Dungeons & Dragons 5th Ed. – My Take, Episode.068

After a considerable hiatus, I have returned to continue writing as I am inspired.

His decision was critical as his companions faced certain doom.  The black dragon reared its huge head in preparation of unleashing its fiery acidic breath blasting down upon the unprotected heroes.  Meanwhile the infamous necormancer, Pyrex, grinned maniacally from high above as he neared completion of his resurrection spell that would bring back the fallen the heroes had just slain.  The decision was critical or his companions were surely dead, but he couldn’t decide who to focus on…..so he brought out two pipes and played them in unison for he was the Grand Master Bard.

I am among those who resented the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons that Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast published in 2008.  Although I adored playing MMO video games such as World of Warcraft at the time, the 4th edition books felt too close to those when I wanted to play more of a traditional role playing game that reminded me of the older editions.  Perhaps I am an old man who doesn’t like change, but the game play mechanics simply did not fit my style and preference.  So I was hesitant on even giving 5th edition a try when it was released in 2014.  In took me a year before I sat down with a group to experience it for the first time.  I will say this – I am very impressed with the effort and result that Wizards of the Coast put forth in the books.  Very impressed.

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For one, there doesn’t seem to be as much necessary crunch as before.  While I would say that 3rd and 3.5 editions were built to be more of a strategic role playing game, utilizing the innovated battle maps and miniatures, 5th edition feels more akin to the 1st and 2nd editions.  These were less of a visual game play and more of the mind.  While maps were still used back then (and even pewter miniatures were frequently sold), the maps were mostly drawn on-the-fly by the players as they ventured through dungeons.  There were few times when a top-down view of the immediate surroundings was drawn and miniatures were placed strategically on the battle field.

Fifth edition allows for battle maps to be used if desired for those who enjoy or need a better visualization on how the fights are laid out.  It caters in this regard to the 3rd edition lovers.  It isn’t necessary, however, to use them, and in fact many times I have gone through entire fights without them.

Another feature that I really like is the advantage/disadvantage system.  This is a simple but very effective way for a Dungeon Master to make a challenge difficult without having to do much math on adding modifiers to a roll.  On either account, you roll 2 D20s rather than one, but depending on whether you have advantage or disadvantage, you take the best or worst roll of the two.  There are still options to add the thousands of modifiers to a roll if desired, which was very common in 3rd edition, but if you wish to just give your players a little edge or challenge to their roll without having to over think it, this feature gives a quick result.  And that makes a good point in that streamline and pace, which I have talked about numerous times on how important they are, can be maintained with this feature.  Dungeon Masters need not look at a chart on their screen in front of them and hunt for the right situation modifier that will probably wind up being +1, +2, or +3 to their rolls.

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Short and long rests are a wonderful addition to the rules.  All too often the typical “rest” that a party faced in the past would result in an 8-hour stoppage of adventuring.  This would be mostly for the magic-users to regain their spells after blowing them all.  I always felt that it bogged play down and hindered magic-users a bit too much.  I would often find myself being very hesitant on casting a spell at an enemy because it was “early in the day” and I didn’t want to use up my 4 spells so soon.  Instead, we now have a short rest, typically 30 or so minutes of downtime for the characters before continuing on.  One of the classes fairly new to the list of Dungeons & Dragons game is the Warlock, which benefits greatly from this feature.  Although they are severely limited to the number of spells they can cast per day, they are given the ability to regain all of their spent spell slots after just a short rest.  This allows them to cast theoretically as many spells or more as a wizard or sorcerer if the party takes necessary short rests throughout the day.  Warlocks could then regain the spell slots right before a fight and concocting a plan of attack with whatever spells he knew.  Wizards would have been stuck with whatever they studied the night before and face possible expended spells used earlier that day.

Cantrip spells have become more useful.  Spells like Eldritch Blast now unleash considerable damage for magic-users who don’t want to spend any of their hard hitting spells but wish to contribute during common encounter fights.  There are even “bonus spells” that allow magic-users to cast more than one spell during a turn, giving them more options.

One of the most annoying rules that 3rd edition introduced was Attack of Opportunity or AOO.  This came into play when a character or opponent would pass by close enough to a target who could attack them.  There were ridiculous options and feats to this that really made players have to talk out the results on whether or not the situation even called for an AOO.  In 5th edition, AOO is only granted when an engaged combatant leaves their opponent’s melee area.  As long as they stay within that zone, they can move about as freely as they wish.  Just having to pay attention to characters leaving combat zones is much easier.

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And then there is the Dungeon Master’s Guide, which I have only gotten to work a bit through.  However, what I have seen so far is even more impressive.  There is a good portion of the book dedicated to people who want to become a Dungeon Master, which is to be expected in a book like this.  I have been asked many times by people wanting to know how to step into the Dungeon Master’s chair, and this book is a great start.  It works on NPCs, which honestly is an unnecessary task of creating and working with since many times they are here-and-gone in an encounter.  Creating monsters and spells is another area that Dungeon Masters like to produce, and both are thoroughly explained in the book.  Monsters are more modular, in my opinion, being able to swap abilities among other monsters for unique experiences.  If one monster has a sting ability but you want that ability on another monster, it can be done and the calculations of its improved difficulty is a snap to follow.

There’s a section to make random dungeons on-the-fly by dice rolling.  This is almost exactly what can be found in the 1st edition.  It provides all kinds of listings that can be rolled and sought out, allowing you to not have to really give a lot of thought into whether a turn in the corridor is a good idea here or if a 10×20 foot room is needed and with what to fill it with.  If anything the book is inspirational for Dungeon Masters with a lack of experience or a lack of ideas.

In the end, we all have our own preferences when it comes to what we enjoy playing.  You may not even like the fantasy genre and focus just on RIFTS, Shadowrun, or Traveller.  You may just focus on the Weird West of Deadlands.  You may only wish to play Paizo’s Pathfinder because you still have a sore attitude towards Wizards of the Coast for releasing a “3.5” edition only 3 years after releasing their 3rd edition (even though Pathfinder plays much like 3.5 and you paid $50-60 on a book after refusing to buy the 3.5 books, thus ironically doing the very thing you said you wouldn’t do).

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Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most flexible systems I have ever played.  Wizards of the Coast allowed for gamers to voice their opinions on what they wanted in a rule book, and the publishing company actually listened and made the book for them.  The result is satisfying (and if it didn’t become successful, it was the gamers’ fault because it was their creation essentially).  You can play it like 1st edition with charts and exclusively with the mind or you can crunch it up with modifiers and battle maps like 3rd edition.

I encourage those still with hesitation from 4th edition to find yourself playing the game in the future.  Empty your mind and biased feelings of any previous editions you didn’t enjoy and focus on the features this new set of rule books has to offer.  You may be surprised and have a new system to spend your money on and clutter up your already cluttered bookshelf.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Your World – Part 3 Episode.064

What makes your world unique?  It was probably the initial idea that came to your mind when you first thought of starting a campaign based on a home-brewed world.  World builders, as some GMs enjoy being referred as, seldom wish to create something static and typical.  The world must be rich and dynamic, full of wonder and mystery that few have ever heard about before.  Secrets await the players as they begin exploring every corner, discovering new innovations that wow and draw them in deeper.

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Your world does not need to have one large unique aspect to it.  Consider instead the idea of having multiple smaller, “mini-features” that set it apart.  One particular part of the world may have high energy levels of magic that grant anyone in the area to suddenly possess spell-like abilities.   Another region could be riddled with random portals that suddenly appear that either sends your party to another part of the world or even to another dimension.

Try to keep in mind how your idea or ideas are going to truly affect the players both on a short term and long term basis.  There seems to be always one player who is capable of finding loopholes in everything, so be prepared to face a curveball from them at some point that might take advantage of your idea.

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I have seen some GMs run test games with his players using pre-gen characters similar to a convention.  These games are one or two sessions long tops, but they are based on specific circumstances within your world.  If you are worried that someone may take advantage of a region that grants wild magic, run one-session game involving the players randomly crossing over the boundary and see how they react.

In my continuing work of the campaign bible of Zatra, I included a more GM-friendly than Player-friendly section on my overarching twist of my world and what somewhat sets it apart.  Granted, we are all truly inspired by previous experiences to which our original content has reflections of the past, but we make it our own and enjoy it.  In the world of Zatra, it was created and observed by a single god, but a second chaotic god came into existence and wishes to rival him.

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World Altering Events & The Five Powers


The Five Powers is a generalized term used to describe the omnipotent power that God possesses.  In a literal sense, the Five Powers are an unknown force of god-builders.  The god is capable to do everything, know everything, and see everything.  It represents the ultimate sheer control that God contains.  Through these powers, the god can handle their world as they see fit.  Zatra’s God grants life and death and allows the living to determine their own fate and course of action.

However, from time to time, the Five Powers creates multiple deities for a single world.  They are commonly polar opposites in order to form balance, but on rare occasions these deities clash.  One of such phenomenon occurred in Zatra in its year of 920.

About 150 years ago, Koz reached a level of power and influence in the world that he was able to manipulate the very existence of all things throughout.  His powers, however, could only be filtered through the use of mortal pawns and avatars though he would be able to harness the powers himself once he acquired the fifth one.  Through the use of mind manipulation and brainwashing, Koz was able to convince his followers to do exactly as he commanded in using these powers.  His motivations (other than transforming all living beings into victims of the Touch) are unknown.  The potential of Koz acquiring the Five Powers is a tremendous threat as four of them have already been developed and utilized.

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The first power he acquired was in 1051 and allowed him to change the planet’s rotation speed, thereby causing extended periods of darkness.  Although incapable of stopping the world altogether, his powers could create daylight to appear for only a few hours before slowing the motion for darkness to last for days.  When nightfall occurs, the intensity increases to a pinnacle of nearly total darkness with visibility only a few feet away, even with a magical light source.  Some creatures were further granted the ability to see great distances during this period, including members of Nub Sumat.

As the Touch and the awareness of another god’s presence spread, his powers grew in number.  The Touch had a direct link to that power, and either more joined the cause of Nub Sumat or they fell to the Touch.  Soon Koz gained another powerful ability which was to alter weather patterns.  He allowed Nub Sumat to unleash a fury of torrential storms from hurricanes to massive tornadoes and earthquakes that devastated the lands and destroyed many of the cities.  Floods washed farmlands and building debris away, leaving ruins in their wake.  In some portions of the world, blizzards would last for days during the long periods of nightfall, leaving dozens of feet of snow, tunneled out by creatures and travelers still living above ground.

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His third power came in 1154, just 100 years after his first power acquisition.  This proved to be more lethal due to the lack of evidence of its existence.  Throughout the world, pockets would form at random that either contained a low amount of gravity or lacked it entirely.  The latter was particularly hazardous from those without proper magic as victims entering the pocket would rise up to a point in the atmosphere incapable of sustaining life.  Those who managed to manipulate their ascension to move out of the pocket before that point would retain gravity but usually fall to their deaths unless they had a means to slow their descent.  Telltale signs are difficult to spot from an area of a complete lack of grass to holes where young trees were uprooted to floating objects in midair.  Some of the more potentially dangerous anti-gravity pockets have been marked by past travelers as a warning beacon, but these signs are soon destroyed by members of Nub Sumat.

Some forty years after Koz acquired the 4th Power, the snowball effect of the world falling into darkness from the Touch’s spread allowed him to begin minor manipulations of time itself.  These brief spurts could cause time to reverse several seconds, speed forward a couple of hours, or momentarily stop.  These occurrences would not be worldwide but sized similarly to the areas of his gravity manipulation areas.  These moments are completely random and can happen at advantageous and disadvantageous times.  For example, moments after someone falls into a sinkhole, time shifts backwards, bringing them from falling.  Memory and awareness of the time shift seems to remain with the victim, too.

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With the final Power utilized with Koz, he will reach the level to rival God.  All Powers will be capable by Koz directly, and he will progress into the next existence as a deity, which is the omnipotent being that which is God.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Making Memorable NPCs Episode.041

It has been weeks since you have seen a civilized person as you trek your way across the desert wastelands of Arubina.  Your supplies are low, and your navigational instrument is becoming cloudy from exposure of the elements.  But the dot that you picked up on the horizon three days ago has definitely formed into a humanoid as it approaches you steadily.  There has been no warning shots from the target, and you have no idea if it’s friend or foe.  However, something in your gut makes you feel your luck is about to turn as a reflection of the person’s glasses catches your eyes.  Finally within range, you show a broaden smile that fills your entire face as the group’s old friend, Masterson, approaches with a canteen in hand and outreached towards you.  He smiles and says the gods were guiding him to a place in need and he has arrived.  It has been a long time since you all saw him, but great memories come back from when you all were younger and inexperienced adventurers and how he saved your lives more than once.

What I like to call “Roleplaying GMs,” that is those who lean more heavily to RP than combat, thrive on NPCs.  I consider myself one as it is the only time I am able to enjoy role playing.  So when I make NPCs that I create to last more than a brief encounter, I put as much work into them as the players put into their characters.  What’s more enjoyable is when you make an NPC the players not only remember but brighten up when they encounter them.  That’s when you know you’ve done your job on making a memorable NPC.  But what does it take?

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Well personality goes a long way as Jules says in Pulp Fiction.  Whether they are liked or disliked, if they have an interesting aura about them, they capture our attentions better.  Instead of tavern owner being just friendly to the party, he personally flips over patrons onto tables who are misbehaving or tries not to pay their bill.  He could have minor magical powers such as levitation that allows him to float glasses and plates of food across the room.  He could be acrobatic and handwalk trays on his feet to the table.  Perhaps his background involved assassinations that he seldom talks about (or boasts about) that everyone knows.  These things give an NPC more life and attraction to want to know more.

Another area to consider is motivation.  If he is just someone passing through with no particular reason other than getting to another city, well then he will be soon forgotten.  Make the NPC a merchant who collects and sells puppets, some of which are magically enchanted to perform basic tasks.  Being a traveling merchant with that kind of uniqueness to his business would make a lasting impression on the players.  You can occasionally keep the thought of a favorable NPC on their minds by showing signs or hear of their presence in recent past traveling through the area.  Having them see a puppet carrying a tray of food in a tavern in some distant land brings the merchant back to the player’s minds, gives them an understanding of the merchant’s expansive territory, and also creates a more believable/alive world for your campaign.

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If you have a villain, or just an all-around jerk, consider what drives them.  They might have multiple motives besides the grand scheme of things.  Instead of just being hell bent on dominating the world, perhaps they have a desire to find a seat in a council committee in order to promote a change in city laws.  Another option would be for a jerk attitude ruffian to constantly wish for a party member to look bad or screw up in an effort to provoke him.  What he does isn’t illegal and would constitute the party member going to jail if acted upon violently.  Having an annoying character show up at the worst times to cause issues can still be a memorable NPC even though they aren’t favorable.  If you can make the players groan and grit their teeth when they run into the same ruffian 3 months of actual play time later, you have definitely done your job well on creating a solid, believable NPC.

Perhaps the NPC has an unique ability; perhaps they are mysterious.  A lone traveler they run into every once in a while who gives cryptic words of wisdom that eventually makes sense when future events occur could be someone they remember.  Complete the mystery and lock in the memorable feature by making the figure have an unusual appearance.  The traveler has ram horns that are a part of his skull but is not a demon.  Or have someone always wear a mask but never talk about why or what he’s covering up.  The element of wonder will usually keep their thoughts on the subject for quite a while.  They might have the ability to teleport short distances at will.  Perhaps the individual is a talented illusionist who always alters the appearance of reality when present.  In fact, the players would automatically begin recognizing his work if their environment suddenly shifts without warning before he makes an appearance.  Again, you have successfully created a good NPC if telltale signs or initial warnings remind them of the NPC without the NPC being there.

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It may come to the party enjoying the company of the NPC for a while, feeling reassured because of something they can do or the talents the NPC possesses.  Having a sharp shooter with you, knowing their eyes are better than yours, makes for a less stressful moment as you travel through the forest, knowing that you’re being hunted by something.  In moments of desperation or dread, when all hope is lost and the fate of the party seems to be doomed, the sight of an old friend in the form of an NPC can make the actual players breathe a sigh of relief at the gaming table.

When the NPCs become close to the players, when the party thrives off their presence, and when they treat the being as if they were a part of the team, you can really utilize the situation for more flavorful moments.  Put the NPC in harm’s way to get a reaction out of the party, often making them act in haste, which creates mistakes sometimes that the GM can take advantage of.  Rushing into a dark room when they hear their NPC friend cry for help can lead to their demise or the trap you wanted them to fall into.  As I mentioned in Episode 40, “Never Surrender!”, having that NPC relationship can aid in persuading the players to surrender a battle rather than fight to the death if the NPC is in jeopardy by the opposition.  They can be used to spark an adventure by having the NPC fall to a disease and needing a remedy that is difficult to obtain.

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When you build up a nice library of NPCs, it will probably be wise to have a small document with notes of each to keep track of them.  Make notes of how the party interacts with them, especially if they make a request or do something special that might lead to the NPC changing in some way or needing to do a task for them.  Have NPCs interact with other NPCs that are favorable both in passing and at separate timelines to bring more life to your world.  One NPC mentioning they saw another pass by not long ago will make your players feel like they are in a living, breathing world again.  Things are happening elsewhere, throughout the world while they continue on their journey.  Treat your NPCs like you would that fresh, new character you roll up as a player, and enjoy the involvement the party takes in them.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Adding Flair to Your Magical Gear Episode.037

You do not reach for your Warhammer.  You reach for Aeichioch Bone Shatter.  The same weapon that did not fail you while battling at Hemshire.  The same weapon that landed the death blow to Captain James Mastifson upon twilight.  Yes, Aeichoch Bone Shatter has been your grip of steel since your first days as an adventurer, and you need not dream of a day without it for that day shall not come.  You will lay in your grave at the end of your day still clutched to the mighty instrument.  Swing with it effortlessly as you face your truest opponent now and rest assured with Aeichoch in your hands,  you shall not perish in battle.

For years, magical weapons and armor were merely described as a numerical value, usually from +1 to +5.  These were used when rolling dice to know how much was added to the roll either to achieve a successful hit or the amount of damage.  Either way, we brandished longsword +1  or composite longbow +3.  The number is necessary, sure, but when roleplaying, you have absolutely nothing to go on by having a +2 on the suffix of the name.  No one would yell out “Beware of my +3 longsword!”  except out of character at the dinner table.  In terms of gameplay and story enrichment, it’s a terrible thing to blurt out.

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Bring on the adjectives!  Bring on the full names that represent our choice of weapon.  Much like Roy Hobbs named his baseball bat Wonderboy in the movie The Natural starring Robert Redford, when you name anything, it immediately becomes personified and personal.  It takes on its own character and becomes more meaningful.  A teddy bear is just a teddy bear until we give it a name.

In some RPGs, you may experience moments where magical weapons or armor comes into your possession, sometimes fairly rapidly from encounter to encounter.  Yet how often do we drop our current magical weapon for another one when they both do the same damage or enchantment?  It usually takes a bit more to convince us to let go of our weapon because, why?  What difference does it really make if we are wielding a longsword +1  or a battleaxe +1 other than the latter has a higher critical damage threshold (per mainstream modern RPGs)?  We may want to switch to a bludgeoning weapon instead of a piercing one, but those decisions are based upon facing a specific kind of opponent.

But ignoring the various nuances of weapons of choice, when it comes down to it, we want to be excited to have whatever weapon that is in our hands.  Whether it’s a special magical staff or a giant scimitar or a bow made of a rare material, it needs to have reason of why we chose it among the rest.  Unless we are just going to leave our decisions to the fate of statistics and damage values, our selection should have more flavor to it.

Instead of calling a battle axe with magical properties battleaxe +1, give it an adjective to go with it.  Splintering Battleaxe, Earthshaking Warhammer, Bonechilling Longbow.  It still is a magical weapon, and under a microscope it still has the proper numerical enchantment tied to it.  However, it is referred to a more proper name to give it a richness about the weapon.

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Confusion would set in if the descriptor was added as a suffix to the weapon because there are specific named magical weapons that have special abilities beyond just a numerical value such as Longsword of Wounding.  Avoid the use of some adjectives that are commonly used in reference to them already such as Holy Avenger.  Instead, lay out a set list of specific names referring to the various numerical levels of enchantment.  For example, any +1 enchanted weapon would earn the prefix devilish, to which it would be a devilish battleaxe.  It would automatically register in your mind that a devilish longsword would be a +1 weapon.  Likewise when acquiring a longsword +1 it would be referred to as devilish longsword.  It eliminates the wording of +1 that retracts you from the immersion.

Typically magical enchantments range between 1 and 5, so only a few names need be created by the GM (or with the player’s help, which will connect them better to the game).  Once they are established, they should not be changed throughout the campaign or adventure to avoid confusion.  Here are just some suggestions.

Devilish = +1

Dastardly = +2

Blackening = +3

Nightshade = +4

Oblivion = +5

It could take a little bit to memorize all 5, but the process is a slow progression as you level you characters and become more exposed to the next “level” of enchantment.  It should be ample time to adjust to the reference.

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But this suggestion comes only from “generic” magical weapons and armor that have numerical value to them.  As originally mentioned, naming your weapon or armor can add life to your typical mundane gear.  Even magical items such as a longsword +1 can spring to life by calling it Hellcat’s Longtooth.  It need not maintain the generic adjective list provided above if players wish to personify their gear.  This article is solely for the encouragement to remove the general rule references that make RPGs sound more like a math contest than a fantasy adventure.  Change up the wording.  Use more description in your dialogue to make the doldrums of everyday chatter a thing of the past.

 

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

The Magnificent, Maddening, Marvelous Minion Episode.032

His laughter resonates and shakes the cavern walls as his shadow casts across the valley floor.  He is silhouetted by the bright light behind him, but his motions are clear as he raises his arms that grip the staff you have traveled so far to obtain.  But the staff will not come easy.  Arrows begin flying from your peripherals while numerous small sinkholes appear throughout the floor, quickly filled with Chilopodas who click their mandibles with high pitched sounds.  Wish as much as you will to destroy your sworn enemy you will have to fight your way to him.  Do not take his minions lightly.

For years I have struggled often with creating rich, engaging battles for my PCs that offer a challenge to them.  Typically I can never go by the book (by whatever book I happen to be using) as players will find ways of making their characters a bit more superior to an equal stat monster or group of monsters.  Although one system may feel confident that four typical PCs are an average match with one monster of the same “level,” when it comes down to it, there is one monster versus a minimum of four attacks.  It simply won’t add up no matter how good you are at running combat.

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There was one feature in 4th edition D&D that I was impressed with: minions.  The concept has been around much longer than when the books were released, of course.  Typically a main villain would not/should not be alone in a final showdown with the PCs because, once again, 4 against 1 is not a fair fight no matter what the creature is.  But up until the concept of implementing a 1 hit point system into a creature, GMs usually would simply pick lower “level” creatures.  These prove to be pointless as the lower you go the harder it is to hit the PCs.  At the same time, the statistical concept of the minion in 4th edition D&D is too weak as well.  The critters might be able to land a hit with their bonuses, but their damage is insignificant.  PCs would be able to ignore their attacks and focus on the main event.

Personally I make it harder for the players when I run games unless they are completely new to RPGs.  And one would say I am entirely unfair as well because I only adjust the hit points when making a minion.  In Pathfinder, a Cyclops would be a CR5 with 65 hit points and have two attacks with his greataxe at a +11 and +6 for 3D6+7 points of damage and an AC of 19.  This is an average fight for four 5th level PCs supposedly, though I highly doubt the one Cyclops would last more than 2 rounds with 4 players.  However, if I were to include with that one Cyclops, 4 or 6 Cyclops, each with only 1 hit point but otherwise the same creature, then the battle becomes a bit more serious for the players.  They now face 5-7 creatures of CR5, which sounds overwhelming, but at level 5, many of the fighter classes have around a +5 bonus on their rolls to attack plus any magical items, etc.  Hitting an AC 19 isn’t too hard for PCs of that level.  And, of course, a hit means autokill on the minions.

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Meanwhile the numerous Cyclops have a better than average chance of hitting the PCs.  Each would have a +11 followed by a +6 to hit their AC, and by 5th level the fighters are probably well into their 20s.  If a GM is rolling poorly, his odds of landing a couple of hits increases greatly with 5-7 rolls compared to using the 1 Cyclops with, say, 4 or 5 creatures around CR 2.  And if the GM is on a roll that night, well the PCs are in for a fierce battle that might include healing for the night afterwards.  Again, the goal here is to approach a combat encounter with a significant challenge for the players so that they aren’t too confident with each fight.  Give them some doubt from time to time in order to keep them humble.  Without this approach, there is potential of the players steamrolling through the game, which kills the excitement and tension.

To further point out my unfairness, I don’t award full XP for minions (as is the same rules in 4th edition).  Those minions in the book are significantly weaker than mine, and as a result, don’t yield the same reward.  My creatures are the exact power level as their standard counterparts, but because they go down automatically with a successful hit, they aren’t around long enough to really have a chance for significant party damage.  They may make it through one round, but generally they are all gone by the end of the second round.  I only award a quarter of the value of XP for that character.  This is true for any reward system in an RPG.

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In the end, minions are meant to be time killers.  They allow GMs to bring out the big guns of the villain and unleash what they are made of.  Quite a number of really nasty creatures have multiple special abilities, many of which never see the light of day because they are sometimes downed too soon.  Again, pitting the one villain against four or five PCs isn’t going to let your BBEG last very long.  The minions are merely there to buy you one or two good rounds before the PCs start chipping away at the villain.  But without their full stats, they just won’t demand the attention of the players.

And this is very true for monsters.  Creatures of intelligence or animal instinct will often ignore those they feel are not a threat until that target begins to threaten them.  So bring about the attention of the other players and split their focus up to multiple targets.  Keep in mind that with 1 hit point, those with multiple attacks or abilities/spells that can dish out damage to multiple targets will wipe out clusters of minions with one shot.  So spread them out.  If you are using mini’s or keeping track of distance, place your ranged minions either right at the maximum range for the PCs to make their move and attack in one round, or be devious and put them 5 feet beyond.  Separate the minions by more than 10 feet so none of the melee attackers can wipe everything out in one swing.  However, it is perfectly fine to cluster groups of minions together if you have multiple clusters.  Treat each area of minions as a separate encounter.  A PC moves to one spot and vanquishes the minions there before moving to the next area to kill those.  That way you can give the players who love slaughtering through dozens of “weak” enemies like in the movies, but at the same time you are causing them to use up their action so the BBEG can attack.

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I have even thrown nothing but minions at a party for an encounter.  I just throw a lot of them.  It makes for an exciting battle when the PCs see a dozen or two creatures charging at them.  They may soon figure out that encounters like are filled with 1 hit point creatures, but they still have to land attacks on all of them to win the encounter.  Tension will still be present knowing it’s a race to land attacks on everyone before the PCs get severely injured.  Sometimes I will hide a regular creature among the sea of minions after a few of those encounters to throw them off.  Their faces show their realization when I say “that one doesn’t go down when you bury your great axe into his shoulder.”

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Mastering as Game Master: Creature Altering Episode.029

The morning sun rises over the horizon as you and your party stretch and walk out of your homes with the start of your adventuring career moments away.  You fumble with your gear, feeling the awkwardness of strapping on armor for the first time or the density of the oaken staff in your hand.  With a glance around, you silently bid your hometown farewell as you know dreaming of returning is moot.  It’s as if you sense……suddenly soaring above the treetops, screeches from two black dragons fills your ears and turns your blood cold.  Panic fills your nerves as you scramble to get with your other companions in hope of fending off the oncoming enemies.  Yet you can’t help but wonder, why are we pitted up against this level of creature at 1st level?

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Many GMs, especially newcomers, fall into a strict set of guidelines in running a campaign or adventure.  The party is about this level, so they should be facing the monsters in this list.  The rules state that a player is not allowed to do this, so I’m prohibiting the players from doing so.  It’s always been done this way for decades since D&D was a gleam in Gygax’s eye.  It really is time to learn how to be a GM and shed the cloak that has navigated our creativity and methods for so long.

What in the world am I meaning?  We can do whatever we want as GMs!  But do we?  Do we throw adult black dragons at the party of 1st level characters?  No, of course we haven’t because they would be killed before they had a chance to attack, and they wouldn’t be able to shed any damage off the dragons….right?  Why is it that creatures have to be used at appointed times and not any time?

I believe often times GMs get either lazy or overwhelmed by the notion of altering situations to better fit the party.  More and more rule books are standardizing how each encounter is supposed to be run.  That manticore looks like it would be a great encounter for the party….but it’s 6 “levels” higher than the group so that’s out of the question.  So are we to just allow these sourcebooks dictate everything?  They encourage us to make the world our own….within their guidelines.  The important notation is that nearly all of them say at one point or another to alter anything in the book to fit our own playstyle.  Anything!  And yes, we commonly have home rules that we incorporate that adds to our system, but seldom do we really make serious alterations because….well….we paid $50-60 for the book.  What’s the point if we are going to just end up writing it from scratch?

One of the most enjoyable features I like implementing into a campaign is the concept of the world being alive and vast rather than built for the players.  I don’t place a dungeon near where they are that is built for their level because the world becomes a convenience for them and lacks life.  Sometimes you wind up in a bad part of town where you shouldn’t be.  You get into situations that are dangerous.  Life isn’t built for you; you are built to adapt to life.  Whether that is to fight, negotiate, or run away, it is up to you to recognize the situation and make the choice.

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So sometimes I will create a campaign that is just like that:  dragons can appear at any time or the party may stumble upon a ruin filled with creatures far more powerful than they are, yet they have to get inside to a tomb to get an amulet.  This isn’t something I surprise them with because they would be killed in seconds.  I always write up a document that explains the various nuances of the world, races, acceptable and unacceptable rules/features, etc.  They are fully prepared to approach every situation with caution and judge the situation as they see fit.  It adds much more realism and tension with the players knowing that the world is a deadly place not catered to them.

You could adjust the difficulty greatly and still have the freedom to present anything you want to the players, regardless of level, by adjusting the world to fit the players.  This is definitely something new GMs should not tackle because you are essentially stripping down monsters and challenges to accommodate the players.  For example, a dragon might have two claw attacks, a hind leg attack, a tail, their wings, and a bite before blasting their breath weapon.  Instead, the creature could have severely lowered damage, say, 1D4 on all attacks, and no two attacks could be done on one player each round.  Special abilities such as paralyze could simply be removed or altered to last only 1 round.

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Creatures that fly would hover low enough off the ground that melee with long weapons such as spears and halberds could still attack, giving reason to carry more unique or less common weapons.  The trick is to not fall in love with a creature so when you are trying to strip it down to a suitable level, you aren’t wishing you could keep a special ability because it’s cool.  Introducing creatures at different times of the campaign will add spice because players are somewhat expecting certain creatures at certain times.  Kobolds and goblins right off the bat, beholders, liches, mind flayers, and demons toward the end.  The point is don’t allow guidelines guide you too much.  Remember back when we were kids and the rules neither mattered nor made any sense and we just played what we enjoyed?  We have to follow rules every day that structure our lives, which is why we love role playing games so much.  We can break away from the classifications, categories, restrictions, procedures, protocols, and laws in order to truly do whatever we want.

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Keep your players in the know of what your intentions are without saying you are fudging the dice or nerfing the monsters.  Explain that you are implementing a living world where any creature is possible.  While you are unable to mix and match lethal versions of a dragon with tolerable versions (they wouldn’t know whether to run or not until it was too late), both options are available for campaigns.

Now I understand there are games out there that already have this in mind such as Dungeon World.  However, their game, although extremely enjoyable, can also be terrifyingly lethal.  It has the same mentality as mentioned earlier in that the world is a dangerous place, tread lightly and don’t assume you know the creatures in a meta-game view point because you don’t.  With Dungeon World, literally anything can happen at any time, and the game encourages the more fantastical situations than tradition.

Whichever you decide, make sure you are running the game according to your plan and not the plans of others.  Take what you will as advice, guidelines, suggestions or the like, but keep in mind no one outside of your game room gives 2 craps to how you run your game.  You aren’t out to satisfy Paizo by running their game by the book because no one at Paizo cares.  At all.  These are all merely suggestions as well and not law because it may not suit your playstyle.  Perhaps you prefer the structure of a particular ruleset.  If that is the case, go crazy with it and enjoy.  However, sometimes repetition for too long, even the things we love to do, become stale and demand a sprinkling of change here and there.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Solo RPG Adventures Episode.023

You check your 6 to make sure you lost your tail.  Nothing but shadows follows behind though it’s anyone’s guess if he’s still back there.  Meanwhile, your target continues down the street past two guards before suddenly making a quick side step into an unlit building.  The quick motion appeared suspicious.  Did he notice you were following him?  You skip across the street under the moonlight into the next row of shadows and slip down next to the building.  There’s a candle inside that has just been lit, but the windows are mostly frosted to get a good look.  Deftly you climb up the wall, nearly losing your footing at the moment of carelessness before reaching the roof.  There is a vent that is open, and you peer down to spy on your target as he is talking to someone out of view.  Your grapple lets you drop down into the room, hovering above the two to hear better.  You don’t recognize the other, but it doesn’t matter.  You are here to remove your target.  It will have to be a double kill.

I have seldom had the opportunity to run or play in a solo adventure.  I remember during the 2nd Edition AD&D era there were a series of solo adventures specifically built for the main core classes, most notably for me was for the thief simply called “Thief’s Challenge.”  The series was popular enough to produce a second series for the classes.  Running solo can be a lot of fun on a number of levels.  The player obviously gets more playing time and doesn’t have to wait his turn during combat.  The game is focused on one character, so encounters tend to be more lethal because you have no one to watch your back.  Pick someone who has the ability to heal and you lose the chance to deal out massive combat.  Go the other route and who mends your wounds when you are nearly dead or dying?  It allows for the flow of the game to have less choice in which path to take.  If you’re playing a thief-like character, charging in through the front door as you might do with a group of 4 well balanced players would not be the wisest method.  Solo adventures also open up one class in particular that typically does not play well with others: the assassin.

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 Assassins are really not great team players in most RPGs.  Their special abilities usually deal with quick kills either from more lethal strikes or through the use of poison.  Although it is nice to have a player in the party who can take out an enemy relatively quickly, it becomes a challenge to decide whether to have the assassin go on by himself to try and take out the BBG or have him just kill one or two random henchmen while the rest of the party deals with the villain.  Some core rules give a decent chance for an assassin to kill an enemy in one shot if saving throws are failed.  This gives a better than bad chance that an encounter becomes too easy.  So they tend to not be allowed in games that I run unless I offer a solo adventure.

As a GM, what are some things that you must take into consideration before running a solo game?  First, you need to know the class to be used inside and out.  Unlike a more traditional RPG where you just need to have a good understanding of each class played and let the players know the rest, it is far more important to know everything about the one class.  This is because every situation in the game will revolve around the choices that class has.  The class may not be able to heal or bend bars or cast spells or pick locks or wear heavy armor.  All of these could come up in a situation, and you as a GM should have the scenario revolve around these.  It should not be necessary to mention that a situation such as the need to bend bars should not come up for a thief.  The best kid of adventure, and perhaps your ultimate goal here, is to find a way to utilize every ability for that class.  Their skills go right along with their abilities in that goal as well.  So read languages, use magic device, appraise, and acrobat (I know I’m referring to D&D and Pathfinder, but you get the point), are all things to consider.  You don’t have to come up with situations for every skill they have, just think of unusual ways to present a few of the ones that aren’t used all the time.

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For example, the individual must use disguise to enter an elaborate ball where the duke has arranged to invite numerous distinguished aristocrats, one of whom has recently purchased a lot of forged paintings he wishes to sell.  Appraise will come in handy when the character must quickly identify which of the lot of paintings are fake and which are real.  He must bluff his way past the guard into the vault by mentioning he is a nephew.  The use of escape artist skill will allow him to free himself when he failed his skill check to disable the snare trap in the vault.  And finally his ability to figure out how to use magical devices by holding them in his hand will allow him to use the wand to open the door that is locked on the other side and escape into the night.

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The more challenging solo adventure would be surprisingly a fighter type class because unless they are a specialized class such as a ranger, they might lack in non-combat abilities.  Even if you sit down with someone who wants to be a fighter and just “kill everything,” you two are going to find some challenge keeping things interesting after the 30th combat encounter in a row.  That’s when you watch action movies.

Even movies like Rambo and Predator have a plot and don’t comprise of combat after combat after combat scene.  Rambo offers the element of surprise and stealth.  Predator offers suspense of the unknown.  You can create tension through suspense by having the fighter as the hunted rather than the hunter.  Give a brief encounter with a creature that shows it clearly is more powerful than the fighter, but have the creature retreat during combat for unknown reasons, perhaps to toy with the fighter.  When a creature encounters something that it knows it clearly overpowers it sometimes has a tendency to play with the prey before killing it.

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Another situation for a fighter-only class would be the horror genre.  Fear can break down even the heartiest characters, and a GM can put it to the test.  Even though it is a solo adventure, the character need not be alone.  I often will place weak NPCs in the protection of the party to give them more responsibility and force them to be more cautious in their actions.  They can’t charge into a dragon’s lair if they have an 8 year old orphan girl with them.  Three massive giants coming this way?  You better believe the party will try avoiding the confrontation entirely so the girl is less likely to be harmed by a random thrown boulder.  One other option is to start a solo adventure with the character severely wounded.  Give them but a few hit points and force them to go through an area that is dangerous.  Like having a weak NPC in the group, it causes the player to think twice about being too bold on their decisions and gives more challenge to each encounter.

Solo adventures can be a lot of fun on both sides.  One-on-one moments give GMs and players a lot more experience and challenge as they must approach the game a little differently.  It works for good practice for GMs who have gotten lax in their need to find diversity in their stories, too.  Try the simple exercise of creating 4 short, solo adventures for a fighter, thief, cleric, and wizard class and see what you come up with.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.