Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) is a series of organized game-play sanctioned by the RPGA. The “Living” in Living Forgotten Realms represents a framework for D&D games that allows players all over the world to participate in adventures using the same guidelines. Some people love LFR and others hate it. I happen to fall about as far into the hate it camp as you can get. Today I’m going to share 7 reasons I dislike LFR so much. But don’t worry, for those of you who enjoy LFR, Ameron will be providing the flip-side of this discussion on Friday when he provides 7 reasons that he loves LFR.
I originally wanted to call this article “Why I Hate Living Forgotten Realms: A Terrible Culture of Play” but I thought that might be too inflammatory. I also though it might lead some readers to believe that I’m suggesting everyone abandon LFR, which is absolutely not the case. This article is based on my personal experiences with LFR. It’s “Why I Hate LFR” and not “Why You Should Hate LFR” so keep that in mind when you leave your comments.
1. Mandatory Dungeon Mastering
In order to play LFR everyone must take a turn at being the Dungeon Master. You’re expected to DM at least one game for every six games you join as a player. As a result people who cannot and do not want to DM are forced to do so if they want to keep playing at their FLGS. Forcing anyone to DM just so that they can play again is not a good enough motivation. As a result there are too many examples of mediocre DMs putting together halfhearted LFR adventures with the only goal being to get it over with. As new players climb the ranks and have to DM themselves, they take after the DMs who came before them. Being the DM in a public game for strangers is the most challenging thing you will do as a DM. But beyond needing the chops to do it, a person needs to want to do it. If you don’t want to run the game, I don’t want to play it.
2. No Cohesive Plotline
The adventures in LFR are often called modules or mods because they are modular. While this modular approach works for lamps who don’t care which light bulb is in the socket, this same approach does not work for my character. You cannot place him in any city with any group of adventurers fighting some unpronounced bane of someone’s existence. Eventually he gets a spinning feeling and the impression that he’s lost. Each time I play Wardell Greenfeather, the Kenku Bard, he wakes up in some bar in some city or town he’s never been to or ever heard of with absolutely no memory of how he got there. He finds himself surrounded by five homicidal maniacs (very possibly serial killers) who he immediately befriends and joins ranks to make an adventuring party. In these circumstances, of course player introductions and an attempt to reconcile each character’s back-story seems trite. After all you have a lot of opposition to contest within these absurd circumstances. Unfortunately you’re usually forced to just forget it, especially if you’re at an oh-so-common table where people just want to kill things and roll lots of dice all night.
3. Tragically Bad Adventures
Getting the party together in the first place often requires the DM to wave his magic wand. For me this sets the bar low right off the bat, and then the adventure proceeds to limbo right under it. I have played countless adventures where, from the onset, I just didn’t care for the plotline at all. Nothing was interesting about it because I had no idea where I was or who the people around me were. The adventures seldom make more than a passing mention of where the adventure is actually supposed to take place. From my memory I can only recall that one was set on an island where there was a forest, another in a port on some body of water that was never described, while another was near a mine. What a thrilling backdrop for the epic adventure that will unfold before us over the next four hours.
At some point in the first five minutes of play the NPC who offers you the job or assigns you the mission (which you of course have to accept without question or the game is over before it begins) is unlikable. Inevitably this person is the mayor, the owner of a bar, a wealthy patron, or some form of shady figure. “Do this thing, get that McGuffin” and after the tired fantasy trope is dragged out of the stable to plow that infertile ground one last time in its life, it’s time be rewarded with six identical magic swords. Why are monsters always flipping out and doing stupid things to anger the locals? Some of those things have an Intelligence score of, like, 16 or more. If you need creatures to fight there are plenty of motivations you could supply them with but it’s always destroy the town, city, country or world. I can’t believe that saving the world was made boring.
4. Treasure Bundles
“In the golden gilded chest you find seven different bundles with treasure enough for everyone in the party. Provided that each of you only take one, and the number of each bundle in the chest depends upon how many of each bundle each of you want to take.” says the DM. I admit that the treasure bundles are, even though an extremely graceless one, a logistical solution to the problem of handing out loot. It’s a method of insuring that the people around you don’t selfishly take from your character what they worked to earn. A big problem with this system of awarding treasure (beyond the fact that in-game they make no damned sense) is that there are circumstance where people are only playing an adventure because they want one of the bundles that’s offered. I’ve even played with some people who play the same adventure again to get a different item from one of the bundles. As a DM I am appalled by this kind of meta game playing. This person is playing an over arching looting game and not the adventure at all.
Why bother? None of the treasure is real anyways. Just write it down on your sheet if you want the item so bad. No one will ever notice or care, and even if you do meet someone who takes note, so few people actually have the wherewithal to call you on your fraudulent book keeping. Just write down that you have a billion gold, it’s free. No one will ever know or care.
5. Boring and Over-Emphasized Combat Encounters
Three combat encounters in four hours of play is a challenge even for groups whose rounds roll like a well-oiled machine. People who play LFR seem to love combat, and why wouldn’t you? If you take out any possibility for character development and you stick people in painfully rehashed scenarios then what is there left for them to do? Characters are viewed as nothing more than a lump of stats with powers. So when the PCs are forced to start combat by placing their minis on one of the squares labeled “PCS START HERE” in a room that’s supposed to be a theatre with no windows, only one door, no raised stage or seats… it is considered completely acceptable game design. I feel bad for fighting the criminals who are operating in this city. They’ve obviously been robbing people with absolutely no spatial awareness and as such have become lazy in the interim. The people of this town don’t need heroes, they need a metal health institute. There’s no backstage, there’s nowhere for the audience to sit, there’s no place to hang lights, place props or even take tickets. Every set would have to be carried in piece by piece through the five-foot wide door and assembled inside, in total darkness. Awesome.
I’m just not interested in rolling dice, generating and comparing numbers until a number that represents the life of an ill-defined assailant is reduced to zero. I need to know that each and every fight is meaningful or for some greater goal in order to fight it. I’m not interested in gaining xp so that my character’s level goes up so that he can get a new power that generates larger numbers to be used against another stat block that has higher numbers than the stat blocks I used to compare numbers against.
6. Formulaic and Forced Skill Challenges
The claim that fourth edition doesn’t allow for role-playing is incorrect. Skill challenges were introduced as a game mechanic to help DMs understand how to structure a non-combative (or extrapolated combative) situation in a similar manner to a combat encounter insofar as skills and DCs are used and experience is gained. In LFR any amount of time that could have once been invested in role-playing is totally extrapolated into skill challenges that boggle my mind. Some skill challenges have taken what would have been the most interesting part of the adventure and reduce them to the DM saying “Who has Nature? Ok, roll it” and then they read off the read aloud text from the adventure. That’s clearly not the way to run a skill challenge but I digress. I have been in LFR games where the DM simply skipped the skill challenge because she didn’t like them. Fine, that’s better than dragging a dead horse through the mud, I guess.
Other times the skill challenge is actually about something that no one cares about. The “let’s walk through the woods” skill challenge is an excellent example. The epic feel of the adventure is lost when you force Grull’than the Half-orc Barbarian to roll Perception to make sure he doesn’t step of thistles or get lost. “Why don’t we just spend the 12 silver pieces it costs to hire a guide from town to take us there?” asks Grull’than. Because there is a skill challenge here in the adventure and you’re going to like it. Once in a LFR skill challenge I was actually sent to buy nails. It’s rough being an adventurer in the Forgotten Realms.
7. LFR Is Not Your Babysitter
Please don’t bring your children to play just because you’re there and you don’t want to hire a babysitter. I am not responsible for your child and you assume incorrectly that others will gladly endure their poor behavior. I have nothing against playing D&D with kids. After all I was a D&D camp councilor all summer. (Read about my camp experiences: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3.) I don’t dislike children, but it is not fair to the rest of the people at the table to force them to endure a 4-hour adventure next to a hyper-active nine-year-old. It is irresponsible to have strangers supervise your child. I am glad your child is learning how to play D&D but until they learn how to play on the same level as the adults they should be playing D&D with people their age or with their family.
With that, I bring my tirade to an end. I realize that this list of sounds really mean and critical. I really don’t like LFR and as such will never have anything to do with it ever again for my sake and yours. For those who enjoy playing LFR, please continue to play. I hope that everyone reading this (on both sides of the argument) get at least a laugh out of this. Be sure to visit Dungeon’s Master on Friday when Ameron shares his “love it” list. Until then, let me know why you hate (or even just dislike) LFR.
Bauxtehude appears courtesy of the Shattered Sea, the home of the Shattere Sea D&D actual play podcast.