Lessons learned from Tiny Adventures

Tiny Adventures is the bastard love-child of a viral Facebook app and Dungeons & Dragons. It hits the sweet spot just right balancing the Tamagotchi-ness of Facebook (can anyone say disinterested addiction?) and the charm and flavour of D&D. All of 4e’s poster boys are there too, with Eldarin and Dragonborn rubbing shoulders with your more usual (I use the term loosely) Elves, Dwarves and Humans.

Dig a little deeper though and you find there’s much to learn from this new entry into the social networking scene.

For a start, Tiny Adventures is, at it’s core, the Skill Challenges system writ large. The “objective” of each mini-scenario is to achieve the end result, measured by the number of successes and failures along the way. As such it’s a perfect example of just how great Skill Challenges are and each “encounter” is a showcase for how to use  attribute checks to drive the action forward. Replace Tiny Adventures’ checks with their D&D skill check equivalent and you’ve got perfect drop-in examples for your game.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see folks twig onto this and start talking about running Complexity 1 Adventures in much the same way they discuss 5 Room Dungeons now. Just set up a number of situations and if they achieve 4 successes before they fail  3 (errata, remember?), they get the gold/gal/potion/wart remover at the end. This separates the adventure from the physical structure of the Dungeon – and that has to be a good thing, right?

As Tiny Adventures  is D&D, simplified, combats are boiled down to a single virtual die roll. In D&D land, this would be handled as a complete combat encounter. Define a goal for the encounter (keep Horace alive, kill the Bandit, don’t let the Thunderwave Ball hit the ground) and count it as a success (and reward XP) if the adventurers manage it.

I’m sure I’ll be revisiting the concept of Complexity 1 Adventures in the future. Several times.

Lesson Learned #1: Skill Challenges ARE 4e D&D. Forget Powers. THIS is the new mechanic to rule them all. Use them and rejoice.

I’ll admit it. Tiny Adventures challenges one of my misconceptions about 4e. These are mini adventures that you play through alone. Your friends can be on the sidelines but this is first and foremost about one solitary adventurer braving the odds. This flies in the face of the idea that 4e is “all about teamwork”. And……… it works!

Don’t get me wrong – 4e D&D does a very good job of rewarding teamwork and stressing that a party that works together gains XP together; but it wouldn’t have been my first choice system for one-on-one gaming because I’d gotten into the mindet that 4e D&D “needs” multiple players.

This app made me rethink that. I’d be willing to handle a solo adventure using 4e D&D, modeling the session after Tiny Adventure’s quests and scaling the encounters accordingly. A 1st level adventurer on his own should be able to handle 100-120 XP worth of critters, and face off against a 200XP Elite with forethought, tactics and a few lucky rolls. Hey, I didn’t say they’d have it easy :D

Your 4e solo character is more likely to survive than his 3e counterpart too thanks to having more Hit Points and access to Healing Surges. Of course, if they’re fools and rush in, they’ll have no one to pull them back out again…………….

Lesson Learned #2: 4e D&D. Not just for people with lots of gamer friends!

Unlike your average D&D session, Tiny Adventures are designed to be played at a leisurely pace. Heck, it’s downright enforced with a wait of 5 to 10 minutes between encounters. Add in the wait between adventures for your HP to recover (unless you blow a Healing Potion, of course) and you’ve got a pretty good model for 4e’s Short and Extended Rests.

That’s frustrating because you want to see what’s coming up next; the slower pace builds tension in a way that just rocketing through each scenario….. ummmm……. wouldn’t.

Remember this next time you’re behind the GM screen. When the players are all fired up and want to race through to the end, make an effort to slow things down instead and put ’em on the slow boil instead. This’ll prevent the second half of your 3 hour session only taking 20 minutes to complete (yeh, I’ve been there. It sucks.) and maintain the excitement right to the end.

Oh, and time your real-life short breaks with those of the PCs. Give the players a 5 minute time-out to chill, grab the bathroom break or whatever and they’ll come back refreshed. Just like their characters.

Lesson Learned #3: He who rests can live to fight another day.

Finally, it’s not surprising that Tiny Adventures melted within 24 hours of being publicly announced. The server had the tech equivalent of a coronary with thousands of eager bods all aching to try out this Kewl new Facebook app. I’ll lay big odds that a fair  proportion of those folks weren’t existing D&D gamers too; that’s the magic of Facebook – it brings quirky apps to the masses, and therein lays it’s route to new D&D recruits.

But anyhow. It died. But that’s ok because it’s all back up and running smoothly again, and all is once more well with the world.

That’s a bit like the skill DCs published in the DMG. They were broken too, and while I’m still narked that such a foobar should be counted as mere errata (that’s a change to the entire difficulty of the game, damnit!), I’ll forgive them (grudgingly) because at least Wizards’ accepted there was a problem, and fixed it.

Which just goes to show that even good things break too, sometimes.

Lesson Learned #4: I’ll say it again. Good things break too.

Can you think of any more?

15 Comments on “Lessons learned from Tiny Adventures”

  1. Eh. I’m still stuck on #4, seeing as how it’s never loaded for me. I look forward to checking it out once it’s finally up and running though. So perhaps lesson #5 should be … “always have a backup plan”. [goes to dig out his Savage Worlds rule book for some Saturday afternoon campaign work…]

  2. Yeh, I think Wizards’ needed a BIGGER bigger server!

    According to wikipedia, Facebook had 132.1 MILLION unique visitors in June 2008; somehow I don’t think a beige box from the local PC World will quite cut it when it comes to server load – and this is going to be one popular app :D

    Hang in there Ken. It’s worth the wait.

  3. I finally got in yesterday, got to play a bit, and I’ve got to say that it’s better than 99% of the crappy “adventure” applications on Facebook, (vampires, pirates, etc.). I like the combination of being able to customize your character, buff and heal other players, and the adventure narratives. Well done … except for the whole “dying under extreme load” thing, but I suppose that’s a happy problem to have. I’d love to know how many users they are getting — is this load because of extreme use (1,000,000 people hitting it?) or poor query design (and 5,000 people hitting it).

  4. Tiny Toons is one of an addictive app for Facebook; but it takes some getting used to. The long gaps between events are very frustrating, and it took me a while to realise this is when you can go off and do other things (not just in the game)… make a cup of tea, phone a friend, read a book, surf the web etc – making this THE perfect application to have running in the background when you are at work – you just have to check in every hour or so and see how your guy is doing, then back to work. It could almost count as a ‘mandatory screen break’ :-)

    Anyway, it seems to be snarled up again at the moment, which is probably a good thing as my guy’s having to rest after a particularly severe drubbing on his last quest.

  5. I like it a lot. I find it’s a great marketing tool because it showcases something you pointed out already: skill challenges. I was surprised at the amount of skill challenges in it. I was expecting mostly to fight a bunch of monsters. I was pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, it is down, literally, 75% of the time for me, so I’m more than a bit disappointed.

  6. As of today (Monday, 25 August, 2008):

    “Due to events beyond our control, Dungeons & Dragons: Tiny Adventures will be down until 12 pm PST, Monday August 25. We expect that even when we are able to restore the application to working order that we will have lost some of our data in the process. While we are working hard to prevent this it is likely that we will have to roll back to our stored data from Friday, August 22nd. Thank you for your patience.”

  7. And it’s back again. There’s been a smidge of data loss (Friday to sometime Saturday) but it looks to be all up and running.

    Losing and weekend traffic so soon after launch is a big blow for any app – that pretty much kills the value of any announcement about the launch. What they need to do now is shout it from the hilltops all over again.

  8. #4 is a big lesson on its own. If their target is the first-time casual players, it doesn’t make any sense to force their player to have to hit refresh several times whenever they make one action. It’s counter productive and a horrible first impression. They should pull the game offline and make sure they can handle the masses before putting the game online. :/

    I would imagine that now when you mention D&D to people, their reaction may be “oh, you mean that game on facebook that takes forever to load?”

  9. Absolutely. There comes a point where “teething troubles” cross the line and become “laughing stock” and “liability”.

    Tiny Adventures has well and truly crossed that line now.

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