Check for Traps
Simulation vs. Cinematic

Greg Tito | 4 May 2010 21:00
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The world of Aura has hundreds of pages written about it (all by Alex) and even though he has judiciously house-ruled various inadequacies, the Original Dungeons and Dragons system holds up well. But the real advantage of the game is that it simulates something tangible, and it feels very real. Our group has a real investment in the world, so much so that when Alex rolled a random encounter that mentioned a plague-ridden caravan, we spent a month of game time and an hour real time tracking it down so that it wouldn't spread its germs to the major cities. The group has spent almost a year of weekly sessions, almost 2.5 years of game time, making the Borderlands safe, and they'd be damned if one little breakout of Bubonic plague was going to ruin it all.

I personally love the campaign, and it appeals to the simulation gamer inside me. It reminds me of playing Civilization or Taleworld's Mount & Blade Warband, open-ended videogames that also inhabit a world that operates independently from the player. But sometimes that is not the experience that role-players want to have. They want to feel heroic or accomplish a feat that their favourite characters in literature and cinema would perform.

While I lived in New York City, I played in a campaign using D&D Fourth Edition that was run by an NYU professor. By definition, he was an old school gamer, having played since the early 80s. In the group was his lifelong friend, for whom he was always the Dungeon Master. They asked me to join the group around the time that 4E was released, and my other gaming group disbanded, partly because of the schism created by this new system from WOTC. What immediately drew me to the new group was that they didn't discuss mechanics at the table at all; the DM embraced 4E without much reservation. I found myself role-playing Heydar, a wizard with a penchant for smoking ceremonial (hallucinatory) drugs by creating flame with his finger.

This game was not a sandbox; many events occurred that the DM had clearly pre-planned and specifically timed. It many ways, it was a railroad, because we were travelling with a caravan that teleported from city to city on a programmed schedule. Sure, we could deviate from the path (the rogue and I had a lot of fun trying to broker a drug deal with some seedy types in one city), but ultimately the DM was in control of the events. The campaign had a defined end-point which we reached before we hit level 8.

But throughout that time, Heydar the wizard didn't feel underpowered at all. At level 1 or 2, he learned a ritual that expelled vermin and bugs from an area, and he sold this service to his fellow Caravan members to make an extra gold piece or two (to support his drug habit). I was able to select specific feats and powers that complemented each other and made Heydar more effective than if he randomly received spells. In combat, he could lay down fireballs and bursts of flame from his hands to scorch any enemy who threatened his friends. Fourth Edition plays best using a grid, with miniatures representing the positions of friends and enemies, and I find the strategic clarity a lot of fun. Heydar was able to run to barely evade the swing of a dragon's tail, and find just the right point to lay down a devastating fireball. Just like in the movies.


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