into the game. We're representatives, ambassadors, salesmen for D&D at that point. Discounts or something needs to happen to rectify this.

58286228 wrote:
As a DM, I find it easier to just punish the players no matter what they pick, as I assume they will pick stuff that is broken. I mean, fight after fight they kill all the monsters without getting killed themselves! What sort of a game is this, anyway?

 

An insightful observation about the nature of 4e, and why it hasn't succeeded as well as other editions. (from the DDN General Discussions, 2014-05-07)

Rundell wrote:

   

Emerikol wrote:

       

Foxface wrote:

        4e was the "modern" D&D, right?  The one that had design notes that drew from more modern games, and generally appealed to those who preferred the design priorities of modern games.  I'm only speculating, but I'd hazard a guess that those same 4e players are the ones running the wide gamut of other games at Origins.

       
        D&D 4e players are pretty much by definition the players who didn't mind, and often embraced, D&D being "different".  That willingness to embrace the different might also mean they are less attached to 4e itself, and are willing to go elsewhere.

    This is a brilliant insight.  I was thinking along those lines myself.  

 

    There are so many tiny indie games that if you added them all together they would definitely rival Pathfinder.   If there were a dominant game for those people it would do better but there is no dominant game.  Until 4e, the indie people were ignored by the makers of D&D.

 

Yep. 4E was embraced by the 'system matters' crowd who love analyzing and innovating systems. That crowd had turned its back on D&D as a clunky anachronism. But with 4E, their design values were embraced and validated. 4E was D&D for system-wonks. And with support for 4E pulled, the system-wonks have moved on to other systems. The tropes and traditions of D&D never had much appeal for them anyway. Now there are other systems to learn and study. It's like boardgamegeeks - always a new system on the horizon. Why play an ancient games that's seven years old?

 

Of course, not all people who play and enjoy 4E fit that mould. I'm running a 4E campaign right now, and my long-time D&D players are enjoying it fine. But with the system-wonks decamping, the 4E players-base lost the wind in its sails.

I think that's what it's going to take at this point for the Encounters program to continue to provide value - a Store Packet that includes material the Encounters DMs can use to quickly and easily run the store events in 2 hours, and maybe leade time.

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D&D Next: VALOREIGN Home Game Development, Kalani's Homebrew and Original Content | General Campaign Stuff: Bawylie's Budget Dungeons

"D&D is an elf from Tolkien, a barbarian from Howard, and a mage from Vance fighting monsters from Lovecraft in a room that looks like it might have been designed by Wells and Giger." -- TiaNadiezja

I suppose it's my fault as the DM, but my players are bored out of their minds with this season. They haven't had a fight since the Low Lantern in the first session—mainly because the only events that have come up in the module would involve fighting FF or Watch, which they didn't do and they didn't try to find the vandals. With the hunt for the people who stole the hands off the statues they were ready to fight only to find it was some teenagers. This past week was a garbage strike or one player from the FF group going to blackmail someone, which he decided not to do. At that point I could have had some FF arrest him for a one-on-4 or 5 fight. The rest of the party were tracking down who was paying off the striking workers. On more than one occasion I've heard "Why don't we just go kill all the dukes?" just to get a fight.

I think that I'm just following the module's slow build up of tension in the city that happens over an extended perioid and many small events, but that doesn't really seem like a good type of adventure for a D&D Encounters session where people just want to relax after work and fight monsters. Frankly I don't blame them. I feel the same way. From the DM side this has been a pretty complex thing to run too for not enough satisfaction on my side of the screen. This could be a really good module for a home group or something but 3 months of urban political intrigue is not what our group wants for D&D Encounters.

We've decided we're not going to finish this season. I hope that Legacy isn't like this.

Werlynn wrote:
I suppose it's my fault as the DM, but my players are bored out of their minds with this season. They haven't had a fight since the Low Lantern in the first session—mainly because the only events that have come up in the module would involve fighting FF or Watch, which they didn't do and they didn't try to find the vandals. With the hunt for the people who stole the hands off the statues they were ready to fight only to find it was some teenagers. This past week was a garbage strike or one player from the FF group going to blackmail someone, which he decided not to do. At that point I could have had some FF arrest him for a one-on-4 or 5 fight. The rest of the party were tracking down who was paying off the striking workers. On more than one occasion I've heard "Why don't we just go kill all the dukes?" just to get a fight.
That's exactly what I like about this season. One table hasn't had a fight since the first one, and they love it. They're playing one side against the other and cleaning up afterwards.

Another group doesn't want to do anything but fight, with some players actively subverting any attempt by anyone to talk or even plan strategy. And so we're scripting it as a "doomed revolution" thing, à la Les Miserables.

Both are valid ways to do the module. I may have my preference in how I would want to play it, but it's not my place to make everyone play "my way." There isn't a "right way" to play it.

Werlynn wrote:
I think that I'm just following the module's slow build up of tension in the city that happens over an extended perioid and many small events, but that doesn't really seem like a good type of adventure for a D&D Encounters session where people just want to relax after work and fight monsters. Frankly I don't blame them. I feel the same way. From the DM side this has been a pretty complex thing to run too for not enough satisfaction on my side of the screen. This could be a really good module for a home group or something but 3 months of urban political intrigue is not what our group wants for D&D Encounters.
You could throw some of the optional encounters their way, and force some of their decisions. For instance, I think the "When Animals Attack" encounter in the Events Supplement is pretty good and could lead to a fantastic encounter area - use one of the old sewer maps from a previous Encounters season (Maybe the one from Storm Over Neverwinter, or Lost Crown of Neverwinter), use the supplied wererat stats and add some giant rats and rat swarms from the playtest packet bestiary, and go.

Another good one is the "Exile" encounter, also in the Events Supplement. When the PCs go to investigate the site of the massacre, have some enterprising brigands assault them (they hung around after their last job, figuring they might find a couple more rich people to rob before leaving the area).

There are several ways to add more fighting if that's desired.

Werlynn wrote:
We've decided we're not going to finish this season.
... Or you can do that.

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D&D Next: VALOREIGN Home Game Development, Kalani's Homebrew and Original Content | General Campaign Stuff: Bawylie's Budget Dungeons

"D&D is an elf from Tolkien, a barbarian from Howard, and a mage from Vance fighting monsters from Lovecraft in a room that looks like it might have been designed by Wells and Giger." -- TiaNadiezja

I think this all comes down to the fact that you are never going to please everyone so they aimed for as wide a spread as possible. Some players are going to love intrigues and others combats and it is entirely up to the DM to piece all that together. The DM has to know what the players want and with a variable player base it might change every week.

It is possible for these sessions to be run like older encounters but that means abandoning most of the plots and major prep time. In order to make that easier it might mean picking one side to "win" ahead of time and setting the campaign to oppose that person's plans. I think a suggested path would help, perhaps if the writers told us what path they took.

The crowd-sourcing of plot elements is a crock as no matter what ends up in cannon it is nothing more than a footnote. It does not actually matter who gets the most points. The only thing that changes is the last boss fight and number of survivors. I have decided that I will have to determine the outcomes so I can draft a coherent narrative to get there. My players are not loving the free form aspects that I thought they would so I'll spend the next few days turning this campaign into a season of encounters.

I think this all comes down to the fact that you are never going to please everyone so they aimed for as wide a spread as possible. Some players are going to love intrigues and others combats and it is entirely up to the DM to piece all that together. The DM has to know what the players want and with a variable player base it might change every week.

It is possible for these sessions to be run like older encounters but that means abandoning most of the plots and major prep time. In order to make that easier it might mean picking one side to "win" ahead of time and setting the campaign to oppose that person's plans. I think a suggested path would help, perhaps if the writers told us what path they took.

The crowd-sourcing of plot elements is a crock as no matter what ends up in cannon it is nothing more than a footnote. It does not actually matter who gets the most points. The only thing that changes is the last boss fight and number of survivors. I have decided that I will have to determine the outcomes so I can draft a coherent narrative to get there. My players are not loving the free form aspects that I thought they would so I'll spend the next few days turning this campaign into a season of encounters.

AlHazred wrote:

 

Another group doesn't want to do anything but fight, with some players actively subverting any attempt by anyone to talk or even plan strategy. And so we're scripting it as a "doomed revolution" thing, à la Les Miserables.

Both are valid ways to do the module. I may have my preference in how I would want to play it, but it's not my place to make everyone play "my way." There isn't a "right way" to play it.

From what you've posted about those sessions, it sounds like the players are bored and frustrated. What they're doing isn't a "playstyle", it's a coping mechanicism. Have you talked to them and asked if they like how the adventure is going so far?

"Ah, the age-old conundrum. Defenders of a game are too blind to see it's broken, and critics are too idiotic to see that it isn't." - Brian McCormick

Alter_Boy wrote:

 

AlHazred wrote:

 

Another group doesn't want to do anything but fight, with some players actively subverting any attempt by anyone to talk or even plan strategy. And so we're scripting it as a "doomed revolution" thing, à la Les Miserables.

Both are valid ways to do the module. I may have my preference in how I would want to play it, but it's not my place to make everyone play "my way." There isn't a "right way" to play it.

From what you've posted about those sessions, it sounds like the players are bored and frustrated. What they're doing isn't a "playstyle", it's a coping mechanicism. Have you talked to them and asked if they like how the adventure is going so far?

It sounds like a playstyle to me. There are a lot of players who can't get past "kill everything that moves" and struggle with anything else.

MerricB wrote:

 

Alter_Boy wrote:

 

AlHazred wrote:

 

Another group doesn't want to do anything but fight, with some players actively subverting any attempt by anyone to talk or even plan strategy. And so we're scripting it as a "doomed revolution" thing, à la Les Miserables.

Both are valid ways to do the module. I may have my preference in how I would want to play it, but it's not my place to make everyone play "my way." There isn't a "right way" to play it.

From what you've posted about those sessions, it sounds like the players are bored and frustrated. What they're doing isn't a "playstyle", it's a coping mechanicism. Have you talked to them and asked if they like how the adventure is going so far?

 

It sounds like a playstyle to me. There are a lot of players who can't get past "kill everything that moves" and struggle with anything else.

Perhaps this will elucidate for you guys: the average age of that table is 11. None of the players is older than maybe 13-14. This is exactly what they want out of the module - I know, I've been scripting them. And with this particular module, that's perfectly okay. On the last session, one of them will be imbued with the power and I want to make sure it's an epic fight.

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D&D Next: VALOREIGN Home Game Development, Kalani's Homebrew and Original Content | General Campaign Stuff: Bawylie's Budget Dungeons

"D&D is an elf from Tolkien, a barbarian from Howard, and a mage from Vance fighting monsters from Lovecraft in a room that looks like it might have been designed by Wells and Giger." -- TiaNadiezja

MerricB wrote:

 

Alter_Boy wrote:

 

AlHazred wrote:

 

Another group doesn't want to do anything but fight, with some players actively subverting any attempt by anyone to talk or even plan strategy. And so we're scripting it as a "doomed revolution" thing, à la Les Miserables.

Both are valid ways to do the module. I may have my preference in how I would want to play it, but it's not my place to make everyone play "my way." There isn't a "right way" to play it.

From what you've posted about those sessions, it sounds like the players are bored and frustrated. What they're doing isn't a "playstyle", it's a coping mechanicism. Have you talked to them and asked if they like how the adventure is going so far?

 

It sounds like a playstyle to me. There are a lot of players who can't get past "kill everything that moves" and struggle with anything else.

I guess my point is that MiBG isn't a "kill everything that moves" module.

I've been the DM who's tried to run an epic campaign of intrigue and story with a group of hack-and-slashers. I remember still trying to make the story work, even when the players had no interest in it. I remember the lies I told myself that I was incorporating their goofing-off into the story and that it would all pay off.

Show
It didn't pay off.

"Ah, the age-old conundrum. Defenders of a game are too blind to see it's broken, and critics are too idiotic to see that it isn't." - Brian McCormick

Just wanted to chime in with a player perspective.  The city looks like it's being pushed into chaos with various events that cause reactions and counter-reactions. And it seems like someone is orchestarting those things behind the scenes. Like the theft of the hands to get people in the city upset at outer city. Or some wizard using disguises paying off a bunch of sanitation workers to not do anything.   Or someone out there buying up a ton of gunpowder supplies. The problem is every time we try to investigate we eventually hit a dead end. The description of a person is an obvious disguise, or no one saw anything unusual, etc etc. A big part of the game is the various laws/tarifs that keep getting passed. That just seems like a pile of politics which we really have no interest in getting involved in. And would not achieve much if we did, the party has very few of the social interaction skills trained(no one has insight and playing with lvl 11 characters a +7 is not gonna get you very far). We are I would say a find the culprit and smash him group. So it feels like we are not able to do anything and are basically bystanders. We've had people mention several times that we should just leave the city and let this sort itself out....

I think, as an experienced DM with experienced players, this is a good adventure.  It reminds me a little of the OD&D adventure, The Veiled Society (giving my age away there), except with vastly improved production values, though I do find the gazateer a little frustrating at times given the open nature of the adventure due to little gaps in information, e.g. not all the gates are described (petty but annoying when I've described every other gate using information provided then waste time looking for information about a new gate that doesn't exist!).

 

Having said that, this is a huge departure from previous Encounters series and can understand why some DMs and players can't stand it and have given up on it.  Initially I was surprised by the format of the adventure (I had hoped for an easy game to run as I have little prep time these days) and found the extra prep for this season time-consuming but since I equipped myself with some general city-scape maps (OD&D Lhankmar geos - showing my age again) and Sly Flourish's 4e cheat sheet and (later) an Improvisation Sheet (as recommended in Dragon recenty), I've actually found I need to do almost no prep whatsoever and can ad lib my way through the adventure structure provided.  The advantage of having experienced players is that they turn up week in week out so the group is very stable - I also have only a few players which is ideal for a city campaign - and they came with backgrounds which they are also driving forward so these side treks pad out the otherwise sparse encounters provided.

 

Summarily, I think as an Encounters adventure MiBG is probably a bit too much of a reach given the preferred format of Encounters (short sessions, potentially random people, volunteer DMs) but this really should have been released as a boxed set adventure years ago and would probably have stopped some of the 4e disillusionment that seems rife amongst certain players now.

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