The Saga Of Heinrich

I’m working on a much longer article, one of my walkthrough-review thingies, though not my long-promised Alma Mater one (coming soon!), but I wanted to share this little tidbit. In Friday’s 4e game, the Big Fight consisted of the usual — Helena Bonham Carter as “Insane flame wielding sorceress”, two demons with tridents that spent most of their time stabbing at the fighter  (which is her job) or belching poison gas,  and a swarm of high-level minions since the whole plot involved bringing in a small, elite, army, and while minions are easy fodder for level-appropriate PCs, a guy with an AC of 27 is going to take down a LOT of first to fourth level city guard types before he’s killed.

Anyway, 7 of 8 minions were dead by round 2, though to my surprise, most of them survived to act at least once. Then something extraordinary happened. Everyone was bound and determined to take out the villainess, who had been teleported into a swarm of melee types thanks to  the PC chaos mage rolling a natural 1, and I really have to wonder how the fight might have gone if she’d been able to stay back out of reach for a few more rounds, but as Archie Bunker might say, that’s not German to the conversation.

The one last minion (who has been missed by a few area attacks) was standing back, and kept plinking with his crossbow. And hitting. For whatever reason, he was ignored for round after round, and each time, managed to hit a PC from distance, doing 8 points each time… nothing spectacular at 11th level, but more effecting than the god damn (irony sort of intended) mezzodemons who managed to roll 2s and 3s with remarkable consistency.. I think both  of them rolled natural ‘1’s in their first round of combat, and one spent most of the combat blind and hoping his poison breath recharged.

Several of the players had commented on how lucky that minion was, and without really planning on it or intending to, when his turn came up, I said something like, “Well, it’s worked so far… Heinrich is going to fire on the druid…”

And, bingo. He was no longer a minion. He had a name, and that meant he was destined for greater things. The druid decided to go into melee with him, and managed to miss with her first attack, giving them time to parley and work out a bit of respect. Turns out he’d been trained in the borderlands of the nation he was from, so he’d spent some time dealing with elves (in my universe, elves occupy the same trope space as Native Americans do in westerns… except they talk like trailer park rednecks[1] and settle internal disputes like Klingons). When he realized that the demons and his commanding officer were dead, he surrendered. And of course, with a name like Heinrich and wielding a pike, he had to have a Goot Cherman Achsent. With a ‘1’ on his Bluff check (“I do not know anything about the invasion plans, for I am a lowly foot soldier and was not told such information”, said in a flat, dull, monontone, obviously repeating a memorized speech), I suspect there will be some Interrogation next.

He’s got stats now. He has made that rarest of all transitions; he has survived minionhood. He still might not survive the PCs, but at least he can take more than a hit point of damage. He’ll probably end up part of the Watch at the player’s home fortress, or maybe in the city they’re currently in, given that it’s having a bit of an open enrollment session at the moment…

So why am I posting this? Because it’s one of the Cool Things About Gaming, the thing that brings me back to the tabletop again and again and again, as a DM and as a player — the allure of the unexpected. In online games, the unexpected is expected — there’s hard-coded lists of all possible events, and even the lowest probabilities occur over and over again, mostly because you’ll keep farming that boss until he drops the uber-item you want, and you know there’s exactly a 1.54 percent chance of him doing so each time. Only in a tabletop game with a human gamemaster can you truly interact with a world in whatever way you choose, and have the world respond as it should. That’s why it saddens me that a major focus of WOTCs apparent design and marketing efforts are on trying to make tabletop games into limited, quick-to-play and quick-to-finish encounters, disdaining worldbuilding, character depth, improvisation, and fun for straightforward “Enter the dungeon here, kill these monsters, exist here, collect your treasure at the gift shop.” If that’s what you want, WoW does it better. You can’t compete with an online game for get in, kill monsters, log out, play. You can’t. You have to focus on what’s different  about tabletop games, not what’s the same, only slower paced and with no cool particle effects. However, Hasbro is almost certainly looking at the money WoW makes and the money D&D makes and is saying “Hey, they’ve got elves, you’ve got elves, why are they making more money? Elves is elves, right?”

[1]So D&D 4e has nerfed languages. Bah! There’s still accents.

Eladrin Accent:”Surely you do not intend to attack me with that weapon. Put it down, and I might forget your impudence!”

Elvish Accent:”Y’all better think twice afore you try to use that thar pig-sticker on me, less’n you want it shoved up your ass, sideways.”

Drow Accent:”Oh, like, wow, that longsword is sooooo last century. If you don’t, y’know, drop it, I am going to freak. Totally.”

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4 Responses to The Saga Of Heinrich

  1. sebmojo says:

    I had a similar experience when I sent a bunch of minion allies down a spooky catacomb with my players – one survived, so he graduated to proper NPC hood. A family man, god-fearing, no great ambition but good with a bow (town guard stats, IIRC). A few sessions later we needed an extra PC so one of them became him, rolling him up as a ranger a few levels below the party average.

    I did the reverse trick when the party laid an elaborate (and beautifully executed) scheme to kidnap a high priest of the evil cult tm and he turned out to be a minion… The looks on their faces.

  2. Lizard says:

    Gods, it’s annoying that I’m not being emailed when people post comments… I’m supposed to be. How else can I try to keep the site active? Anyway, I like the “High Priest=Minion” idea. Always seemed to me that a CLEVER high priest would put the fancy robes on Cultist 182 and then hide among the rest of them doing the REAL chanting while they just mumbled gibberish to confuse the PCs. 🙂

  3. I agree about WOTC’s current focus and it’s too bad. They should instead be focusing on those things that computers don’t do well, like Heinrich (this is one of the reasons I stopped going to Encounters on Wednesdays – depending on the DM it could really feel like a video game sometimes).

    My Heinrich moment happened with Harry and Dirk (hey we were in highschool), the only sailors to survive three expeditions in our spelljamming ship. Our party became paranoid that they would die and went to great lengths to keep them alive (the rest of the crew we thought of as completely expendable – and thinking back, I’m surprised they didn’t mutiny… I guess Harry and Dirk put in a good word).

    • Lizard says:

      The life of a redshirt is never easy. 🙂 I keep thinking of “Galaxy Quest”, where Guy fears death until he’s convinced he’s the “Plucky Comic Relief”.

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