In the Lair Assault format, players are pitted against their Game Masters, and are much more likely to become frustrated or angry than in any other play format (except perhaps the Dungeons and Dragons Championships). It is important that players understand, up front, that their DM is going to try to kill them.
The Pitfalls of Adversarial Play
Dungeon Master versus the Players. In DnD, it is normally a Dungeon Master’s duty to facilitate play and make sure (within reason) that everyone has a good time. In Lair Assault, the DM controls the game, and is very clearly instructed to do whatever they can to murder characters outright. This is a recipe for feelings to get hurt.
If the party has an inherent weakness or makes a tactical mistake, expect the DM to exploit it. If a character falls unconscious, expect the DM to go for a coup de grace. The monsters certainly do not want to see their enemies get back up if the party happens to have a cleric nearby.
Unfortunately, this seems to be happening quite a bit. Sometimes players don’t read all the character creation rules, and the rules in the module booklet are different from what has been published online. People are playing with characters they are unfamiliar with, and the character builder kind of sucks… especially with Hybrid characters. To make matters worse, the DMs don’t really have time to review characters before play begins… and only the most experienced DMs have all the obscure rules errata memorized. There is not much time to stop to look things up, as the Forge of the Dawn Titan can easily run over three hours.
Long story short, you end up in a situation where a player is possibly misusing their abilities, and the DM, who is also trying to murder you, restricts the use of powers that you thought you had. This is probably the single most frustrating thing for players, as players often feel like the DM is unfairly nerfing them.
In one or two games so far, I have repeatedly questioned a player’s character powers, or attack modifiers (for good reason). Naturally, after too many inquiries, players begin to feel like the DM is accusing them of cheating. Many people don’t like to be accused of cheating, even if they are and they don’t realize it. In the interest of time, I’ve decided to just let some things go. The mod already runs too long without any disrupting inquiries.
I will say that thus far, I don’t think anyone at our game store has been “intentionally” cheating. I think most of the mix ups were related to problems with the character builder, or an understanding of obscure rules.
Party Struggles (***Minor Spoiler Alert***)
The rest of this post does contain commentary that is “just a little” spoiler-ish.
Melee Strikers = Terrible
If you have played through one run of lair assault, forge of the dawn titan, then you already know that there is not a lot of room to maneuver, and the party can easily get caught up in a few nasty choke points. One of my tables had NO ranged attacks at all, and found certain areas exceptionally difficult because of it.
After one or two assaults on the lair, I think most parties have learned that in a party of six, they need two or three ranged strikers. This party would include a defender, leader, and controller, as described in the party optimization post.
The Lair Assault Skills Challenge
Lair Assault does not have a ‘regular’ skills challenge, but there are a few skills that have obviously proven more valuable to players than others.
Primary Skills: Perception. Thievery. Athletics.
Perception: Is that statue going to shoot me in the face? Or is it just a regular statue? Thievery: Oop, yep, that statue just shot me in the face, let’s try to disarm it. Athletics: Crap, I failed to disarm the statue… and there are sssoooo many hot things to jump over as I flee the statues of doom!
Secondary Skills: Acrobatics. Arcana. Heal.
Acrobatics: Aaaahhhhhh! I’m falling into something hot again. At least I have a chance to reduce the falling damage! Arcana: Hmm… glowing runes in a fire temple… this can’t be good… but ooh, look at this shiny ruby! It seems magical… it must be loot, right? Heal: Because someone always needs a DC 10 heal check (activate second wind) at some point in the assault.
Lair Assault Lessons to Come…
In the next post, I will touch on a few more public play observations, and discuss the success of the first party at my game store to overcome the challenge. In the final round, a critical hit managed to secure victory for the players! Blasted Zombies…
Also, take a gander at Lair Assault Lessons: Episode One if you haven’t seen it already.