Showing posts with label Tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tips. Show all posts

Monday, August 15, 2022

Tips to the New DM - Part 1, the Campaign

I saw the trailer for the new D&D movie, Honor Among Thieves. 


I love the idea that it's titled "Honor Among Thieves" and presents a series of characters who don't seem to be thieves. This is typically problem #1 at the game table, exactly what happens when a DM proposes a game and the players don't have the same idea in mind because they aren't mindreaders. 

It reminds me of the first D&D movie, you know the one where everything was ridiculous and over the top. It was like someone asked: "What if all of our fine actors rolled a 1 for each and every aspect of this production?" Since this actually happens at the table, I thought it was an excellent adaptation of the game. You can read my five-star review right here

This highlights the second thing that can go horribly wrong at the table, an overreliance on dice or chance for outcomes for things that don't really matter. If you let dice overrule sensible choices and the agency of your players, everyone gets screwed by chance. Things that shouldn't really matter suddenly are all important. Don't let it happen to you, only roll for the things that need to be resolved by chance. Let the kiddos have agency. 

Anyway, I have been talking to my kids about a new campaign I'm planning. They are all hung up on the basic concept of a "campaign". It's a big word that has never really been presented very well in the core books. The core books of any RPG series, not just D&D. I would define a campaign as both the world where the action takes place and a list of rules and assumptions about the world. This is the highest level meaning of the word "campaign". 

When starting out, the campaign should be vanilla flavored. Zero restrictions on character class and races, no modification to the rules, etc. The players, if you and they are lucky only have the core rules. Don't yank the carpet out from under them by making restrictions or changes on the basics that they do know.  

The second part of the "campaign" is the setting. What type of story is being told? It is a pirate tale, a ghost story, a land grab, an exploration, a quest.  Technically, these are limitations of scope. A pirate tale is very different than a good ghost story. You should not find paranormal events in a pirate story, you won't find vampires in an exploration campaign. It makes sense, so the players don't think it's all a free for all. They don't need stakes and garlic to get on a boat. 

But remember there is always the ability to fuse stories. Dracula starts on a ship, the Flying Dutchman is a tale of pirate ghosts, and so on. You can either have these ideas from the outset or morph things as needed. Just because you start in one place, it doesn't mean you can't land somewhere else. 

Where your first few games go bonkers is when the players hit the outline of what you have created. You'll get the weirdo things like a bard with an electric guitar in a fantasy world, the thief with a skateboard that goes by the name "Zoomer-boomer", and a kleptomaniac cleric in a hair-lined football jersey. Don't worry, just roll with your players, to the extent that you can. Let them have fun at first and after a while, they'll eventually come around to meet you halfway. Or better. 

One good thing to have in mind is a character swap. When starting out, you'll have problems like this where no one wants to play the character they have, and killing off characters is either unreasonable or impracticable. It's really not worth anyone's time to kill off a disliked character. My suggestion is to swap former player characters as NPCs and once you have these wild ones under your thumb, cool them out. Don't kill 'em. Don't make them disappear. Just place them in a more natural and sedate setting for your world and let them be. Maybe they'll grow into something else. This will depend on your player's outlook on their past silliness. To be honest, these wild and wacky characters probably will fade into the background of the setting. 

No harm, no foul. 

Now we are to the setting. What is happening in your world? 

I find the smoothest way to create a campaign is to write a story. Not a huge story or a polished story but one with a set of boundaries that has a clear beginning and a clear end. The DM isn't reading a book to a party of players, you are all working together on a set of tasks that will eventually tell the legends of heroes. 

Maybe, they are heroes. Maybe not. Anywho... 

The DM should prepare their campaign as a set of chapters or waypoints where the goal is to get the players and the characters from A to B to C. Keep to the basics. How do they meet, where do they go, when do things get exciting? 

Simple. Except it really isn't.  

Remember, at each step of the way many things can happen.  Most of which can't be controlled by anyone, players and DM alike. Don't expect sessions one, two, or 27 to end where you decided they would. 

The players should succeed at the end of each chapter, but they can also fail. Failure doesn't have to be death. In fact, if you plan it right, getting killed should be hard. In all likelihood, they won't fail and die. It could be something so simple as running out of health or something as annoying and show-stopping as losing the tools they needed to move forward. They could be captured, they could get drunk or homesick and take a break. Any number of things could and will happen to them and your story, which really isn't the story you wrote down. Don't sweat it. 

The moment the players don't have success, you need to change what you are doing with the players so they can continue. Usually, this results in a quick side story before continuing on to the main event. Hopefully, your players will enjoy this tangent while also wanting to continue on to the main event. Sometimes the tangent will become the main story. That's cool, too. 

There is a variant on party success. I call it the Uber-Win. You created a scenario and presented it to a dozen people. One of those players will figure out something very logical and sensible that you didn't think of and they hop right to the end of the material you created. Instant Win. It happens. Be ready for the strange wine the players serve up at your table. It's really good, albeit surprising. 

There are two other possibilities besides win and lose. A stalemate or a no-sell. A stalemate occurs when the players don't win or lose and is often a variant of failure. These events are easier to adapt to than an actual failure, there is merely a pause in the action while the party prepares to continue. The nice part a stalemate means the players are interested in your campaign, wish to continue, and are invested. They just can't do what you expected right now. Roll with it. 

Mastering picking up stuff after
a mistake. It is the first step to
mastering anything. 

A no-sell is the worst outcome. There is something happening that the players do not like, dig or understand. They simply want no part of your campaign as it exists. That totally sucks because give a table of 4 or more players, the odds are there will be something one or more people won't be interested in. This is more than a simple adaptation. It can mean a change in theme and style of presentation. Or even a total change of story or theme. 

In one of my campaigns, I had a dungeon entirely populated with insects and spiders. After one room of combat, I discovered that one of my players had a visceral reaction to bugs. I had props and everything. Rattles, scrapers for eerie sounds, a bag with something furry inside, plastic toys, and so on. And she would not be having any of it. 

How could I possibly ditch all of that fun for one player's enjoyment or lack thereof? 

Well, since that player was getting ready to pack up and leave, the choice was easy. The next room had rats. She seemed indifferent. Me too because The Dungeon of the Rat was really dumb. 

In the third room, I tried snakes. 

She asked, "Do they look friendly?"  

"Well. No," I answered. 

But it was a lifeline. It wasn't that the players disliked the idea of a dungeon crawl or playing D&D yet again on Saturday night. Just one feature, bugs were not for them. It turned out my props could be used in different ways. They were still effective. And everyone enjoyed The Temple of Serpents more than "the unnamed dungeon of spiders and ick" I planned. 

Sometimes, rephrasing or reskinning a setting is all that is required. 

Other times, you have to completely change course, mid-stride to engage the players. This is an absolute abandonment of everything for something else. It sucks, but it is preferable to the players being forced into certain scenarios against their will.  

This brings us to another concept DMs should avoid, railroading. The above example with the conversion from bugs to snakes is not railroading because the players wanted a dungeon crawl but didn't want to deal with spiders and centipedes. Everyone was on board, a tactic choice to play was actual buy-in, only without spiders. It's a reskinning of an acceptable idea. 

Railroading is a different beast to be avoided. 

Suppose I had created "The Dungeon Crawl to Save Not Just The Universe, but ALL of the Known Universes", and the players wanted and expected a game of courtly political intrigue? Forcing them into my dungeon is a railroad. Don't do it. 

Given that you created a specific scenario that absolutely must be resolved for the world to continue to exist, you, the DM created a massive problem. You are going to have to get very creative to get out of it. In a perfect world, you shouldn't have made the basic premise so all-consuming. If the players aren't going in that hole you made, the main question is who is going in that massive suck hole you made? 

Not the players. They don't want it. However, the players gave you your escape. The Royal Court that hired the players in the first place is your answer. Flesh it out. 

The King wants the Dungeon problem solved immediately before his kingdom is destroyed, but the Queen is looking ahead and wants her son to marry. The Prince wants to marry the Princess of the neighboring kingdom, who is the arch-enemy of his Kingdom. Queen Mom is not enthusiastic about this turn of events but will go along. In secret, of course. The Princess's half-brother happens to be an Uber-Mage that can resolve any issue down in the dungeon with a snap of his fingers if only he was predisposed to do such a thing. Too bad he is only interested in Matilda, the young and attractive spy sent by the Prince's father to neutralize the Uber-Mage before he can take to the field of battle. 

Gee, that has all of the courtly political intrigues the players could desire, and no one but the Uber-Mage has to go down into that trap of a dungeon that you created. Problem solved. 

Sort of. Except you lost all of the hours spent on creating that dungeon. This is the way of D&D campaigns. As mentioned before, there is even a movie about it.  

A railroad would be if the players met the Prince like they wanted to, but then the Prince forces them to go into the Dungeon of Death you created. Or the Queen was kidnapped and the party had to go into the dungeon to get her back. If the Uber-Mage couldn't actually solve the problem, forcing the players into the mucky dungeon. If the King appointed the party to be the Keepers of Honor, leading peasants on a tour of the now safe dungeon, recounting the Heroic Deeds of the Uber-Mage, every weekday morning and twice on Wednesdays... 

Personally, I'd totally use the last one if my players were jerks about the whole thing. But I use a lot of meta humor at the table. It just works for me. It probably wouldn't work all the time or for everyone, but I'm sure I could make it funny. 

Remember, your players aren't antagonists they are your co-conspirators. Read the room and use their ideas to drive the fun. 

So on your first good campaign, you need to know a couple things and master them: 
  • Start small, 
  • Know what you mean to do, 
  • Know where good, bad, and indifferent can happen. 
    • Hint: at every party choice. 
  • Don't let the dice make choices, 
    • only use dice to resolve choices made by the players,
    • and never force a choice by dice either for you the DM, or the party. 
  • Plan to adapt from there.
The first and the last are just as important as the middle two. Pick anyone to start and you will naturally expand your skills at DMing. You can't possibly sprint to success, so focus on one or two and grow from there. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Hexcrawling Tiny Hacks and Secret Rolls

Now that I have two sessions of a hexcrawl down, I thought I would share some tiny hacks and secret rolls happening. 

The first is using The White Box by Atlas Games for tracking purposes. In my last post, I used meeples for character tokens, reserving the red ones for opponents. 


Meeples are little figure tokens. The White Box is loaded with all kinds of cool stuff for gaming. If $30 is too rich for you, try a search for used on Abebooks. The White Box by Jeremy Holcomb on Abebooks.com. 

Using tokens for the party enables the players to see basic information without turning the Theater of the Mind into a game like Car Wars or something. The players were able to determine the approximate range and distance to targets and come up with plans for dealing with problems. 

Normally, I would grab whatever tokens were on hand for the players: a chess set, a Risk game, dice, etc., but I had other ideas for the tools in The White Box. 

Old School Essentials has a great item-based encumbrance system. You can download the rules and tracking sheets here. The quick gist of the rules is you can have 2 items in your hands plus 10 items in a pack and still move at 120'. Two more items drop you to 90" and so on. 


Since the majority of the stuff my players are carrying is not their personal property and also consumables like food, I had them use the small blocks from the set to figure it out. Green is the full 120" movement while yellow means 90", red is 60" and 30" is black. By doing this visually, the players were able to visualize picking items up from a pile of gear and load up their boots. 

I also have a few environmental hacks to help me DM my first hexcrawl. Since the players are on the Island of Sardinia, I have simply googled the weather in Palau, Sardinia. Todd Leback's Into the Wild has some great rules for generating weather, but this is one less thing for me to track. I'm 99.99% certain that Mr. Leback didn't expect someone to use his book to hexcrawl a real-world place, so there is that. 

The characters are also experiencing some other things not included in the session reports. Since they are on a grassy plain, their line of sight extends to the sea. Every time they enter a hex in a direction that faces the sea, I roll a 1d20. On a 1, they spot something in the water. 1 and 6 is their ship, 2 and 5 is a different ships and finally, 3 and 4 are one of those dreaded sea serpents. Additionally, once per hex, I allow the party to actively search for The Zypher. The only difference is they roll a 1d20 instead of me. Should this come up after I make my secret roll, I will override my roll with the party's die roll. 

This puts some agency in their powers of observation and planning. Quite a few times, a ship has passed by but it wasn't their ship. They seem to appreciate that detail because they are not ready to give up their quests, but if they did, the real civilized world calls. 

I cannot tell you how pleased I am with this collection of rules, from Todd Leback's Into the Wild to the hardcover of OSE's Rules Tome. This is my new favorite combo. Good thing too, because it looks like they'll have another kickstart campaign coming soon

Sunday, March 20, 2016

How to get the Deeds done – Wehnimer’s Landing Temple

Deeds are critical to avoiding death’s sting. Obtaining Deeds in The Landing is fairly easy and is one of my favorite places to purchase Deeds.
The basic formula for deeds is:
101 coins for the deed plus your level times 100 plus the current number of deeds times 100.
This formula works in the Landing, River’s Rest, the Caravansary, and Icemule Trace.
There are a couple of caveats, in River’s Rest you may only use gems. In Hearthstone Manor you may use wands but no coins. In the Temple in The Landing, gems are worth triple their value. In Northern Caravansary you may only use items while in Icemule Trace you can use items in addition to wands but no coins.
In Wehnimer’s Landing, the temple accepts silvers and/or gems, and the gems are worth triple their value. This appears to be the best value for your money.
Enter the temple, go through the black arch, go through the tapestry, use the mallet to hit the chime two times then kneel. Drop your gems and coins and hit the chime again.
If you attempt to kneel before hitting the chime twice you will receive a warning. Once complete, you are escorted from the room.
Trivia 1: In the old days, there used to be ONE tapestry and people would line up to use it. You literally had to wait for others to figure out the puzzle.
Trivia 2: The Caravansary sells a Ruby for 5000 coins. By the formula, one Ruby will always be enough for one deed for characters 100 levels or less and having less than 48 deeds. For the 49th deed, you need to drop one coin and for each deed beyond that you need to drop an additional 100 silvers. This is only possible at the temple not the Caravansary’s deed shrine.

Back in the Rest

I finally reactivated my account and now have my main character, Magarven back in River’s Rest.
A lot has change since I left three years ago. Sorcerer’s have Balefire (713) and a new version of Nightmare (713). I managed to curse myself right in front of a bunch of trolls. Actual trolls, tomb trolls.
Years ago, I used to be a master of this area. I would lay down a cloud of Nightmare and then rely on Maelstrom (710) or Pain (711) to wipe out the trolls. That doesn’t seem to work anymore. The trolls have far too many HP. Perhaps they were tweaked or perhaps I am rusty. In any event, I discovered that the lower levels of the Citadel are more to my liking.
As a Volner, I am enjoying the changes to the Order. Symbol of Mana is much better and Symbol of Seeking is amazing. The ability to seek out undead and teleport there from any monastery is wonderful.
As I explore all of the updates, I hope to see you in the game.

GameHosts and Bloodwood Wands

Two epic saves in 24 hours.
First, I armed my level zero cleric with bloodwood wands to level up twice in River’s Rest. That felt awesome.
Second, when I switched to Premium, I reactivated every character on my account. Some of them, such as Battery Joaness I had played over a decade ago and was unwilling to reroll. Since it had been so long since her creation, I had no idea where she was ‘born’ and could not locate her locker. Short of traveling to every town guess at her locker location, I did an assist.
The happy ending is all I have to do is check the locker manifest in Four Winds to find the lockers location. No guessing at all. Silly that I had to assist instead of figuring that out for myself, but if it works, I should share it. I am glad the GameHost didn’t laugh at me.
The last time I did an assist, I had just received an enhancive device that pushed my stats so high that I have an 11 spirit. Having been killed recently, I was running around with 1 spirit point and took off the device. I believe I was going to cast 405 on it to see if it was ok. Guess what happened? And guess what happened when I put it on and it suddenly failed?
Fun, but I hope a GameHost has an epic laugh log from my experience.

How to Get the Deeds Done – River’s Rest

Deeds are a little unusual in the Rest. Just like everything else, eh?
There are just a couple of steps:
Kneel
Look in Pool
Look in Pool
Touch Pool
Put gems and/or shells in the pool
Touch Pool and be transported
Touch Flower
Get Seed
Plant Seed
In the Rest, I am not sure if gems or shells are tripled as they are in the Landing. I have not tried coins, so attempt that at your own risk.
Log begins here:
[River’s Rest, Spring Rest]
All about, leaves and small twigs litter the forest floor, but at the forest’s edge, in this clearing, brush marks in the soft dirt show the care that someone takes here. A pool of clear water dominates the area and feeds a small stream which meanders southward beside a small path.
At the edge of the clearing, two large stone pillars mark a pathway west.
Warm sunlight filters through the trees and seems to invite the weary to rest here in peace.
You also see a long pier.
Obvious paths: east, south
>kn
You kneel down.
>look in pool
As you gaze into the pool of water, you feel a sense of well-being steal over you. Your reflection gazes back at you, solemn yet serene and inviting.
>look in pool
Briefly, you glimpse the image of a one-armed man, reaching out to you and smiling as if in invitation.
>touch pool
As you touch your reflection in the pool, it shimmers and fades away, leaving you gazing at a glittering mound at the bottom of the pool.
>get she from back
You remove an emperor’s crown shell from in your oilcloth backpack.
>put shell in pool
The scent of herbs and flowers seems to drift on the air as you drop the emperor’s crown shell into the crystal clear water.
It falls from your hand into the crystaline water of the pool, gently disturbing the surface of the water. An image of a one-armed man appears on the the water and he is smiling at you.
>touch pool
As you touch the pool, you hear a whispered voice saying, “You are welcome to my garden.” The old man who keeps the pool neat and clean wanders in and gathers the things you have dropped into the pool. He smiles broadly at you and as he does, a feeling of vertigo overcomes you and the world about shimmers and fades.
When your vision clears, you find yourself in a garden and you take a deep breath as you look around curiously.
[River’s Rest, Garden of Life]
A riotous display of flowers and herbs of every description assaults your senses.
Most seem to be in full bloom, but here and there you spot a plant ready to seed, ready to give back to the land that which it has taken. Standing next to one such patch of flowers is a one-armed man. He wears a medallion depicting Imaera as she tends a garden that is so beautiful it makes the one you stand in appear quite drab. She appears to be planting seeds and strangely, she seems to be smiling at you.
Obvious paths: out
>touch flower
As you gingerly touch the flowers, a single ripe seed falls to the ground. As it does, the one-armed man smiles at you and seems to nod approvingly.
>get seed
You pick up a ripe seed.
>plant seed
You scramble to your feet.
Walking to the garden’s edge, you spy a bare spot, and lean down to gently press the seed into the rich soil. As you straighten up, a faint image suddenly appears beside the one-armed man. She smiles at you and softly says, “As you have honored the life of this garden, so shall I beg of Lorminstra that she shall honor your own life.” Her voice fades into a rustle of flowers as a small breeze brushes your cheek. When you look again, she and the one-armed man are nowhere to be seen.

Black Ora Weapons

My sigil-etched black Ora mace is sort of a disappointment. I thought it would flare, but it doesn’t because it has been uncursed. Pity.
However, today Serendipity was able to ensorcell it. Right now I just have a level one temporary ensorcellment, but soon I shall have a permanent cast on it.

Strange tactics

Gemstone IV has a lot of depth. There are many classic tactics you can use, such a parry tag, combat maneuvers or spells to slow opponents down.
However, the are some more subtle  tricks built right into the game. For example, going prone before an elemental wave hits will not hurt you. The same for shield bash. It is also unlikely that you would sucked into an implosion.
Going prone affects affects both offense and defense by 50 points. Choose carefully.


Sometimes, a minus 50 is better than vaporization.
Other tricks include the basic warding check. If an  opponent has Fasthr’s Reward running casting a low level warding spell can trip the Reward, ending the spell. For example, Dark Catalyst costs 19 points to cast and is really expensive to cast against Reward. Blood Burst costs one point and has the same chance to trigger and eliminate this defense. Other good choices are Corrupt Essence against spell casters and Spirit Barrier against swingers. The nice thing about these cheap spells is that they can trigger the Reward even if the creature is not subject to the attack type.
For example, Purified Citadel Heralds are immune to Blood Burst due to their undead status, but Blood Burst still forces a warding check. This effect is the same as casting Limb Disrupt on a creature with no limbs, you can succeed in overwhelming their TD or Target Defense, but that success will not effect a creature with no limbs.
Old Golems used to be puncture immune; it is the exact same situation, you can hit them with an arrow but it doesn’t do anything. This has been remedied my changing Golems to “puncture resistance”, so current Golems aren’t a good analogy any more. Certain creatures are completely immune to magic, trying this stunt is a waste of time. Vvreal and Constructs come to mind.

Rock is paper vs cold and fire

An ingenious attack method built right into GSIV. Cold and fire spells against stone creatures cause extra damage. Casting Dark Catalyst against stone trolls or giants causes their skin to crack to horrific effect. The temperature differential adds another round of damage a moment or two later.
This is different than the standard Fire Spirit against trolls. That merely slows or stops regeneration for a time. The temperature differential is extra damage. This is a good thing because that stone skin is as tough as metal.

Decaying Citadel Guardsman Plasma Attack?

The Rest is always full of surprises. 

>A decaying Citadel guardsman raises her red steel Hammer of Kai high
above her head and begins twirling it around. Faster and faster it spins, causing radiant white flames to fly out in all directions and shower the room in motes of searing plasma!

One of the brilliant white motes heads right for you!
A mote of radiant white energy passes harmlessly by you!
Roundtime: 3 sec.

I suspect this would hurt. I have no idea what it would have done to me. 

Tips and Tricks – Enhancives

There is a quick trick to figuring out if an item has a temporary enhancive bonus. Take it to the Adventurer's Guild and attempt to recharge it. Not only does this detect an enhancive you might not know about, he will tell you if it is full or not.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The One McGuffin

In RPG’s, magic can be problematical. A DM must carefully consider each and every spell and trinket given to the characters, otherwise he or she will break the campaign. The lesser magics are troublesome some times, but it is relatively easy to adjust for them. Let’s face it, DM’s can’t and won’t think of everything, every time.
Sometime you just have to let things play out and laugh at the mistake. However, I blame many bad endings on The One McGuffin getting loose.
A McGuffin is a device to further the plot. It has no other function and DM’s are well advised not create and an define an item so that it is both solution and closure to the campaign storyline.
In second edition or AD&D, artifacts were vastly overpowered magic items that really should have been left undescribed. Instead, they were tacked on the end of the magic item list, as if they were a viable option.
There is a temptation for all DM’s to use The One McGuffin as a solution to wrap up the scenario. Never, repeat, never allow characters to use an evil item for good. First, it doesn’t make sense for good to use evil for good ends. Second, as a wise man once said, “Power corrupts and absolute power is really, really neat.”
The second pen hits paper and the McGuffin is clearly defined, somewhere deep-down inside, you have decided the magic needs to be used. In all cases, this very much a Deus ex Machina story ending. If you build the characters up to the pinnacle of power, yet even from that great height, they can’t make a good ending of their own, what is the point?
Beware of The One McGuffin.