Living Forgotten Realms: Too Much Roll-Playing

Much as I take issue with the design decisions of “4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons” as a rules set, I rather enjoy the “Forgotten Realms” campaign setting.  “FR” always struck me as the more  “mature” campaign setting that

Forgotten Realms Players Guide
Forgotten Realms Players Guide

required a bit more cunning and thought than “Greyhawk.” When Wizards of the Coast announced a “Living” campaign version of FR, I hoped it might fill the void left from the soon-to-end  “Living Arcanis” campaign. For those that are not familiar with Arcanis, it was very story oriented. In fact, there were entire adventures that had no combat…and they were fun! I had no illusions that the LFR modules’ storyline needed that level of role-playing, but I thought happy thoughts and started playing.

So, my heart filled with hope, I played several Living Forgotten Realms modules at various game stores, conventions and home games. I think I had a total of six or seven under my belt including the three “Weekend in the Realms” modules when I noticed the pattern.  Regardless of author, each module had some basic storyline, 2-4 encounters and some wrap-up text. When I say “basic storyline” I mean cliched and simplistic.  Kill bandits, rescue a princess or recover/deliver an item. I understand there are a finite number of plots for fantasy games, but at least try to add some spin to the old classics.  What story there was merely served to provide some “role-playing” fig leaves to the pre-programmed combat encounters.  My game play experience proceeded as follows:

  • 15 minutes of story
  • 3 hours, 30 minutes of combat or skill challenges
  • 15 minutes of story

Nothing against the various DMs that ran the modules. There was simply not much there to work with.  I know that WOTC pitches LFR as “fun” and  easy to play, without a rigorous storyline that might be a barrier to entry, but they can do much better. Perhaps I suffered through a particularly bad batch of modules, but I doubt it.

Role-playing games are about story. Combat is a component of the story, it adds momentum and risk to the adventure, driving the plot.  Concentrating so heavily on the combat of “Dungeons and Dragons” is a disservice to the story and mind-numbing for the players.  Endless combat encounters with no story belong in the realm of the pure tactical wargames like “Warhammer,” not in a role-playing game.

I am disappointed that LFR has not met my expectations, more so because Arcanis and “Living Death” managed to put together good role-playing experiences in a 4-hour convention slot module with significantly fewer resources and backing. Poor storylines are not terminal  for the campaign, but it is an issue that should be addressed and soon. I will keep playing, hoping that the module quality improves as the campaign matures.

I will let you know how it goes.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

7 thoughts on “Living Forgotten Realms: Too Much Roll-Playing

  • December 15, 2008 at 12:11 pm
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    That’s been my problem with 4E so far as well. Aside from the system mechanical parts that are sort of the Windows Vista of D&D…it really is a combat game with a dash of RP for “flavor”.

    Honestly, I think combat should be garnish, not the entree…otherwise it becomes trite and meaningless.

    I love Forgotten Realms and just started a new campaign set in Luskan…for D&D 3.5. Even framed (well, a cheapo poster frame) the big Faerun 3rd Ed map. Everyone’s excited about the game.

    Now for 4E that would be pointless. Realistically almost any 4E adventure can be Forgotten Realms as really they are largely all combat encounters and the story elements are just window dressing. Just swap out a few names and voila!

  • December 15, 2008 at 3:59 pm
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    Trask, I can’t speak to the specific modules you’ve played (I haven’t played those), except to say that if the story is the most important factor in a Forgotten Realms campaign, then that’s a failure that has to be addressed.

    However, generally speaking, it doesn’t really matter what game system you’re running, the ability to create and conduct a good story is the most important part of the game. I think if 4E has one flaw, it’s that it makes it too easy to forget about the role-playing (because combat encounters are much easier to construct and balance). My own experience (for what it’s worth), is that it is the game group that decides how worthwhile and involved the role-playing will be. Game mechanics shouldn’t be much of a factor.

  • December 16, 2008 at 3:11 pm
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    LFR is designed so anyone can sit down and play. The modules are designed around combat and skill challenges. However, that doesn’t mean that RP is completely out of the mix. It just means that for it you have to have the opportunity (not all modules do) and the want (not all players do) for it. When these are both there it can be one hell of a time.

    For those times I want some RP in have a home game, group of friends for LFR, oh and my monthly LA game-day.

  • December 18, 2008 at 6:49 pm
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    I had the same problem with Mark of Heroes and (particularly!) Living Greyhawk. RPGA games are… not the same as home games. I enjoy them, but put them in a different mental slot than home RPGs.

    It does help keep me happy. Think of it as a Pen n Paper MMO– a little generic, a little bland– but a great substitute when regular play in an ongoing campaign’s not an option.

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  • January 7, 2009 at 11:14 pm
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    Yeah, this is a common RPGA problem. I was a Living Greyhawk Triad, and the rules they put you under with the scenarios were onerous. In the interests of “fairness” and “balance” you had to have exactly X encounters of EL Y taking time Z and giving out only treasure of amount A… Innovating within the format was very, very difficult.

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