Posted by : David Guyll March 18, 2010
I just wrapped up God of War 3, a game which I've declared that best game of all time. Forever. Aside from being easily worth the price tag and then some, it gave me some things to consider about planning and running D&D.
This has been a fairly common complaint about D&D adventures, and this issue isnt just relegated to 4E and/or Wizards. A lot of games start out slow, with a vague plot, or are just filled with endless grinding. Rescue at Rivenroar is a prime example of this, where the hobgoblin siege really isnt, and the dungeon is a highly illogical crawl with useless clumps of goblins who serve no other purpose than to pad the dungeon.
D&D is an action-adventure game, so players should be expecting action. Every God of War game didnt fuck around and opened things up with combat. Typically, shit escalated about two minutes into the game by throwing something at you that was bigger than a building or, ya know, a god. This is often my preferred method to start campaigns out if I have any say in the manner. I have the players roll initiative, forcing them to shoot first and ask questions later. If possible, I give them some exposition via GoogleWave or email, but in a pinch I run a flashback sequence right after things settle down to get them up to speed.
God of War also does a good job with puzzles, often integrating them into the action part of the game. Sliding blocks or turning cranks is often accompanied by monsters rushing onto the scene attempting to ruin your shit. Traps like flaming jets, petrifying faces, and spiked floors are always paired up with monsters, allowing you to use the environment against them while avoiding becoming a victim yourself.
...and Interesting Battles...
Every monster in God of War can be slaughtered in an exquisitely brutal fashion: harpies can get their wings ripped off, minotaurs can suck on a sword, and gods get their eyes gouged out with your thumbs. This can give you some ideas on how to describe finishing attacks on your monsters, but the game does more than just provide you with visceral finishers. For example, when you fight chimeras in God of War 3 you slice off their snake tail (preventing them from dousing you with acid), slash up the lion face on its chest, and then impale its head on one of the goat horns. This sort of progressive damage could be a good way of speeding things up while giving the players visual cues on how well they are doing.
This is something that I like doing when players attempt something clever or especially risky, score crits, use action points, or the monster rolls a nat 1: it has the potential to get fucked up something fierce. This could be damage to a specific location, lose an attack ability, or suffer an incurable condition for the rest of the encounter. For example, a flying monster might suffer wing damage, causing its fly movement to be reduced to 2 and losing hovor if it has it, or it might get its wings torn off and lose its fly altogether (along with a wing-based attack). I'm much more likely to add in this sort of flavor thing if a player does something rad and it also bloodied the monster.
Another cool feature is being able to (albeit rarely) use one monster's against the others. If you rip off a gorgon's head in God of War 3, they do a flash petrify against all the enemies nearby. This could be handled in 4th Edition by allowing a player to make a close burst 3 attack against every creature. You could make it so that they are all slowed if hit, or take it to the extreme and make them all affected by the normal gaze attack. You could limit this to perhaps an "elite" version of a medusa (and make them look serpentine), or perhaps require an Arcana check to trigger it.
There are undead soldiers that pack big-ass shields, and are another simple-yet-elegant example of a well designed monster. In the game the best way to handle them is to switch to the cestus, smash the shields, and from that point on you can kill them off however you please. Translating this to 4th Edition, you could make it so that when they are bloodied their shields break (or become damaged) and change up their defenses (perhaps increasing their speed in the process). Its a nice, visual way to describe their bloodied state that is also backed up by the mechanics.
Kratos can beat the shit out of and then "ride" some of the critters, by which I mean he repeatedly stabs it and causes it to lash out uncontrollably, damaging its allies. This could be a very cool mechanic, allowing a player to clamber up onto a bloodied monster (Athletics check) and a Strength roll or attack roll to cause it to attack its allies. On its turn it could act normally (likely trying to get the character off). I would play this like a dominated effect, allowing the controlling player to make only basic attacks if they can successfully strong-arm it with an Athletics or Acrobatics roll.
...And Awesome Solos.
The bosses in God of War could be considered to be solo monsters, which is to say they are generally the only thing you are fighting at the time (but it isnt always the case).
Using Poseidon as an example, the game opens up with you fighting what looks to be some sort of elemental-horse-crab thing attacking Gaia's arm. As Gaia struggles to free herself, the "terrain" changes as Kratos goes from being on the ground, to hanging upside down, to scaling a cliff trying to fight this thing off. This dynamic change in the terrain as the battle progresses is fucking awesome. Each time I kept thinking, "Holy fucking shit!" Altering the terrain throughout the course of a battle can do a lot to keep things interesting and fresh.
Later in the game you fight a giant scorpion on top of a bunch of shifting cubes that are rooms to the labyrinth. As you fight it you have to smash its legs, then beat the fuck out of its face. Each time you do this, it scuttles away for a bit, sends a horde of smaller scorpions at you, and then shows up soon after to try and get you while you are distracted. Easy enough to have the solo lurker baddy run away, conjure up some minions (or have some arrive in a timely manner), and then try to ambush the party with a "pincer attack"...boo.
The most memorable boss battles were those where the boss or environment changed as things progressed. Hades is very mobile and summons zones of barbed chains that disappear after awhile, before becoming massive in size after you manage to beat the fuck out of him and snag his soul stealing chains. Hermes was more of a skill challenge, forcing you to chase him around the city. Hercules actually changed the terrain on his own by picking it up. These were a lot better than static monsters that just sit in a room and repeat attacks over and over again.
Josh and myself are fans of allowing players to do cool shit, even if the rules dont call for it, and even if it seems like an abusable tactic. All of the above is more or less of a Rule of Cool game style, and my players know that if some actions are deemed too abusable that I can and will veto them, and they're cool with that. I know a lot of this advice has been written, stated, and parroted before, but the God of War games do an excellent job of presenting you with visual and visceral examples. I highly recommend picking them up and giving them a try.
Also, the game has some truly epic artwork and environments. If you can snag an art book you'll get a lot of inspiration and reference material for monsters and areas.