Reactions to other player actions in D&D

reacting-to-reactions.png

This seems to be a topic of controversy among the Role Playing community. That moment when a player declares their Character performs an action, and another member of the party does not like it, so says something like “I stop her doing that!” How exactly does that work? Can another character react fast enough to prevent an others action? How does the Dungeon Master handle it? We are going to look at this in depth in this article.

Well firstly lets look at what a reaction is. A reaction is an action performed or a feeling experienced in response to a situation or event. We are specifically looking at issues arising from dealing with a physical action. To do this we are going to break this down into two categories. We have primary and secondary reactions. A primary reaction is when you react to something directly happening to you. A secondary reaction is when you react to something happening to someone else.

Lets look at a scenario that arose during a recent gaming session on Howreroll. Marlowe ( a Monk), had been tricked into fighting in a Gladiatorial Arena. She was contracted to fight three combats in the stead of another person who would most certainly not survive. In her third fight, her opponent (The champion of the Arena), informed her that he did not wish to fight her, but had been told that if he did not, they would kill his wife and child. Marlowe defeated him and then went to see the Judiciary over the Arena to have her freedom granted. Radovan, ( a cleric of St. Cuthbert) was with her. Believing the Judiciary responsible for the threat against her opponents family, Marlowe struck the man with her fist. Radovan cringed at this as striking a Noble was a serious offense in this area. So in this situation what could anyone have done?

Well lets look at both the Primary and Secondary aspects of this situation.

In the Primary reaction we are looking at the Judiciary. He is reacting directly to a quick action that is being performed upon him. In this situation several things come into play. Firstly lets look at WHO is performing the action. In this case it is a tenth level Monk, a skilled unarmed combatant with lightning fast reflexes. She knows how to throw a punch. She can strike swiftly, accurately and without telegraphing it. The person who is to react to this is Judiciary, a nobleman who has lead a soft and privileged life. So in this instance their is little likelihood that he has much chance of reacting at all. Now if he had been a skilled combatant he could have read the intent (possibly with a successful Sense Motive skill check) and been able to dodge, parry or slip the punch. he may have even been able to counter. Also there was no real emotional situation as Marlowe offered no threats, performed no posturing and threw the punch extremely unexpectedly. Again, If she had been verbally threatening him, and had been acting aggressively, he would have had some indication that a possible attack was coming.

To give some point of validity to this, I have been involved in the combat world on a professional level for most of my life, and in my twenties worked in close personal protection and worked the door of a few night clubs in England. If you are trained and aware you can read an attack and react to it! Even the untrained will have defense reflexes that will at least allow them to cover up or shy away from a strike. The term “sucker punch” is often used to describe an unprovoked or blind sided attack. Typically these connect because the intended target is unaware of the attackers intent.

The process on a physical level for reacting to a strike is as follows. Your eyes must acknowledge that their is a strike coming towards you. they then relay that message to your brain, which intern triggers your muscles to react and allow you to attempt to block or evade the strike. This all happens in a fraction of a second. Trained combatants have faster reaction times in these situations and therefore react quicker and are more able to respond in time. Untrained people are much less likely to react in time.

In the case of the Primary reaction, whether or not someone can react is based on many factors. In Dungeons and Dragons players verbalize what their intended actions are. For example, the player controlling the Monk (Marlowe), could have said to the other players and the Dungeon Master, “I am gonna slug this guy.” This informs everyone else at the game that her Monk is intent on performing an attack. She could have also said, “Marlowe says I am gonna slug this guy!” which would have indicated that her character vocalized her intent before performing the action. Again this offers different degrees of ability and chance to react. In any case the Primary reaction lies with the person she intends to strike. And as we just examined if he is skilled and aware, or even has reason to anticipate the possible action, their is every chance he can react in some way other than getting hit and laid out by the punch.

Now lets look at the Secondary reaction. In this case that action lies with Radovan. Our Cleric found himself in a situation where I feel sure he would have like to have prevented the actions of Marlowe if he had the opportunity. Did he have an opportunity to stop Marlowe? or was their realistically nothing he could do in this instance?

A secondary reaction is very different than a Primary reaction. Firstly it offers a much longer processing time before the reaction can take place. In the example we are using, assuming Radovan was close enough to Marlowe to intercept her (which he was), his mental processing would have gone as follows. He sees Marlowe begin to throw the punch. His eyes send that information to his brain. His brain then has to acknowledge that it wants to interact. The brain then sends the message to the muscles to move and Radovan can then react. The big issue here is the processing time for deciding that he wants to react. This is not an personal instinctual defensive reaction. It is a desired responsive reaction. It takes longer for these actions to be processed by the brain. In this case his only real chance of successfully reacting is if he has prior awareness that the attack is intended.

In this situation Radovan was also behind Marlowe, which means he had no chance to read her facial expression, and limited chance to read body language. If he had been looking at her face, a successful sense motive skill check could have lead him to realize she was becoming aggressive, and as such he could have rushed in to restrain or intercept Marlowe. In this case Marlowe gave no indication of her intent, she did not act or appear aggressive (until she actually struck), and being a skilled unarmed combatant, moved with lightning speed. It is clear that without the use of some kind of previously applied divination magic, there was no way for Radovan to react.

This is of course only one example, and it shows how the ability to perform a successful Primary or Secondary reaction is based on many factors.

In other situations a player may say something like “I stop him before he says that!” Again we are looking at a Secondary reaction and your chance to cut in, distract or even muffle the words before spoken require that you have adequate warning that they are about to say what they are going to say. A more correct method would be to acknowledge that in this situation a particular character is prone to acting in a certain way, and taking steps to prevent the character from being in a position to say the kind of things you would want to prevent. I often hear things like “Before he says that, or before he does that I….” In these cases a player often has no time in which to have even been aware of what the intended action was, so in many ways it can be meta gaming. That being said there are many situations where a player may have reason to expect an action and be justified in their attempt to intercept.

As you can see it is clearly not a cut and dry, can or can not subject.

The situation of Primary and Secondary reactions must apply to Non Player Characters too! As the Dungeon Master you also have to consider these things when deciding how your minions can react to the players actions. This can not be a one way street.

To conclude I will draw on a few situations from my past that I feel exemplify what we are discussing in a real world setting.

One evening I was picking up a friend from work, it was very late and I parked my vehicle and went to the front door of where he worked to wait on him. The front door was glass, and was set inside a small covered alcove with two steps leading up to it. I was standing on the first step and was leaning in to peer through the glass. my right leg was stretched out behind me as a counter balance as I leaned. Suddenly I felt my rear leg kicked and as I turned around two clearly drunk men were standing behind me, and one was about to lunge at me. Being drunk their actions were slow and easily interpreted. I wont go into the details of what followed, but lets just say I was able to anticipate and react to the situation and came to no ill harm.

Another time I witnessed two individuals get into a verbal altercation. One of the men had a friend standing next to him. As the situation became more heated, the man who was accompanied by a comrade suddenly attempted to throw a punch at his verbal sparring partner. His friend anticipated this move and grabbed him before he was able to truly let fly. he was able to do because the situation had slowly escalated and it was becoming probable that the action was about to happen. He was already prepared to react.

In the third and final anecdote I will share I witnessed a man walk into a bar, smile and say hi to a few friends, slowly walk over to a table and then promptly smack a gentleman in the mouth. I was a good twenty feet away so clearly their was nothing I could do but say What the FU*K! The man who was struck was sitting with three friends all of whom were in range to react but did not. Why? well because their was absolutely no warning that the fellow in question was about to attack. I am sure it was over some past indiscretion by the foul language and words that were exchanged as the other three men dove into action to separate the two involved in the altercation. While they did react, they were reacting AFTER the punch had been thrown and had connected. They were aware the situation was even going to arise prior too.

As a player, try to utilize circumstance and ask yourself if your character realistically can react based on what the CHARACTER is aware of and not you, the player are aware of. As A Dungeon Master evaluate the circumstances to determine if your players reaction is a valid and justifiable course of action, as well as remembering to consider all these factors where it applies to your minions. Happy Gaming.

 

 

How to handle the non physical stats.

non-physical-stats

So in almost every Role Playing Game you have statistics or ability scores. Those numbers that are used to measure how strong, smart, quick, good looking, wise, lucky, educated and so on your Character is. These statistics typically relate to influencing the chance of performing certain actions or skills during a game session. Now the physical stats like (in Dungeons and Dragons) Strength, Dexterity and Constitution, are easy to Role Play. Its not hard to describe how your character with a seventeen Constitution runs at a good pace for twenty miles, or how your character with a high Strength, busts open a door with his shoulder. The challenge comes when we deal with the mental stats like Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma (yes Charisma is partly a mental stat). This article is going to examine and address an age old problem in Role Playing games, and that is how does a person Role Play a character that is gifted or blessed in the mental department when the player himself is lacking.

Lets start by breaking down exactly what each of the three mental stats are and what they encompass.

Intelligence.

Intelligence in Dungeons and Dragons determines how well your character learns and reasons. It represents your characters ability to analyze information and the depth of complexity in which the character thinks.

Wisdom.

Wisdom determines your characters common sense, perception and intuition. It also relates to how much willpower your character has.

Charisma.

Charisma is a measure of your personality, personal magnetism, persuasiveness, leadership ability and physical attractiveness.

I will point out here that I personally believe that physical attractiveness should be a separate stat, but for this article that is neither here nor there.

In Dungeons and Dragons the typical range (before modifiers) of these Ability scores is between three and eighteen (the result of rolling three six sided dice). A three Intelligence for example is on par with an IQ of about 57, while an eighteen is about 143. A character with a three wisdom is largely oblivious to the world around him and just drifts through life, where as a character with an eighteen is extremely intuitive. In the case of Charisma, a three represents the social skills of a sponge and looks of that guy from the hills have eyes, while an eighteen represents someone with real personal magnetism, great personality and incredible good looks.

This is where my earlier point comes into play, I know some very good looking people with limited social skills, and some that look like they got hit with the ugly stick who have great personalities.

So where is the issue with this. The issue arises when a player is not particularly smart and he is playing a character that is highly Intelligent, what happens when the player can not see the answer to a solution, but believes his genius Wizard should be able too. Or someone who has limited tact and social skills is playing a Sorceress with very high Charisma, yet just does not have the skill set personally to bring that out in the Character. As the Dungeon Master do you test the Character or the Player? Do you allow the player to fall back on his Ability Scores and simply roll dice, and if so what happens to the Role Playing aspect?

Firstly in some cases the game mechanics do take care of this. For example, if you want to make a knowledge skill check, it pulls a modifier from your Intelligence ability score. Or in the case of Intimidate it will take the modifier from your Charisma ability score. Other times however the mechanics do not have a solution, and this is where the dice stop getting rolled and the Characters start getting Role Played.

Now you can (if you really want a mechanical and personality lacking game) roll for everything. Example. DUNGEON MASTER: “You see a strange looking mosaic on the floor. It appears that many of the tiles are not in the correct place. The door on the other side is firmly shut and has no handle!” PLAYER ONE:”I bet we have to solve the puzzle to open the door. OK Tom, your Wizard has a seventeen Intelligence, you solve the puzzle.” PLAYER TWO: “What Do I need to roll to solve the puzzle?” “The difficulty is a sixteen for this one.”

Of course the fun for all concerned is in the players actually solving the puzzle themselves, but what if they just can not solve it. What if they do not have the IQ that their characters have and make tough work of something that in theory their characters should have been able to solve easily. As a Dungeon Master where do you go at this point? Should you have created a puzzle or a situation on par with what the characters should be able to deal with, or should you have created it on par with what you believe your players could deal with?

Firstly I want to say that peoples opinions on this are going to vary, and there is no finite correct answer to this one. However there are several different options that you can use to deal with these situations, and the goal is to detail some of them and hopefully help you find the solution you feel happiest with.

My personal opinion (and that is all it is, so don’t get your Dungeon Master panties in a wad if you disagree) is we are playing a game, first and foremost. That implies that the PLAYERS are playing the game and not the characters. With this in mind my goal is always to “test” the players. I test their Role Playing skills as well as their mental talents with various situations, encounters and problems. I hate it when a player asks to use an ability roll to solve something that should be resolved through Role Playing and story telling. Sometimes however I over estimate my players and they get stumped. Now there is nothing worse than a game session where players just sit around and struggle to solve a problem. They get frustrated and bored, and often forget that while they detest the idea of toiling over a puzzle for thirty minutes, the situation their characters are in, feels very different to the character and they would be more motivated. Sooner or later this will happen to you and you will be faced with a dilemma. My usual approach to these situations is as follows.

Firstly when I create a puzzle or problem, I always make sure there is an out. It may not be an attractive one, but there always is one. For Example. I created a scenario during the Children of Drakhar campaign I ran on Howreroll. My party had a wealth of magical items at their finger tips, but had to solve a puzzle to get their greedy little hands on them. There was a one way portal out of the chamber, so they could leave at anytime. Now of course they did not want to leave, but they were able too. The key point here is they had an out. If I had made it to where they could not leave without solving the puzzle, I basically presented them with a solve it or die problem. You may be OK with that, but I never like to present players with no win situations. Alternatively you can present those kind of problems as a side room or encounter. Offer a reward if they solve it, but no detriment if they do not. Another option is to set an amount of experience points for the problem, and allow them to burn some of that EXP for hints. The hints get progressively stronger as the EXP goes down. Finally you CAN always allow them to roll against a Statistic, but inform them that there is no Experience point reward for solving it that way.Whichever method you use, you can still test the player first, and allow them to fall back on the characters ability scores as a last resort.

When it comes to social situations and the Role Playing of Charisma, it can be a bit more tricky. Some situations can be resolved by a dice roll such as a Diplomacy or Intimidation skill check, but even then its a ROLE PLAYING GAME PEOPLE so Role Play the situation! In the situations I like to let the Role Play happen first and then based on how well that went I apply my own modifiers. In 3.5 I may give a plus or minus to the skill roll based on how well they Role Played the interaction. In 5e I may give advantage or disadvantage. You still run into the issue of a player with poor social skills failing where his character with high Charisma should not have, but it is still a game so you have to allow the players to play and their performance in the game yields the consequences for their character. Another option, is to consider the characters Charisma ability score during the interaction, and be more lenient to a player who has a character with high Charisma. In other words, if they are talking to a Non Player Character, and what they said could be taken in more than one way, always let him take it the right way instead of the wrong way. Or visa versa if they have a low Charisma Score. This way the player still controls the interaction, but his characters ability scores still come into play.

I will wrap this up by repeating that I know this is a topic for contention, and is it right to test the player or the character? Well I think it is a choice of personal preference. I prefer to test the Player, for the reasons I stated above. This being said, I will not condemn  anyone that prefers the other route. What I do know from my decades running games, is that testing the players ALWAYS yields a much better Role Playing experience and a better story……………….

 

 

 

 

 

How to Deal with Broken spells

howtodeal.png

If you have been running Dungeons and Dragons for any real length of time, I am sure you have encountered situations where a certain player seems to continually use or abuse a spell to either circumnavigate much of your efforts, or to somehow manipulate or alter the game play in such a way that it is having a negative impact on the game. This topic is going to help you address this issue, and give you several options and suggestions in how to combat broken spells, or how to prevent spells being abused.

Firstly lets look at what we are talking about when we say “broken spells”. These are spells that for one reason or another are overly powerful, or allow a player to somehow “cheat” the game. There are many spells that I consider broken in one way or another. This can be either due to their effects at their assigned spell level, the fact that they offer no saving throw, the overly long duration, the wording of the spell text and many more reasons.

One example of this in 3.5 Edition would be:

Rope Trick

Transmutation

Level: Sor/Wiz 2
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: One touched piece of rope from 5 ft. to 30 ft. long
Duration: 1 hour/level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

When this spell is cast upon a piece of rope from 5 to 30 feet long, one end of the rope rises into the air until the whole rope hangs perpendicular to the ground, as if affixed at the upper end. The upper end is, in fact, fastened to an extradimensional space that is outside the multiverse of extradimensional spaces (“planes”). Creatures in the extradimensional space are hidden, beyond the reach of spells (including divinations), unless those spells work across planes. The space holds as many as eight creatures (of any size). Creatures in the space can pull the rope up into the space, making the rope “disappear.” In that case, the rope counts as one of the eight creatures that can fit in the space. The rope can support up to 16,000 pounds. A weight greater than that can pull the rope free.

Spells cannot be cast across the extradimensional interface, nor can area effects cross it. Those in the extradimensional space can see out of it as if a 3-foot by 5-foot window were centered on the rope. The window is present on the Material Plane, but it’s invisible, and even creatures that can see the window can’t see through it. Anything inside the extradimensional space drops out when the spell ends. The rope can be climbed by only one person at a time. The rope trick spell enables climbers to reach a normal place if they do not climb all the way to the extradimensional space.

Note: It is hazardous to create an extradimensional space within an existing extradimensional space or to take an extradimensional space into an existing one.

Material Component

Powdered corn extract and a twisted loop of parchment.

Why is this potentially Broken? well lets examine it for a moment.

Firstly it is a level 2 spell, which means players have access to it very early on. Secondly it allows up to eight creatures (or characters) to be almost untouchable. You can not locate people in a rope trick, short of a Discern location or gate spell, and by the time the players reach level eight, they have eight hours of totally safe sleep, and being all but impervious to random encounters, or being found. They can use it in a dungeon to continually rest between encounters and at such a low level this is just too powerful. It can also be abused in many other ways but you get the point.

An example in 5e would be Contagion.

This is a 5th-level spell that allows you to stun-lock any target (including a legendary monster) for three rounds minimum if you manage to hit it with a touch attack and do at least a point of damage each round. in contrast, power word: stun is an 8th-level spell that stuns a target and gives them a chance to save every round.

Now I am not going to go into a list of all the spells that I think are broken or why here (its for you to decide what you think are broken in your game), but I will focus on how to deal with them.

There are several approaches for this. The first one is to simply remove them from your game or self Nerf them. If you choose this option you should consult your players BEFORE play and explain to them what you have done and why. Never do this without informing them and explaining your reasoning (unless you want to create malcontent within your players). If you decide to Nerf a spell be sure to have the altered spell description on hand for the players so that they know exactly how you changed the spell and why. Weather it be a level increase, a duration reduction or the addition of a chance to save against the effects etc. Should you realize that a spell is broken or is being abused DURING game play, you should discuss it with your players at the end of the session and explain why you see a problem. Then you can alter it for the next session but will be doing so with the players understanding and awareness.

The second method is to restrict the spell from play or limit its availability. In other words, do not make it a spell that is easily acquired by a wizard, or make it a spell that a deity simply will not grant a player the ability to cast, unless under necessary circumstances. Alternatively if you use spell components, change the component or add one that is difficult to acquire and is expended upon casting. This method does not out right rob the players of the spell but limits its use.

The third method is what I call the “Bad DM method”. This is where a Dungeon Master tries to punish the players for using the spell. For example. Having the players attacked each time while in the extradimensional rope trick space, by extradimensional creatures.  While this could happen (once in a blue moon), its unlikely, and doing it will piss the players off and they will see it as a “dick move” on your part. Or lets say they are using Wind Walk to essentially get free and safe long distance travel, constantly bypassing content and are abusing the crap out of it. You could have them attacked by a very limited and rare type of monster that can actually attack gaseous form AND fly, AND keep up with it. Once again they will call BS and see it as you being a dick. And to be honest if you take this approach, you are!

In my experience (other than the third option) how you deal with it is less important than how you explain your alterations or restrictions to your players. Decent players will understand how and why you may feel that a certain spell needs to be changed, or have its effects limited. Some spells may be fine in one campaign, but not in another. You should also do this PRIOR to character creation, as some people may decide NOT to play a certain class if they are aware you are altering some of the spell choices or making changes to them.

My personal preference is to limit or Nerf a spell rather than remove it from the game. All of the spells can be handled in such a way that you can keep the general feel and effect of the spell, and yet give it some alterations to make it more balanced.

Some spells are not broken as such, but can be used in abusive ways. One example of this would be using a low level spell to render an adversary helpless so that you can perform a Coup de Grace. In these cases I will often point out to players that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. In other words If we are going to allow this to happen in game, it can happen TOO you as well as be performed by you.

Once again it is important to remember that it is not all about you. You need to be sure that your players understand and are on board with any changes you make. Remembering that you are there to serve the players and not the other way around is important here, but also remember that serving them does not mean giving them everything they want. Delivering them a great story and a fun game is your responsibility as a Dungeon Master, and sometimes to do that you have to make some changes for the good of the game…………..

 

 

Are they rules or guidelines?

Dnd_v3_5_rulesbooks

One of the many questions I get asked frequently is “What edition of D and D do you prefer, and what rules set do you like the most?” In truth I do not have a favorite edition, although most of my best memories came from AD&D and 2nd edition.

To answer this question, the first thing I want to point out and remind every Dungeon Master and player alike is that while the Dungeon Masters guide and Players handbook are full of “rules”, they shouldn’t be taken as being set in stone, or adhered too regardless of circumstance. One of the first things a Dungeon Master needs to understand is when to break or modify any rule he or she is presented with in one of the daunting manuals that our beloved game presents us with. I don’t know any “good” DM that has not converted, created their own Home brew variants or darn right ignored many of the “rules” that come with each and every edition. One of the things I am quoted as saying is “these are not a set of rules, more a set of game mechanics that you use to tell the story you want to tell and play the game you want to play“. I learned long ago that the enjoyment of playing for both DM and players alike is derived by a good flowing game and a great story, and not by arguing over rule semantics. In fact just about all of my bad gaming memories are a result of players stressing over or arguing about rules.

I tend to take certain types of mechanics as I find them, such as spell durations, weapon damage etc etc but tend to attack and modify any rule that I feel either offers a high chance of being abused, or feels just plain wrong. Due to this, which edition I tend to run or choose is dependent on the story I want to tell in my campaign.  I make my choices based on a few factors.

  1. Are my players familiar with it or are they new players?
  2. What style of campaign is it? (fast paced action, intrigue, political etc).
  3. Which editions rules set do I need to modify the least to fit the campaign story?
  4. Do I own the materials I need or will I need to purchase something new?

For example. Currently on Howreroll we are playing 3.5ed Home Brewed. When we started the players were all fairly new to D and D so I wanted a system that was fairly easy to learn quickly, and get to grips with, so that rules out AD&D and 2nd edition in my mind (#THAC0). I wanted to run an intriguing and tension rich campaign and not a hack and slash, so while 5th would be easier for them to pick up, I would have been modifying the rules a fair bit, especially the healing and rest mechanics, so I passed on 5th. 4th edition was just not well received by me (not getting into the reasons whys here) so that left 3rd or 3.5 edition. Now without starting the debate of well you could still run that type of game with 5th etc etc, and I agree I could, I didn’t want too as 3.5 was easier for me to modify for my campaign.

I have so many house rules or home brew variants for each edition its scary, and I have some that I alter based on the campaign world or story. I take the well written manuals that come with each edition and read them cover to cover, and then I tend to ponder individual rules and ask myself how I see that playing out in my campaigns. I look at aspects such as the magic system and decide if it fits and if not, I justify to myself, why not?

One campaign I ran was set in a world where magic was rare and difficult to obtain and to use. In this campaign I was stringent on material components being used for every spell cast, and I imposed a rule that linked spell casting directly to constitution, to demonstrate the drain on the casters physical state. Each time a spell was cast your constitution was drained a number of points equal to half the spell level rounded up. A constitution point was regained per hour naturally or for every fifteen minutes of meditation. This lead to a totally different use of magic in the campaign by the players and the NPCs, and a very healthy respect for spell use and timing. I also modified several of the spells to better fit this type of system.

To me any “rule” has always been nothing more than a game mechanic to use or modify as you see fit.

The simple answer to the originally posed question is “I have no favorite edition and to me there are no rules, only guidelines.