July 28, 2008

The Yahtzee Moment

I run my own weekly 4E campaign, The Kingship Chronicles, with my neighbors, my sister, and my wife at the game table. It's a low-key, fun time where there's just the right mix of power-gaming goodness and genuine interest in the storyline. Some nights, of course, are better than others. Some nights its all hack 'n slash. Other nights, there's not a single weapon drawn as we work through important "non-combat" encounters. Most nights, I try to shoot for a mix of both.

(On a side note: Contrary to what some people think, you CAN play 4E and actually role play your characters; its not a miniatures game).

Last night was awesome, mainly because everyone was thinking outside the box on how to solve problems and we had one of those "Yahtzee!!! Moments". If you don't know what the heck I'm talking about, then you're either too young to know wtf Yahtzee is (was) or you're not thinking hard enough. It's one of those moments at the game table where someone makes some ridiculously, critically important roll that changes the direction of the rest of the evening's events. In this case, the roll may very well have changed the course of our whole campaign; at least in the short term. Have you had any Yahtzee Moments lately? What any about memorable non-combat encounters since you've been playing 4E?

For the more interested: Using the most generic terms possible, here's a quick summary of the setup: Our trusty heroes were approaching an old abandoned dormitory that some bandits had been using as a hideout. Their goal was to rescue a young boy who had been kidnapped, but the problem was there were dozens of bandits, far too many for our group of five heroes to take alone. Meanwhile, as they surveyed the complex from a safe hiding spot, a huge demonic bear and its zombiefied buddy show up and start terrorizing the bandits. The heroes, confused by this, watch and wait as this massive bear terror munches on dozens of these bandits, seemly set on breaking into the dormitory itself. Eventually it does, and then the players are like "Holy Hot Cakes Batman! We don't know who this demon bear and its zombie friend are, but they're going into the same building where the kid is. Maybe they are after him too! Let's try to rescue the kid while the battle rages on!"
I was stoked, they took the bait. Everything was going as planned.
The heroes circle around to the rear of the dormitory, and with a creative use of Fey Step, unlock a door and are ready to head inside. Only, the house is filled with the screams and agonizing cries for help of the poor bandits. The air is filling with smoke; someone has lit the building on fire. To make matters worse, in the very next room from the rear entry foyer, the Terror Bear is chowing down on no less than ten of these bandits. A few minutes later, Mr. Terror Chomper seems to head to the upper floors to root out any remaining bandits.

The heroes then note that some of the bandits are now fleeing out the front of the building. Inside, the horror continues - well the sounds of it at least. The heroes decide to run back into the woods. They see a few bandits flying out of 2nd story windows, or parts of them. They continue to wait. Flames can be seen in several windows of the dorm. Then all is silent. And the heroes wait. The fire worsens.
This is the part where, as a DM, I can see things are not going as planned. What are they waiting for? Crap...
And they keep waiting till "Something happens". So, eventually, the terrorizing bear and the zombie emerge from the flaming building with a burlap sack which seems to contain large moving thing. "They've got him! Crap... what the hell are we going to do? We can't take down this bear!"
Even though the encounter was not going as planned, its always fun to watch players fear for their characters. Mwhahaha...
I tell them that the zombie throws the sack over its shoulders and mounts up on the bear and the two of them begin to ride off at a running pace. The players decide to follow them, running after them through the woods. After a few hundred yards, the zombie rider / bear terror stop and turn towards the party. The bear issues forth a massive, echoing roar. The zombie follows with something shouted in a strange tongue, Abyssal.

Then JerseyGirl (my wife) says "Wait, strange tongue? I speak Abyssal, does that count?" Nice, someone understood the zombie's threat. "Yes it does."

Now, the bear and zombie were indeed scary. In fact, they are downright dangerous for the heroes. But, they were not overpowered. I wanted to give the heroes a small chance of seeing through the veil of fear that these two nasties seemed to be shrouded under. So, i decided that the zombie's threat to the players would essentially be an Intimidate check against JerseyGirls' Will defense (since she was the only one who could understand him) with a +10 bonus (hostile target, Intimidate skill, p.186 PHB). The zombie was given a huge bonus though, because of the fear factor. I rolled a 2; and the check failed. "The zombie threatens you, but for some reason you don't seem particular frightened anymore."

Somewhat unsure of herself, JerseyGirl responds, "Maybe we could bluff, and try to intimidate them?" Then, BigR is like "Yeah, lets do it!" I'm like "Um, OK! Whatever you guy say!"

And then it happened. The Yahtzee Moment.

JerseyGirl rolls a natural 20. This, coupled with her trained Intimidate skill, the use of her Beguiling Tongue utility power, and an assist from BigR, she ends up with a 36! The Will defense of the elite superbaddass zombie was 23, coupled with the same "Hostile Target" bonus, the DC was 33. She crushed it...

Everyone was so freakin' stoked that people jumped up from the table shouting. Like I said: it was a Yahtzee Moment.

What followed was a tricky-to-play role playing of the zombie being intimidated by the heroes and leaving the burlap sack (with the kidnapped kid inside) on the road side and then fleeing the seen.

Not a single blade was drawn. But, in the two months we've been playing 4E - it was one of the evenings we've had gaming.

What kind of Yahtzee Moments have you had lately? Moreover, what sort of memorable 'non-combat' encounters have you had since you've switched to 4th Edition? Let us know your story and leave a comment.

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