Saturday, June 21, 2014

Missing Stuff is Boring (and other deep thoughts)

When I was playing Dagger for Kids with my middle school class, during the second session, I noticed that in combats lasting more than three rounds player interest tended to wane, particularly if a player missed with two consecutive attack rolls.
I think this may be a side effect of console game play.  In a fine game like Starcraft your units would do a lot of damage, or a little, but at least in terms of the visual display the bullets, acid spray, laser fire or what have you, one always "hit".  The variables were range, attack speed, and "how much damage did my unit hit for?"

How very different from playing tag with the mail-clad minotaur in the Caves of Chaos, where the trick was trying to endure his onslaught for enough turns to land some solid blows.  Maybe we just had a lot more free time back then?  Or perhaps just fewer choices when it came to interactive entertainment.

Erol Otus of course
While I don't think I'll ever be ready to go the way of 4th edition D&D, where I understand that even some "misses" in melee still inflict hit points of damage, this experience with my students caused me to rethink my approach a bit.

By session four with my Bawal Bayan campaign, I began lowering monster armor classes (we used ascending AC).  I found that, in order to sustain student engagement while maintaining the challenge, I was far better off tossing a few more enemies at the kids or giving a big bad an extra die or two of hitpoints while nerfing enemy armor class somewhat so that the students had the sense of accomplishment and progress that came with a well-narrated hit.  Did they still miss stuff?  Sure, but now only about 50-60% of attacks would whiff and, if pacing allowed, I was conscious about trying to narrate parries and glancing blows with whatever skill I could muster.

I'm sure that this is a lesson I'll carry forward as I game with young people -- expectations about entertainment have changed over time and if I hope to win any new fans over to this goofy, niche hobby of ours I'd better be able to move with the times a bit. 

File:Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle 1871.jpg