It’s Raining Muls: More on Alternate Actions

Posted on : 06-24-2010 | By : Brian | In : Advice, D&D, Session Reports


So, last night I got a chance to play in D&D Encounters again. I’m playing Yuka, the mul brawling fighter, and I’ve got to say, Yuka really shined in this encounter.

Why did he shine? It was a combination of a couple of different things. First, the encounter took place in a canyon of sorts, surrounded on most sides by twenty-foot-tall bluffs covered in thorny brambles. The enemies could fly from bluff to bluff, and attacked from atop them. Because only a few of the pre-generated PCs have ranged attacks, we had to get a little creative in order to take the fight to the bad guys.

The second reason was the DM. I played with a DM I had never played with, a guy named Andrew (I think; DM, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry if I’ve gotten your name wrong), and Andrew is my kind of DM. The DMGs talk about saying “yes” to your players, and Andrew really takes that advice to heart: if something has the potential to be awesome, he’ll let you try it. And in most cases, it was, indeed, awesome.

We were ambushed by some goblins (I think they were goblins; they were dressed in bone armor that disguised their features, and they may have been some Dark Sun equivalent to goblins, if goblins don’t exist in Dark Sun. I’ll just call them goblins.) and their pet drake. The goblins had flying contraptions strapped to their backs that allowed them to glide from bluff to bluff and the drake could, of course, fly. The combat started with the drake flying overhead, dropping a rope on our supplies, and landing on a nearby bluff. One of the goblins had the other end of the rope, and it was clear that they were going to try to steal our stuff.

The party quickly set out trying to attack the goblins, but I took a slightly different tactic: I picked up the rope and gave it a good, hard yank. The DM liked this idea, gave me an Athletics check (which I succeeded, what with my +9 to Athletics and all), and the goblin was pulled off the bluff and to his death (he was a minion). I then proceeded to use my move action to climb the bluff with the drake at the top, taking an opportunity attack and some damage from the brambles. The drake, however, flew away, back to one of the goblins, so I couldn’t attack it.

However, the goblin passed the drake another rope, so it was clear that they were going to make another attempt on our supplies. As such, I decided to prepare a trap for the drake. I backed up, to give myself a running start, and readied an action. My plan was to wait until the drake was over our supplies, about ten feet from the edge of the bluff, then charge forward, jump, and grab onto the drake. Andrew thought that was awesome, so he let me give it a try. And you know what? I succeeded. I grabbed the startled drake in mid-air, then twisted us as we fell so that I landed on top of the drake, minimizing my damage and maximizing its.

On its turn, the drake tried (and failed) to escape my grab. On my turn, I stood up, got a good hold on the drake, and then spun it around and slammed it into the bramble-covered wall of the nearby bluff. An ally then quickly finished it off.

Later, I spotted an archer on top of a bluff. I climbed a nearby bluff (failing my Athletics roll slightly, my first failed roll so far), and it cost me more movement than I had anticipated. No big deal. I traded my standard for a move to get into position, then spent my action point to charge, jump, and perform a flying tackle on the goblin archer. Andrew liked it and, once again, I pulled it off, knocking him prone, grabbing him, and landing on top of him. On his turn, he tried (and failed) to escape. On my turn, I picked him up, hurled him off the cliff, into the brambles on the side of an adjacent bluff, and that, combined with the falling damage he took when he hit the ground, killed him. Awesome.

At this point there were only two goblins left, both of them curse-chanters of some sort. They were both on the largest bluff, and there was a ten-foot gap between me and them. No problem. I leaped over the gap and, finally, drew my weapon and charged. And missed. Go figure, I finally make a normal weapon attack and I miss. The goblin tried to escape, though, provoking opportunity attacks while flying from both me and the party’s thri-kreen battlemind. We both hit, and because Yuka has Combat Agility, my hit knocked the goblin prone, causing him to fall out of the air and onto the ground below. The fall didn’t kill him, but our ardent did shortly afterward.

The DM, and the party, responded really well to all of my improvised actions. It helps that I only made two bad rolls the entire encounter; trying crazy things and pulling them off definitely encourages you to try crazy things in the future. And you know what? It encourages others to try crazy things, too. At one point, the ardent tried to make a lasso out of the rope and yank one of the goblins off the ledge. She didn’t quite make it, but at least she tried. At another point, the other fighter (also Yuka; we had seven at our table last night), knocked a guy off the cliff with Combat Agility, then used his shift to drop down on top of the enemy. The DM liked it, and ruled that all of Yuka number two’s falling damage would be transferred to the goblin that broke his fall.

It was a great session, and it really highlighted the fact that the system is capable of handling a wide variety of off-the-wall actions, not just what’s contained in your power cards. It also highlighted that, when the DM is inclined to say “yes” to awesome improvised actions, the game becomes more awesome for everybody.

At the end of the night, another player told me that one of his goals as a DM is to become better at handling improvised actions like that. I let him in on a dirty little secret: sometimes, you just let things happen and don’t worry about the rules. If one of my players wants to do something really, really cool, I’ll say, “give it a try, here’s the skill you need to roll.” The secret? Sometimes I don’t care what the result is. With these kinds of actions, sometimes I don’t bother setting a DC beforehand. I wait, I see what the PC rolled, and if it seems high enough, I go with it. Sometimes “high enough” doesn’t need to be all that high, if the action is cool enough. Because really, there’s nothing that takes the wind out of your sails more than trying something really cool and botching the roll. That kind of failure discourages future improvisation, and I’d rather there be more improvisation at the table than less. So, sometimes I hand-wave it.

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Comments (7)

Andrew is his name. I was there playing Barcan. Since my character is aloof and I play him sort of as a coward, he stayed in one spot away from the bluffs, but kept the ranged attacks coming which sometimes hit and sometimes didn’t. All in all, an awesome time!

Sounds super fun. I’d love to be in that group. I’m prepping the beginning adventure “The Slaying Stone” for a small group that just got together. It has a lengthy skill challenge that interweaves throughout the first half of the adventure. I’m thinking there will be lots of opportunities for “awesome stuff”. I just hope I can properly encourage this type of experimental thinking without forcing it. Keep the updates coming.

Thanks for the comment. In my experience, if you can get just one player to pull off some crazy action movie stunts, the others will soon follow, particularly if the original player is successful often and incentivised with big effects. Everyone else is going to want a piece of that pie. So your job, as DM, is to figure out which player or players are most likely to act like total badasses, then find ways to facilitate their badassery.

Good idea. I think I know who it will be. I just have to plant the seed and apply copious amounts of water. It’s a group of mostly newbies, so I anticipate a little hesitance. Reading this blog and At-Will and Critical Hits and a few others has really gotten my blood pumping for getting back into the hobby. Having completely skipped 3rd edition (and most of 2nd), I apparently missed quite a little skuffle when 4th came out. I’m personally, really enjoying the new feel of the game. I’ve read some say “the spirit of D&D is lacking in 4th”, but I’ve found quite the opposite. Certainly, blogs like this demonstrate the brilliance of D&D is alive and well. Thanks again, I look forward to being a regular visitor here.

Wow, thanks for the kind words! I agree with you about 4e (in case you hadn’t figured that out by the fact that I write a blog mostly about it). This edition, to me, feels more like the D&D I’ve wanted from the beginning, especially when it comes to DMing. Good luck on your game, and feel free to keep asking questions!

I actually do have another question if you don’t mind. I’ve been reading about people playing D&D over the internet, with virtual tabletops and IRC or Skype or Ventrilo. Have you ever tried this? Or have thoughts on what solutions are better or worse? Right now, I have a nice group of local players that has a lot of potential, but I’d love to try to get the guys together from back in the day (who are all over the country now) if possible. I recall reading that wizards was working on something like this a few years ago, but I can’t find anything on it now and I even subscribed to D&D insider.

Sorry for the off topic but I thought it might be worth a shot. :)

It’s funny you should ask that. One of my players is going to be moving across the country very soon, and I want to keep him involved in the game. For a mixed game, with some at the table and some not, I’ll probably try Skype first, and branch out from there.

For a game entirely online, I’ve heard good things about Open Game Table, and MasterPlan has some of that functionality, too, I think (though you won’t be able to download that one until the next release is available). I haven’t actually tried any of this out yet, though, so your guess is really as good as mine.

I’ll be playing with this stuff soon, though, and I’ll probably post about it when I do.

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