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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Build all the Forts: Bringing Player Constructed Forts Into Your Game

Most of you are familiar with Jenga, and some of you are familiar with Dread, the Horror role playing game where all the mechanics are based pulling bricks from the tower.  Dread is a fantastic game, but today I'm going to talk about the other way I use Jenga blocks in my tabletop games, specifically in D&D.  Specifically, letting the players build their own forts.

The archers take position in the tower
I've run the player constructed fort with subsequent assault three time, twice in 3.5 and once in 4th.  Each time its a big hit.  I suspect this might be partially because of my audience, whom grew up constructing forts out of Lego, and played Warcraft II and Starcraft during middle school.  Why does it work?  I suspect that it has to do with player buy in.  If this is a fort that you built that you're defending, it means a lot more than something the DM drew on a mapboard or printed from the internet.  Its also a way to engage the entire group at the same time, as everyone can build.  It also scratches a lot of playstyle itches.  Powergamers get to build optimal kill paths, Actors get to give the fort a story as they build it, and some people just like making things with their hands.  Finally, the novelty is refreshing as well, which is the spice of any tabletop game.

The assault begins
Its become a tradition in my campaigns that at some point the players will encounter the mysterious Shaman Jenga, a powerful but passive wielder of magic who knows how to conjure large blocks of wood out of mid-air.  It's not the most original dues ex for allowing your players to create their own fort, but it is a convenient one.  I've also had it be forts that were constructed by the players earlier in the game, but now fully fleshed out on a battlemap, and I suspect a scroll of "Create Fort" would work just as well.

A beastmaster has his minions break through a wall
Generally I give the players some squads to command during the scenario.  I keep them small and simple, usually following the 4th ed. minion rules (one hitpoint, fixed damage), and limit their abilities to one or two uncomplicated attacks.  Doing so helps the battle feel grand in scope, and lets me throw more bad guys up against the fort.

Instant Siege Tower
In terms of the "bad guys" I usually have three or so waves of squads attack at a time.  Generally a squad is five or six minions, led by a tougher "lieutenant" which is a level appropriate monster, usually with some sort of special ability.  Really tough fighters, warlords that let their minions take more moves, or ninjas that can leap over walls are usually good.  Just be careful about having too many abilities that bypass walls, as players can feel cheated.  I have a good amount of minis, but usually I resort to using dice for the minions and the lieutenant gets their own figure.  Engines of war are great too.  A red solo cup can become a very menacing siege tower. Of course, always save something big for the end.  My players enjoy fighting dragons, but your mileage may vary.  I made the mistake once of not having a big bad at the end, and it leads a bit of a letdown at the end.  Slaughtering waves of zombies is fun, but their better be someone powerful controlling them in the end.

In terms of construction, blocks laid on their side require a climb check of some kind to traverse over and usually have them be 20 feet high.  Blocks lain the other way I've had give cover to anyone behind them.  Players inevitably run on top of the blocks, which can give them a nice height advantage, but has also lead to some nasty tumble checks when they attempted to jump down.

Dice make excellent minion markers
Also remember to change it up sometimes.  I've done just normal sieges, but I've also had the players have to protect leylines from being corrupted (aka touched by enemy units), and I've considered doing one where civilians are running around that need to be protected.  Also, be sure to listen to your players while they are building the fort.  My players have come up with some inventive creations with the blocks, and they always have fun effects on the battle.  If you take my advice, let me know!  I'd love to see some pictures of the next great work of the Shaman Jenga.

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