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Occasionallywinter Nights

November 6, 2013

Dear Reader,

Another gaming venture in which I’ve recently engaged is a return to Neverwinter Nights, the old classic of early “3D” CRPGs.  I got back into at the request of a buddy of mine who suggested we play through some of the player-generated content together.  I figured I’d give it a go, since I remember enjoying the game quite a lot when it was first released more than a decade ago.

The return to it was brutal.  Let me be clear, though; it’s very likely not the game’s fault, but my own.  It’s been so long since I’ve played something so, honestly, tough.  With MMO mechanics having largely been standardized, things like balanced pulls, beginner areas, and trash mobs have become part of my gaming psyche.  This is not how things were done in Neverwinter Nights.  I thought I’d be clever and play a rogue so I could stealth around and make sneak attacks, but the truth is that more often I’m being sneak attacked by sly wolves or bandit rogues.

I’ve died over and over, and each time I die, there’s an experience and gold punishment for having done so.

Part of me rebels and wants to spit at the designer for being so “unfair” in the early stages of the game.  I haven’t played the damn thing in probably 8 or more years, so to relearn both the mechanical system (which is not entirely D&D) was hard enough, but to top it off with having to relearn the culture of caution in a gaming atmosphere where players mostly run free and do as they see fit, conquering much harder mobs and overcoming the odds – well – that doesn’t happen in NWN.

That part of me is constantly criticizing the design, but the truth is, D&D is hard.  My buddy keeps pointing out how “the early levels” of D&D are inherently poorly balanced, but I’ve never DM’d or been a player in a campaign where low level PCs were put to such tests.

But that’s the hot-headed part of me.  The more coolly analytical part knows that I’ve been reckless (not only because my buddy keeps telling me I’m being reckless).  I’m not used to games being so lethal; I was legitimately one-shotted by stealthed mobs three or four deaths in a row.  In the mean time, mobs detect my stealth from across the screen and come running.

I had some early, deaths, too, from playing an RPG the way many (stupid) RPGs are played; I went into some random person’s house and started looting it.  She did not take kindly to this and promptly killed me.  That sort of “realistic” response is missing from so many games, and I’ve always lamented its absence.  I loved that you couldn’t sell stolen things in Morrowind, and that people would get angry and potentially even attack you in Oblivion and Skyrim; that felt much more authentic.  However, that early death set me back and prevented me from being the appropriate level when I left town, meaning I was getting one-shotted by the aforementioned mobs because I had less hp than I should have.

Part of the problem, too, is that D&D is designed for well-rounded parties.  I figured a rogue could use magic device enough to partially make up for having no spellcasters, and I’d have a tank to help with mobs, but the fact is I can’t heal the tank at all right now, so if there’s a mispull, we’re likely both dead.

So these two sides of me are at war.  I know I should be more careful; I’ve just been trained out of it by a decade of “less realistic” games.  I also feel, though, that design that’s so tightly tuned is perhaps at fault because it means one early mistake can lead to, eventually, an unplayable character.

That said, these early setbacks haven’t prevented me from wanting to play; quite the opposite.  I want to play to overcome the nonsense of the early levels and move on to brighter pastures.  It’s just been a hard wake-up call from the land of MMOs.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and probably re-rolling)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2013 8:15 am

    There was this lich in Baldur’s Gate … /shudder

    THIS is why I get so irritated when we see yet another nerf to world content in WoW. I *liked* the challenge of Stitches and Mor’ladim and those guys. It contributed a bit to the feeling you were in a dangerous place, and therefore caution was necessary.

    (gankers of course loved it because even if they failed, you would likely die if they ganked you in the right lace, but WAT HOOOO.)

    I did go back to play with NWN and Baldur’s Gate within the last year. I died a lot, too. Save points – we loves ‘em.

    • November 6, 2013 12:59 pm

      I remember; there were a few hidden around in basements and other places with secret, hidden doors that were just nightmarish fights.

      I agree, too, with the world nerfs changing the very nature of the game. I get that it’s more “convenient” for new players, but sometimes adventure, and the fun that comes from overcoming, is based on inconvenience.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. November 6, 2013 12:59 pm

    “This is not how things were done in Neverwinter Nights. I thought I’d be clever and play a rogue so I could stealth around and make sneak attacks, but the truth is that more often I’m being sneak attacked by sly wolves or bandit rogues.”

    I would point out that moving AHEAD of the tank while the tanking is fighting something is a good way to attract the attention of mobs up ahead :P

    “I’ve died over and over, and each time I die, there’s an experience and gold punishment for having done so.”

    I’ll also point out we COULD have simply loaded an earlier save each time you died if you’d prefer >.> That is an option and one I expect most people take so they don’t lose out on limited XP.

    “My buddy keeps pointing out how “the early levels” of D&D are inherently poorly balanced, but I’ve never DM’d or been a player in a campaign where low level PCs were put to such tests.”

    Yeah, because D&D is poorly balanced at low levels!

    Imagine a level 1 enemy. You give it 8 in every stat and a shortbow. Your AC is, say, 18. It still has a chance to one-shot you with a crit that does 15 damage. It’s a lot harder to make semi-difficult content in the first few levels of D&D than higher levels.

    That said, I would approach the difficulty of low levels in a much different manner (higher AB, less damage per hit so that you aren’t taking 50%+ of your health per blow) but I will say that in my experience modules are either complete jokes or even more brutally RNG-dependent at low levels.

    “I’m not used to games being so lethal; I was legitimately one-shotted by stealthed mobs three or four deaths in a row.”

    Of course, you had half the max health you were meant to in one zone and 2/3 the max health you were meant to in another zone. Minor detail there (which you mentioned later) :)

    “I also feel, though, that design that’s so tightly tuned is perhaps at fault because it means one early mistake can lead to, eventually, an unplayable character.”

    For what it’s worth, it’s not unplayable — you’re nearly at the point where things will become much, much smoother. The difference between a level 16 and 17 rogue is minute, the difference between a level 2 and 3 rogue is massive.

    • November 6, 2013 2:00 pm

      “Imagine a level 1 enemy. You give it 8 in every stat and a shortbow. Your AC is, say, 18. It still has a chance to one-shot you with a crit that does 15 damage. It’s a lot harder to make semi-difficult content in the first few levels of D&D than higher levels.”

      There’s a few problems with this example. First, 15 damage would not one-shot a person with a d6 hit die (even with no con bonus or feat); it would put them to -9 or more, giving their cleric at least a round to stabilize and save them. Having no healer as we start this adventure is the problem there, not D&D.

      Secondly, to get the crit, the NPC would have to roll a 20 followed by a 19 or 20, so we’re talking a 1 in about 400 chance, then deal 5 or 6 damage on the short bow, so now it’s 1 in 1200-1600 chance. Can it happen? Sure, I’m not arguing that, but it’s unlikely.

      Third, the CR system of D&D means that ONE level 1 NPC is a fair challenge to FOUR level one PCs. When this rule is followed, it’s not hard AT ALL to make semi-difficult content for level 1 characters. This module, though, is repeatedly putting the two of us up against 2 or more NPCs of – it seems – equal (or higher, since I’m down-leveled) level. While I understand it’s not made for a party of 4, it IS made for a party of three, including a healer, which seems to me to be the core issue. Hand me a wand of CLW and we’d be fine, but, alas, we don’t have one.

      The final problem is not, in fact, a problem; the max crit damage on a short bow is 18, which WOULD one-shot rogues and arcane casters, though not d8 and higher toons. I put that there as an issue of full-disclosure. 1 in 1200-1600 happens, just not often.

      I will point out that I have since rerolled and made a min-maxed character, something I abhor in pen and paper D&D but is seemingly required here. I played with the tank and healer up to where we left of and had zero deaths, zero downs, and was spotted zero times by wolves even though I was “running ahead of my tank,” which I think may be required since I couldn’t figure out how to give him a command to move somewhere. The whole point of hide and move silently is to scout ahead, but if everything in the game always spots me, then there’s no point to it. The min-maxing my Dex to 18 seemed to be the key, but that stealth seemingly REQUIRES a 16 or 18 in dex is poor design. Even the cave wolves didn’t spot me at short range.

      As for your final point, the difference between a 16 and 17 rogue may be negligible, but you’re just subtracting a level. Instead, consider the difference between a 12 and 17 rogue, which is the current percentage difference that I’m experiencing. Each encounter at a lower level leads to more deaths, which leads to more xp loss, which leads to a greater skew, etc. It wouldn’t be one level by then.

      All of this is why I don’t use xp in my games; I just tell players when to level based on adventure completion and the like. XP is only useful for two reasons: one is as a crafting currency (which I think is stupid and punishes crafters) and two is as a penalty for when you die (which may or may not be stupid depending on if it was a mechanical fluke or a bad decision by the player).

      Regardless, it is what it is. The point of this post wasn’t even to whine like I’m giving up, it was to point out how much easier modern MMOs are than old-school games. That I’ve become so mentally flabby on my mechanics is no one’s fault but my own.

    • November 8, 2013 5:23 pm

      “There’s a few problems with this example”

      I could also point out that a more reasonable enemy (like a fighter with a greatsword) would have a 5-10% chance to do 30+ damage on a crit. I was mainly trying to point out how the base weapon damage plus possible crits plus the absurdly low starting HP caused problems. Imagine if everyone started with a free 20-30 HP base or something and then went from there — completely differently ballgame.

      “Third, the CR system of D&D means that ONE level 1 NPC is a fair challenge to FOUR level one PCs.”

      *head explodes*

      We’ve already discussed this, though.

      “Hand me a wand of CLW and we’d be fine, but, alas, we don’t have one.”

      Healing Kits is the equivalent, FYI.

      “I will point out that I have since rerolled and made a min-maxed character, something I abhor in pen and paper D&D but is seemingly required here”

      Nah. Imagine a Human Rogue with 16 dex, 14 con, and 14 int. That still leaves you 8 points to put into str/wis/cha meaning you can have zero negatives and only two zeroes if you wanted.

      I will also point out that I suspect your success has far more to do with having two NPCs with reasonable equipment and healing potions along with likely some better tactics and more XP from the way the XP scale works than gaining 1 more stealth point.

      “I couldn’t figure out how to give him a command to move somewhere.”

      I’ve developed a far superior control method for henchmen in my modules…but in this case the only thing you can do is ask him to scout ahead.

      “which is the current percentage difference that I’m experiencing”

      Nah. You had something like 800 XP instead of 1000, or 80% of what you should have had. Which means instead of 17 you’d be 15. I also think the raw gap is the important part here (200 XP) meaning you’d at most be one level behind eventually, not even two. The problem is the difference between 999 XP and 1000 XP is more than twice as powerful. That 1 XP point makes such a massive difference.

      “The point of this post wasn’t even to whine like I’m giving up, it was to point out how much easier modern MMOs are than old-school games.”

      Fair enough to some degree — but I doubt we’ll have any issues from here on out with the potential exception of a few specific fights. It’s difficult to make an interesting and challenging level 1-2 for DnD without making it RNG dependent — and the way to do it is to basically ignore the guidelines of DnD on how creatures are made!

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