Endday Interlude: Epic is a state of mind

So far, our D&D Endday Campaign has been anything but D&D. We’ve had timeslips into Vietnam, out of control planes on a collision course with Hell, Angels pinned to the ceiling of unassuming bookstores and much, much more. The closest we’ve come to a classic Dungeon crawl involved playing hide-and-seek with a Neldrazu in an abandoned junkyard. And we’ve not even left Heroic Tier yet. Just imagine what’s waiting for them up the road……..

One of the things I wanted do to with this campaign was throw away the concept of “start small, get bigger”. Instead, I wanted to start big, then get frickin’ HUGE! I have massive scenes in my mind for what’s coming up in Endday. The entire of Chicago covered in ice is just the beginning and I’m expecting one heck of a battle up the side of a frozen Willis Tower in a few sessions time!

But enough of that. Let me ask you a question.

As a DM, what is your special effects budget?

$10? $10 thousand? A hundred million? Dude, James Cameron has nothing on you – your budget is unlimited! You can drop earthquakes at will, blow whole planets up, turn children into slime critters and back, summon a horde of crawling ghosts that appear through the dungeon walls (Goblin Cutter. Add Resist:Insubstantial. Done.) and more. If you can think it, you can do it – without needing a gazillion green screens, stuntmen, supercomputers and CGI specialists along the way.

That’s not to say you should use all of your infinite special effects budget all the time, of course. Any movie director knows that you need a calm before every storm and you have to include the low-key scenes to give the action scenes more impact. A movie that’s just all-action, all the time is just mush. If you want proof, go watch any Van Damme movie. See what I mean? Mush. Now watch any Die Hard movie. They’re not exactly the heights of cinematic excellence, but they are 100 times better because there are gaps in the action, slower sections which serve to counterpoint the action sequences.

A great game session (or series of sessions) should be like that. Mix high action with dialog and (dare I say it?) solid role-playing, and you’re onto a winning combination. Then turn the volume on your special effects up to ten. At least.

Here’s a quick example. Let’s say you’re running a classic dungeon crawl. The heroes have defeated the Evil Sorcerer. They take a breath then pick the Enormous Ruby of Quib from the ornate stand. They have reached their goal. Do you stop there and call that the end of the adventure? NO!

“The entire room – no, the entire dungeon – starts to shake. The ceiling begins to cave in and the walls buckle under the weight of the three dungeon levels above you. What do you do?”

Cue tense last minute Skill Challenge (and the music from Indiana Jones) as our heroes try to escape a collapsing dungeon! Let them use Acrobatics, Athletics, Dungeoneering, Intimidate (Perhaps against each other – “Get outta my way, Gnome!”) and any other skill they can come up with a use for as they flee. Knock off a healing surge for every failed check (hey, being hit by a dungeon HURTS!) and award them XP if they make it out alive. If not….. well, the dungeon claimed it’s last victims. That’s something, I guess.

Epic? Oh yes.

That, my friend, is what I am talking about.

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5 Responses

  1. Very true, I need to do stuff like this more often!

    At the current moment, after the big baddy falls, my players immediately start relaxing, spending healing surges, and looking for the phat l00t. Time to throw some interesting twists in! :]

  2. Rook says:

    Good post. I’m liking this idea of a more cinematic approach, the highs and lows of action, good stuff. Besides, I’ve never been one to hand-wave the “rest of the scene” just because the party managed to kill the B.B.E.G., or swipe the Big Jewel from the temple or whatever the goal was. For example, if there are any underlings left, I’ll usually make the PCs deal with them, rather than assuming that everyone split when the PCs ‘won’. BTW, I love the idea of making the PC’s exit from the dungeon into a skill challenge.
    .-= Rook´s last blog ..4e Magic Item Use: A Compromise =-.

  3. Marcus says:

    I’d join your game in a second.

    Cheers, Marcus

  1. January 31, 2010

    […] needing to call for a combat or a skill challenge. •I agree with Greywulf when he says that Epic Is A State of Mind. One of the things I like to do with the Spirits of Eden is to make epic-feeling challenges occur […]

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