Living Forgotten Realms: An Old-School Experience

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There are plenty of annoying things about Living Forgotten Realms. For the sake of this post, let’s take those as read. I want to discuss an interesting emergent behavior that I hadn’t expected when I got involved with the campaign, and which is keeping my interest going.

Also, I want to use a deliberately provocative title… there, got that goal out of the way.

My local LFR scene is centered around Pandemonium, my FLGS. We run four tables every Monday night; some people also get together for home games, which are occasionally advertised but mostly not. All in all I’d estimate that there are somewhere between thirty and fifty people who show up on a regular basis. Most of us play more than one character.

Interesting emergent setting detail one: the Forgotten Realms we play in is awfully reminiscent of the old school Lake Geneva campaigns in terms of party composition. When I sit down at a table and play Alesk, my dragonborn cleric, he usually knows a couple of other adventurers. “Oh, hey, Caldwell! Still seeing that nice half-elf with the adventurer’s club?” The individual parties have no continuity whatsoever, and Alesk’s career is a careening journey from Baldur’s Gate to Waterdeep to Cormyr back to Baldur’s Gate, but from an in-game perspective there’s definitely a fellowship.

That’d be the old school effect. This feels a lot like I’m in a campaign with seven or eight GMs, who rotate, and a pool of thirty or so PCs. You even have people telling stories about the insane things done by PCs who aren’t at the table.

Probably more important, we can talk about shared experiences, which is pretty cool and which, as it turns out, is fuel for roleplay. I won’t claim that LFR is a hotbed of characterization and immersion, but I will claim that the network of interwoven characters who’ve done things together in the past provides a real basis for character development. The common play establishes way more context than I had expected from this sort of episodic campaign. It’s neat when a character who Alesk knows says “Oh, hey, you’d like Gerrick — he’s your kind of guy.”

Speaking of shared experiences, something interesting changed between Living Greyhawk and Living Forgotten Realms. It’s now OK for a player to play any given module more than once, as long as it’s not with the same character. It used to be that your second character simply couldn’t play the same modules as your first character.

At least locally, that’s made people a lot more relaxed about spoilers, although we’re still polite about it. In turn, that means we’re getting back to the old days when people exchanged stories about how tough (or not tough) specific adventures and encounters were. If you were playing 4e last year, you may recall the threads in which everyone compared their Irontooth TPKs — this is like that, except LFR doesn’t have a lot of TPKs.

So that’s another community-building emergent behavior, which I also find kind of cool.

Chris Tulach recently noted that LFR was seeing more players than LG. I think the community building aspects of the campaign, intentional or not, are part of this.

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One Response to “Living Forgotten Realms: An Old-School Experience”

  1. Jeffwik Says:

    Here is what I would do if I ran the RPGA for WotC, I would rejigger their website pretty much completely. The RPGA is a terriffic opportunity for Wizards R&D to get good information about what people are playing and how people are building things – what feats everyone is taking (which suggests that those feats might be overpowered), what race/class combinations are underserved, that kind of thing.

    This is the current system:
    Every player has an RPGA number. There is a website somewhere, where if you are running a game for the RPGA you enter the RPGA numbers for the players of that game, and the system tracks how often you run games (and what those modules are).

    This is what I propose:
    Every time a character levels up, that character gets a new RPGA number suffix which you, the player, keep track of along with your own RPGA number. When the DM enters in the info for the game they ran, they enter not just your RPGA number but also this suffix, to get credit. These suffixes eventually expire, after they’ve been used say a dozen times (though unless you die a whole lot you’ll level up, and therefore get a new suffix, long before your suffix expires). To get a new suffix, you the player have to go to the RPGA website and enter in some basic information about your character – specifically, what powers, feats, ability increases, etc, you picked when you leveled the character up. You can just import a Character Builder file directly if you use the Character Builder (there’s a button in the Character Builder which submits the character to the server and gets a suffix back, but the CB doesn’t do this automatically because it requires a live connection etc). If you are leveling up a first-level character, you have to do the slightly larger amount of work of not just identifying your level two utility power, but also your race, class and class features, ability scores, and first level powers. When you make a new first level character, you don’t have a suffix, so you just give the DM your RPGA number (this does mean that lazy players can get a character all the way to fourth level without bothering to enter it into the RPGA system, but you can’t play a 4-7 or 7-10 module without a valid suffix, which is to say, your DM doesn’t get credit if you don’t give them a valid suffix).

    SO if every avenger takes Righteous Rage of Tempus, then boom, that becomes apparent pretty quickly to R&D when they look at the database. If 45% of wizards learn Flaming Sphere and 45% learn Sleep and 10% learn Freezing Mist, then that becomes apparent. By tracking party composition (using the suffix info when the DM enters it in) they can make observations such as “20% of parties don’t have defenders, and of the defenders people are playing, only 5% are paladins” and have some non-anecdotal evidence that paladins are perceived as underpowered. If every fighter with the battlerage vigor feature takes Crushing Surge as an at-will, then, well, that’s not surprising, but that’s the kind of information I don’t doubt WotC R&D would benefit from having.

    There’s a balance that has to be struck between making reporting unduly onerous – which is why it can’t a prerequisite for starting a new character, and why my system doesn’t try to keep track of equipment – and obtaining useful data. The current reporting scheme harvests zero data about the game, and some is better than none.

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