Recently I was asked by my friend, the Id DM, to host a Fourthcore game. He was asked to play test one of the new scenario’s from the fellas over at Save Versus Death, who spearheaded (past tense – see comments) the fourthcore movement. So I polished up the Ultimate Gaming Table, served up the bev’s, J. brought the Pizza, and we gave fourthcore a whirl!
What is fourthcore?(short for Fourth Edition / Hardcore) Simply put its tournament style D&D, mixed with increased lethality. This isn’t to say you are going to die, but it’s to say that messing up has harsh consequences. In my many years of gaming I’ve played tournament modules and DM’d them. They are always a challenge because it seems as everything you do, has some relevance; and the things you don’t do, have some relevance as well. The same can be said for some of the most lethal modules every built by Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve had the pleasure to DM many, such as the Labyrinth of Madness, Tomb of Horrors, & the Dancing Hut of Babba Yagga to name just a few. Each one is a punishing module of tricks, traps, puzzles, and monsters.
Fourthcore is not for the “story bound”. They are for the “challenge minded” players who may like their characters, but are not married to them. It’s also there to test the player AND the character. Meaning that puzzles are often mental challenges in form of riddles and puzzles, up to and including math! Scared yet? You will be! Often times the puzzles are more buried into the game, making players criss cross the obstacles in order to perform actions in specific order, all the while dodging traps and monsters, and if that’s not enough it’s possible time is against them as well! In Fourthcore it’s quite possible to fail a saving throw, and end up dead. It’s also quite possible to simply die because you decided to drink the evil holy water. No save, don’t pass go, just die….. Fourthcore punishes the dumb, and can be brutal against the unlucky. But it’s more than trying to ice skate uphill. Unlucky has to be REALLY unlucky, the game is more about choices. If you can look back at how you died and say “dammit I should have X” then that’s a good fourthcore design. Obviously nobody want’s to be squished simply because the DM said so…
As I mentioned before, since fourthcore isn’t so much about the story one really cool aspect is that it’s perfectly suited to “one shot” or “single night” scenarios. Which make our wives happy…. Ummm.. Wives are women who are married to some players. They are the people you see in the World (when you go outside) that look the most like elves…. Some of us have them…
I personally like both story driven RP and challenge driven. Both as a DM and as a player. Seeing how Fourtcore is relatively new, it doesn’t have WoTC full support. So it’s really about as grass-roots as it gets. That being said, it’s completely possible for DM’s to go bonkers and rip PC’s a new one unjustly.
Several things I would like to see come about at least on an etiquette scale are things such as design and character building specs. After all, what fun is it if you can’t compare? Character build specs are off to a good start as I see that many Fourthcore modules limit character builds to Essentials, Point build classes. This makes things fairly controlled which is a good thing. Design wise, I’ve seen some point gaining modules which harken back to tournaments of Yore, which are great ways to compare success. One thing which was always wonky back then was individual point scores, which I’m not a fan of. That doesn’t mean a character can’t gain points, but the point value needs to someone standardized per se.
For example: an encounter is worth so many points. The party achieves points based upon what they do, and they may lose them for having a death in the room. Perhaps every character records those points if they lived through the encounter; and perhaps a character receives fewer points if he finishes the encounter disabled or unconscious. Obviously death is its own penalty.
This way your party gets a “party score” per dungeon which is indicative of the players; and characters get a character score which is indicative of the character/player combo. Obviously a character who survives several dungeons will have a “high score”. Sort of a Benchmark others can try to beat.
It would be even cooler if, as DM’s we could hash out a way, to create a point value system per encounter. Something loosely grass-roots standardized. That way we could compare dungeons and point values. It’s just a thought.
Anyway, in the near future I will be looking to put together a Fourthcore group in my area, to play around the Ultimate Gaming Table, against deadly traps, sinister puzzles, and evil creatures! Story will be short, but it should be a good time!