AW report, fights too long, and a miserable player

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AW report, fights too long, and a miserable player
« on: November 20, 2012, 11:00:59 PM »
Our normal D&D 4e game fell through last night, and we were talking about switching over to DW, so we gave it a shot.  I've run the game before; two of the players had played before.  I had a blast, but the initial fight took REALLY long and one of the players had a miserable time.

What follows is a pretty thorough play report, in the hopes that someone can point out where the dissatisfaction came from.  Help?

- Human wizard (new player)
- Human ranger (played DW once before)
- Human paladin (played DW once before)

We did introductions, established bonds, asked questions about the world.  All that.  Went well.  Established that the paladin & ranger regularly guided caravans & folks travelling between settlements.  Wizard took a shine to the ranger and started following along.

To kick things off:  asked some questions about orcs in the woods, established that these orcs were particularly bloodthirsty. Indulged in torture.  Even attacked forces that were obviously superior, getting cut down. 

Initial setup: the party had snuck up on the orcs and their sacrificial rite, and thankfully they hadn't been noticed.  Asking players questions, established that:
-the wizard was the one about to be sacrificed
-she'd heard strange chanting in the night and been compelled to leave the caravan and slip into the woods
-called for help when grabbed by orcs; the ranger & paladin tracked them through the woods to this spot
-the ritual was going to conjure something bad and spidery

Quick sketched out the terrain: a rocky high ground with woods all around it.  Old ruins on the top of the rocks, with a couple bonfires.  Six orcs drumming & dancing in front of a big altar-like stone.  One-eyed orc priest sharpening dagger behind that stone, and two orcs on either side of it, holding the wizard down by her hands & ankles. Altar & orc priest are at 12 o'clock (with larger rocks and ruins behind them), paladin and ranger have snuck up at around 6 o'clock.  Dancing/drumming orcs are between PCs and the altar.

What do you do? 

The paladin asks "what here is evil?"  The orcs are evil, sure, but also that stone is thrumming with evil and the very hill itself seems to be containing something ancient and wicked. 

Ranger wants to try to draw off orcs and give paladin an opportunity to rescue wizard.  He describes moves quietly away from the paladin counter-clockwise until he gets to 4 o'clock, then firing some arrows in the orcs' general direction and starting to run, make noise.  I initially take this as a volley, but after discussing, we decide it's not even a move.  The ranger's not attacking, he's just making noise and trying to get their attention.  I briefly consider asking for a parley roll, but even that wasn't really it and I couldn't stand asking him to roll +Cha for this action.  So I was a fan of the character and just said, sure.

So, the orcs all notice the arrows and turn towards where they came from. The orc priest barks something in orc ("go check it out!" or something), and the six dancing & drumming orcs go running into the woods. 

The wizard takes that opportunity to try and twist free, rolling +Dex to defy danger for a 7-9. I go for a worse outcome: she gets her hands free and sits half-up, but her ankles are still held. So she casts magic missile, gets a 7-9, and chooses danger. She blasts the orc holding her ankles to crisp, but the priest grabs her by the hair and pulls her back. The other orc (the one who had her hands) grabs one of her arms and one of her legs. The priest puts the knife to her throat and hisses something in her ear.

The paladin charges out, brandishing his shield and leveling his sword at the orcs, saying "Let her go and flee this place!" in his best I am the Law voice.  Sadly, he rolls a 6. So the orc priest growls "Your god has no power here!" and starts slitting the wizard's throat (4 damage).

Meanwhile, the ranger is running into the woods, leading the orcs away. I have him roll +Dex to defy danger, the danger being tripping or running into something in the dark woods and the pursuing orcs catching up. He gets a 7-9; I say that he stumbles, hits the ground, and the orcs are going to be on him in a moment.  (In retrospect, I think this might have been too hard of a move.  I'm still torn.)

He stays down, flits his hood up over him, and tries to stay absolutely still in the dark.  It's definitely another defy danger, but we debate whether it's +Dex or +Wis. I opt for +Wis, since the way he described it he was clenching his teeth and trying not to move at all.  He gets another 7-9, and I opt for a worse outcome.  4 of the 6 orcs go running past him, but the straggling 2 orcs stop and start looking around, grunting to each other, sniffing about.

Back at the ruins, the wizard whispers back at the orc priest "y'know, the blood of a noble paladin would really feed this ritual well."  It's a little weak as far as leverage go, but I figure she's definitely shown that she knows what she's talking about (lightning from the hands and all), so I have her roll +Cha to parley. Gets a 6-, so he growls something like "his blood shall be a fine desert!" and drags the knife farther across her neck (another 4 damage).  I tell her that as her blood hits the altar, she feels a thrumming in her spine, the altar doing responding to it.

The paladin takes that opportunity to charge forward, trying to bowl everyone off the altar. I have him roll +Dex to defy danger to get there in time, and he gets a 7-9. Then I have him roll +Str to bowl everyone over, and he nails it 10+.  Together, I interpret this as him succeeding in plowing everyone off, but not before there the knife at the wizard's neck does another 2 damage. The paladin knocks away the orc holding the wizard down, knocks the wizard off the altar in the other direction, and tackles the priest, landing behind the altar in a heap.  As the wizard flies off, she sees a small spray of her blood, slow-mo, arcing away from her and about to spill on the altar. She asks if she can try to cast Cure Light Wounds to "pull the blood back."  I think it's creative enough, so I let her try, but she'll have to roll +Int to defy danger first in order to cast it before the blood splatters.  She agrees, gets a 7-9, and I say that the only way to pull it off is to lose the spell, no matter what the outcome.  She goes for it, casts a spell with 10+, and the blood sucks away from the altar (sadly, she only rolled a 1 on her healing die).

Cut back to the woods. The ranger stays stock still again, hoping the two orcs sniffing about will be on their way.  Another +Wis to defy danger, this time with a 6-. One of the orcs is sniffing about, getting closer and closer, then stops sniffing and BAM, stabs the ranger 4 damage.  The ranger grabs a handful of dirt and throws it in the orc's eyes, trying to leap to his feet.  +Dex to defy danger, gets a 7-9.  I say it works, but that the other orc is charging at him while he gets to his knees.  He's asks if he can draw his short sword and counter attack, and I say that he doesn't have enough time, he's got to defy danger again first.  Another 7-9, and I say that he parries the spear thrust but the orc plows into him, tackling him to the ground and pinning him with the haft of his spear.  The short sword is just a hand's breadth out of reach.

Back up top, the paladin is on top of the one-eyed orc priest.  The priest has one hand free, grabbing at the paladin's face and trying to get his thumb into the paladin's eye socket. The paladin is lying on his shield, with the priest under him, and his sword in the other hand--but they're too close to bring it to bear.  The orc that had been holding the wizard picks up a nail-spiked club and steps in to bash the paladin on his bald head.  The wizard interjects by casting a Magic Missile at him (I have a "but it's not your turn" moment, but it passes).  She gets a 7-9 on the casting check, chooses "reality unravels around you."  Lighting blasts from her fingers, taking out the orc, but the lightning persists and arcs up to something in the air above the altar.  Energy keeps sucking out of the wizard into this nexus, and then down into the altar--in the very spots where the wizard's blood had dropped earlier. Uh-oh.

The paladin, unable to use his sword, tries to shift his shield so that he drive it into the orc priest's throat. Sweet!  +Str to hack & slash with a 7-9. The paladin deals his damage (only 3).  For the orc's counter-attack, I consider using the move "take an eye," but thought it was too harsh for a soft hit.  I opted to have the priest use flesh-rending magic, dealing 4 damage to the paladin by burning a handprint into the paladin's face. It ignored armor and also gave him the Scarred condition, cuz… well, hand-print-shaped-burn-on-face.

In the woods, the ranger called his familiar (a crow) to get his blade into reach. No move there, really. He then had the crow try to distract the orc so he could stab him.  +Str to hack & slash, with a 7-9. He deals damage, dropping the orc, but in the struggle the orc bats the crow away, knocking him senseless into a tree.  The other orc (the one that had been blinded by dirt) comes charging in. The ranger counterattacks with another hack & slash 7-9. They trade damage, the orc doing 4 but going down from the ranger's 6.

Back at the rock, the wizard spouts lore to see what she knows about this ritual and this effect of the lightning leaching into her.  Gets a 7-9, so I tell her that the ritual appears to be fueled by her blood, that's it clearly no longer under the orc priest's control, and that it's somehow leaching more of her power off of it.  (I think I could have done better, but I was stymied for details that weren't obvious.)  She opts to just move away from the altar.

The paladin drops his sword, grabs the orc priest (who's still prying at his face!), and twists, trying to bash the orc's head into the nearby altar.  He rolls +Str to hack & slash, getting a 10+, and pulls it off just fine!  I figure that while he's not "armed," he's using the altar as a weapon just fine, so he rolls damage.  Gets more than enough to kill it, so I say the orc's skull splatters open and it's blood covers the altar!

The lighting being drawn off of the wizard stops almost immediately, but the altar seems to thrum (to the wizard especially… she seems it almost visibly shaking).  The paladin runs down to the wizard to tend to her wounds, and as he gets there they both here the hiss of release.  The see a dark, misty shape in the night sky above the altar, with little arcs of lightning flitting through it and glowing red eyes.  A wind whips up and it darts northward into the woods. 

Out in the woods, the ranger hears the four other orcs off in the distance, still running about.  Then he hears the hissing sound coming from back the other way, feels the wind change, and shortly thereafter hears the orcs make some noise and head off in a totally different direction, kind of panicky?

Ranger makes his way back to the hill & the ruins, finds the paladin using lay on hands on the wizard.  A 7-9, and only 2 damage healed, but the slice on the wizard's throat stops bleeding and scratch appears on the paladin's.

The head back to the caravan.  There's a little discussion of what comes next and what they might do.  The wizard spouts lore about the spirit-thing they saw, getting a 7-9.  I defer to the ranger, asking him what he knows about the old religions and spirits of the people who used to inhabit these lands.  He gives us some great material to work with: old hunter-gatherer tribes living off the land, until one tribe got more aggressive and warlike than the others.  Really powerful, backed by their vicious spirit-god.  The other tribes banded together to defeat them, and their shamans sealed the old spirit away.  Party decided that they needed to see this caravan through to the next town, then they'd head south to the White Havens where the best arcane library the wizard knew of could be found.

Specific Issues:
1) So the fight scene above, from setting the scene through the lay on hands part, took 90 minutes.  That seems REALLY LONG to me.  Sure, part of that was us getting into the groove of things.  But still… really long.  That same fight in D&D 4e would probably have taken 60 minutes? 

Does that jive with other's experiences?  If not, any insight on where the length is coming from?  If so, thoughts on how to make it move more quickly?

2) I really enjoyed the way the fight played out; I think the wizard and paladin did, too.  The ranger's player was MISERABLE.  His main complaint:  since he never rolled a 10+, he never got to succeed without something awful happening. That could partly have been me making too hard of moves on his 7-9 results.  They didn't feel particularly hard to me, and they definitely felt like they followed from the fiction. But it made him DREAD taking any action, or having the spotlight come back to him.

I'm really not sure how to respond to it. Part of it might have been a matter of zoom. The ranger's player wasn't interested in the fight scene. He wanted to lure the orcs off into the woods so that the paladin could try to rescue the wizard.  In hindsight, he would have been perfectly happy with his original Defy Danger 7-9 result being something like "you can lead them on a merry chase through the woods, losing them eventually, or you can loop back to help your friends but they'll be hot on your heels."  And then leaving that all "off screen" and resolving the fight at the altar more quickly. 

The "zoom" thing is only part of it, though.  If he hadn't led the orcs away from the thick of the fight, that wouldn't have really been an option and he'd have been stuck in this fight with the other PCs, and probably experiencing much the same feelings.  Maybe not, since he'd probably have been rolling volley a lot more and that move is a lot less painful on a 7-9.

I think the really stumper for me, though, is that the 7-9 results that kept the situation fluid and dynamic are what make the game fun and interesting for me but that made it TERRIBLE for him.  The paladin and wizard player expressed similar concerns about the range of outcomes and the unlikelihood of getting "free and clear" success, but they were still engaged in the fiction and playing well off each other. 

The ranger's player really enjoyed the communal world building, and was interested in investigating the released spirit and what its up to and the history of the thing and talking to folks. But he HATED the fight, and the scale of it.

Is this just a difference in what we enjoy?  Are there ways of running DW differently that would make the fights snappier and less drawn out?  Is his reaction to 7-9 results something others have seen before, and if so, how have you dealt with them?

Thanks in advance for any insight.

Re: AW report, fights too long, and a miserable player
« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2012, 03:11:41 AM »
Entertaining read! I enjoyed it. I don't think you did anything wrong.

Here is a thread that could be of some interest with some same concerns.

I think the main fight was great. The paladin smashing the priest's head into the alter had me cheering for him.

The ranger though. Yeah. There were maybe a few too many Defy Danger rolls going on. Drawing the sword in particular seemed too much, but there were others too. Some of the 7-9 results seemed a little too harsh to me too, in that they didn't seem like fundamentally successesful but with a complication attached.

Ultimately though it just seemed like the ranger, as you said, didn't really want to fight them. If you knew that, and you probably didn't, you could have facilitated that with a cool chase scene or something similar? The ranger could have lead them into an owlbear cave and that sort of thing. But the player would've had to speak up and make some more bold moves maybe?



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Re: AW report, fights too long, and a miserable player
« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2012, 03:35:43 AM »
Hey Jeremy, thanks for such a wonderful AP! I just wanted to say, I think you did a brilliant GM role, and all praise to you for coming up with all those excellent soft hit outcomes. (That can be the hardest part of GMing DW I think - Hard moves are easier.)

So... To Your questions. I think you hit the scale issues on the head. Sometimes, the players can get deep into the snowball, detailing the fight almost blow for blow. Which can be very dramatic and tense. This seems to be the cinematic struggle that the Paladin and the Wizard experienced.

Your insight into the Ranger's discomfort with always coming up with something other than a FULL success, its partly his taste, which you have no control over, but you can broaden the fictional scale and zoom out a little (as you in hindsight identified) to limit that sense of continual failure. The moves can definitely accommodate this overreaching style.

A technique I like to do is to get the player to author their failure (or soft hit), in the aim of limiting their distaste at losing total narrative control. So say you get a worse outcome on a defy danger to hide, ask the player to narrate how they get what they want, but not quite as good as they imagined. That way they own that complication, it can be of their choosing and sets their fictional response up. It can be unwieldily used often, but if you see the signs of dis-satifaction appearing in the story-telling or rolling of poor moves outcomes constantly (dice can be fickle), let them indulge in a little self-flaggelation.

Also, complications can occur to the other characters on a failed roll too. So the worse outcome may be that the two orcs who sniff about, head back to the alter to bolster the priest's defence making the paladin's life more difficult.

Also, what of XP? Giving the player a bennie for pursuing their flags (Bonds, character moves and Alignment) can be a great motivator. The hard bargain or ugly choice could easily be tied into their alignment for instance, internalising the complication, rather than it being 'action' related.

Well done! I can't wait to hear more :)



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Re: AW report, fights too long, and a miserable player
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2012, 07:43:38 AM »
You've had some awesome moments, I liked your report.

There's nothing wrong with long fight when everyone is having their fun. The best moment in my current campaign was one intense half-session chase-and-fight scene, which transformed into intense sex scene.

But if you want the scene to be shorter, just make them roll less. Go along with whatever they want. E.g. when paladin charges forward, trying to bowl everyone off the altar, you had him roll twice. Actually once was enough, either +Dex if getting in time was the hardest part or +Str if it's bowling what makes it difficult.



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Re: AW report, fights too long, and a miserable player
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2012, 11:59:48 AM »
That fight looked badass!

I'm not sure what the Ranger's deal is. You maybe could have done without that defy danger to draw the sword, but it still reads like a cool, tense struggle.
« Last Edit: November 21, 2012, 12:06:05 PM by noclue »
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."

Re: AW report, fights too long, and a miserable player
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2012, 01:40:11 PM »
One thing to remember, on a 7-9, you're basically getting what you were after.  The GM needs to narrate a 7-9 as a success, albeit a complicated one.  You have to make a choice, sometimes, whether success is worth it or not, or sometimes it's not exactly 100% what you were after, but it's still a win.

Re: AW report, fights too long, and a miserable player
« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2012, 02:29:41 PM »
I wasn't in the session, so I really can't give a true oppinion about it. A 90 minutes battle in my rpg table would be a whole friggin war.

Last session, the ranger of my group went into the city of the undead and was hidding in a pile of debri, when a giant, bile rotten vulture man step by her hideout entrance. The bird puched her trough the debris and she rolled to the streets, and the rest of the group found her.

The warrior screamed and taunted the vulture man (Defy Danger +Charisma), 10+, and the vulture ignored the ranger and went to the warrior. He tried to run (defy danger +DEx, 6-) and the vulture stomped him into the ground. The paladin tried to fight the beast (hack and slash, 7 to 9) and, although he hurt it, the vulture pushed him away. The warrior, still under the beasts claws, used his sword to try to impale the monster (10+), and he cut it's leg off. The rogue, who was sneaking behind, tried stabing the monster (Hack and slash with Dex, 7 to 9) and the monster went flying, so I said 'if you want to attack it, you will have to grab it', and so does he.

While grabbing the vulture's back, a mob of undead rushes the players. The Thief degolates the vulture and saves against the fall (defy danger DEX, 10+), while the others are hacking through the zombies. They go trough the houses of the decadent slums, breaking through the cheap wood walls and, from the mountains of debris, scrap and trash, hands and hacked body pieces try to push them back.

They transverse it all and the building collapses, while they run away from the town.

All of it took 40 minutes, and mixed suspense (the ranger trying to hide from the monsters), Boss fight (the vulture man), Mob fight (the zombies) and chase (throught the slums).

What I always do is to consider 7 to 9 a omen, and not a bad thing. It's a future bad thing to happen if you do not do something.

I really can't imagine a fight being 90 minutes long like DeD 4th, which is the paralell to video games of 'Button mashing', while DeD is 'dice rolling'.