Describing your actions in Role Playing Games.


In any Role Playing game, certain mechanical aspects typically take care of weather or not an action is successful. Rolling a dice to determine if you “hit” your opponent, and then again too see how much damage you inflict is a very common thing. Making a dice roll to determine if your character spots a hidden object, or if he can sneak up on an enemy are also common rolled for elements. This being said, just simply saying, “Ok yes you hit and you did eleven hit points of damage, or yep, you successfully sneak up on the Orc guard“, are pretty shallow and quiet frankly boring ways to describe the outcomes of those actions. I briefly touched on this subject in another post, but in this article I want to go into more depth about how and why you should learn to become proficient at describing your characters actions, both in and out of combat.

Ever wonder why sometimes in a movie or television adaptation of a book, the characters seem to speak way more than they did in the novel? the reason for this is primarily due to a difference in the type of media. In a book, an author can describe what a character is thinking, on screen, the characters actions must be visual or spoken. Otherwise the audience would not be aware of the inward thoughts of a particular character. it is much the same in a Role Playing Game. You have to describe your characters thoughts and actions if they are to be perceived by others at the table, or in some cases (such as it is on my show Howreroll) the audience.

I consider it a skill for both player and DM to be able to describe actions during a game, and one that can be improved and developed over time. I am going to break this down into two sections. First I will discuss describing actions in combat and in physical situations, and then I will talk about describing more subtle actions.

In Combat, the first thing to remember is that despite things being done in an orderly turn based fashion in most games, real combat is far from orderly. In Dungeons and Dragons a combat round is six seconds. So what occurs in a round is what a particular character does during that six second exposure of time. In reality everything is happening at once, with fractions of a second separating the individual movements between the combatants. In combat you should put effort in to describing the entire action of your character or NPC, and offer the ability for others to play off of those descriptions. Instead of simply saying “I attack the ogre with my sword” be more descriptive. “I charge forward with my weapon raised, and swing my sword at the Ogres left leg. As I do so I let out a loud war cry, to distract the Ogres attention away from the cleric!” This is a far more entertaining and visual description of the action, and allows the DM to play of off that description. He may say something like “Hearing your War Cry the Ogre spins around to face you and prepares to meet your assault, his focus is now on you and not the cleric”. Then you would roll to hit, and if successful you would roll for damage. Based on the amount of damage done the DM can now describe the outcome. As a DM do not just say “you hit for eight hit points of damage“. Instead it should be something more along the lines of “Your sword finds its mark, and opens up a deep gash in the Ogres left thigh, blood begins to flow from the wound as the Ogre winces in pain“. If it was a particularly high amount of damage (in relation to the Ogres hit points) the DM can go on further and say something like “The Ogre staggers backwards a few steps and glances down at the blood pouring down his leg, you notice a look of panic begin to form on his brutish face“. In a situation like this I may also imply some kind of disadvantage to the Ogre for his next action which help to reward the player for their descriptive efforts. Some DM’s like to allow the player to describe the outcome and damage of the hit itself, I tend to lean away from that for reasons I describe in this post here, although I am sometimes happy for them to describe their killing blow. This being said I do want them to be descriptive in the attempt. In short, you describe to me what you character is attempting to do, and after the dice are rolled, I will describe to you the outcome.

It can be helpful to wrote down a list of descriptive combat words. Slash, chop, hack, cleave, thrust, lunge, swing wildly etc are good flavor adding words to a description. Also think about visualizing the attack itself, and describe it as you see it in your minds eye. Being mindful of the type of weapon you use will also help determine the description. A mace will often find its attack description including words like bash, smash or crack instead of lunge, thrust or stab. Try to describe the body location your character is trying to hit. In some cases you may be attempting to make a “called shot” in others it may just be what body part you are swinging for. The DM can then work with that when he describes the outcome of the blow, based on how much actual damage is done. If a player says something like “I sidestep and swing my axe overhead, trying to bring it down and bury it in the goblins skull“, I can look at the damage and then describe the outcome. If the damage is very low, I may say “Your axe blow hurtles down towards the Goblins skull. At the last second, he leans back and instead of cleaving his head in two, your axe blade puts a cut in his cheek and continues down to open up a small wound in his chest“. On the other hand if the damage was high, I may say “The blow strikes the Goblins skull cutting a deep gash in his head, the blade glances down from his round head and digs deep into his shoulder, as he cries out in agony!” Finally if the blow was a killing blow, I may tell the player “your blow kills the goblin, describe how it happens“, or say something “your axe reigns down on the Goblin, its heavy blade hits the dead center of his skull, and his head spits open as easily as if you were splitting a log. The weight of the axe continues to drive the blade deep into the goblins chest, as a shower of blood covers you and the floor! As you remove your axe, the Goblins corpse falls lifeless to the ground.” Of course you do not have to be as graphic as I was in the above examples, but you get the idea. Another point it to try to string your attacks together if you have multiple attacks. Instead of saying “I attack the Troll three times with my sword“, it would be far better to say “I lunge forward, and thrust my sword at the trolls belly, then real back and slash at his right side, and finally make a mighty overhead swing aiming to smash his collar bone!” A monk for example has a great deal open to him from a descriptive stand point. “I throw a left jab at the Orcs face, and follow it up with a strong right cross aimed at his jaw. I then spin around and try to land a back kick to the Orcs exposed stomach“! As I mentioned above, its a good idea to write down some key phrases and words that apply like, Jab, cross, uppercut, left and right hook, front kick, round kick, side kick, back kick, knee strike, elbow strike spinning kick etc etc. In the spur of the moment it will help you put your descriptions together, especially if you visualize it.

Bringing descriptive use of terrain or geographical features into play is also something I encourage. A good DM should take care to create a a living battlefield for each encounter, be it a tavern or a cavern. Allowing for the possibility of improvised weapons or elevation changes. Also providing obstacles or cover. These can not only help bring a battle to life and make it more fun and interesting, but allow for more description. “I leap up on the table, and attempt to kick the brute in the face!” “When I see the Hobgoblin raise up his crossbow, I take of running and dive behind the large pile of rocks to the left to get behind cover“. These are examples of how terrain can be useful in bringing the combat to life and providing assets for description. In general your goal in Combat is to use description to bring the encounter to life, allowing everyone concerned to imagine what is happening and as such adding to the gaming experience.

Now lets take a look at being descriptive with things other than combat. You can describe your characters actions to help imply, emotional state, intent, reaction, interaction etc. For example instead of just saying “I walk into the bar and find a seat“, you could elaborate a little and say something like “I walk into the tavern, I sniff the air to see if there is a chance of a good hot meal and then glance around looking for an open table or a seat at the bar“. Now at this point, (and before I go any further) I want to mention a style of play called Narrative play. This is where players are encouraged to go into GREAT detail about everything they do. In this form of play the above example would have been more like the following. “I cautiously swing open the old and heavy wooden tavern door, as I do so I inhale the welcome smells of roasted chicken, pipe weed and strong ale. I allow my eyes to wander around the tavern tap room, as I take stock of all the patrons that are currently enjoying the delights that the tavern has to offer. Spying an empty table, I cautiously move towards it, taking great care not to bump into any of the existing patrons. I pull out a chair and slump down into it wearily. My arms rest heavy on the table as I spend a few moments to relish the much needed rest. my mind wanders to recall the hardships of the three day journey I have just endured“. Some people enjoy this type of play, I personally like description, but prefer it be limited to some degree so that it does not overly slow down game play. If you do not want your character to speak, you can also use a description to provide his emotional state or response. An example of this would be “I frown and glare at the nobleman disapprovingly, but I bite my tongue and say nothing“. Alternatively you could say something like “You see me lean against the wall and frown and glare at the Nobleman“! These are both ways to let the rest of the people involved in the game know that while your character has not spoken, he is clearly not happy. There are many instances where being a little descriptive can add to the flavor and immersion of the game. here are a few more non specific examples. “I crouch low and quietly try to sneak over to the window. I carefully try to peep inside, while keeping as much of myself  hidden as possible“. “I climb up on my horse as quickly as possible, and with a swift kick I spur my horse onward to chase the bandits“. “I snatch the coins from the counter with a scowl, and thrust them into my belt pouch, a silver piece hits the floor, but I don’t bother to pick it up and instead I storm out the store”! Just adding a few key words into the description of an action can really help bring the scene to life, and just as importantly it can allow a player to participate even when his character has nothing to say, or does not want to speak.

Casting a spell is another good moment when description can add something to the game. “I cast feather fall” could be replaced with something way more fun and descriptive like “I circle my arms once and emulate the flapping of a birds wings as I say Avarian Tarda Cadere, and you see small spectral feathers surround me as I fall from the cliff and my decent slows down considerably allowing me to land safe and unharmed on the ground“. The fun that can be had with spell description is never ending, and I enjoy listening to the variety of ways different players may describe the casting of the same spell.

Being descriptive IS work, and for some it can take time before it becomes second nature. The work is definitely worth while though, and you can write down words to help you as I suggested earlier. Adding description to your game play is something both players and DM’s should take the time to work on. It may not happen over night, but over time it will elevate your game sessions.

Good Luck and happy Gaming!

“Gorebad takes a deep breath and sits back in his chair. He really wishes he was a better writer, but he feels like he managed to make his point. He stretches his arms above his head and stretches his lower back, as it has become somewhat stiff from his poor posture while typing. He then hits the save and Publish button as another blog post is made public”.


The Loner/outsider character. Why and why not.


As a DM of over 35 years, the one character personality type I see more often than any other is the moody loner or outsider. On face value, it is easy to see the appeal of playing a character like this. We have all seen those mysterious loner characters on Television and Film, (like The man with no name in the spaghetti westerns or Wolverine in X men) and they always seem so alluring. This being said they are also probably the character types that I see more commonly fail than any other. I am going to delve into this type of character personality, and explain why it is not necessarily the fun character people think it will be, and how to play it well IF you do decide to go down the road of the introverted loner.

So what do I mean by Loner or outsider character? well I refer to the character that while being in a group, tends to still try to keep themselves to themselves to some degree. They often choose to sit alone, or keep secrets from their other party members. They choose not to trust the rest of the party, and do not open up about their past or back story. Their are several potential issues with playing characters with this kind of personality.

  • You are playing an anti social character in a social game.

This can cause issues in a variety of ways. As a player you will often be excluding yourself from good Role Playing opportunities. For example, if you decide that instead of talking to the NPC you sit alone in the corner and let the rest of the group handle the conversation, you will be creating dead game time for yourself. You may be fine with this initially, hell it may even be fun. However time and time again I have seen these characters get retired early when the initial novelty wares off. It causes difficulties for the rest of the group too. The other players will want to try to include you, but if you keep shrugging of their attempts, sooner or later the other players will stop trying, and then the player of the loner character ends up feeling left out or literally an outsider in the group. The whole point of Role Playing Games is to be involved in a social activity, and have fun. If you create a character that is adverse to this idea, then do not be surprised when you spend much of the time at the gaming table sitting in silence.

  • Your characters secrets and backstory won’t mean much if they are never revealed.

It may seem fun to have deep secrets about your character. Things that you alone know and the other characters are unaware of. Well the problem with that is that if no one is aware of it, it doesn’t mean much. Unless you either choose to clue in the rest of the characters (so they can enjoy it), or at the very least work with the DM to bring your back story into the forefront and allow it to be explored during the campaign its worthless. The day you get killed by a Storm Giant and then say ” Oh man, my character was actually a prince from a foreign land, trying to hide and flee from his uncle who wanted him dead, so he could take the throne, and one day he would return and slay his evil uncle and become king”. You can expect little more than a few shoulder shrugs from the rest of the players.

  • Being an outsider often leads to distention.

The more time your character is alone and the more secretive it is, the less the other characters have a reason to trust you. Keeping yourself to yourself and keeping secrets will eventually lead to distrust. At this point you and the rest of the characters may find yourselves at awkward impasses at best or conflict at worst. Often this happens regardless of the actual honesty or trustworthiness of the character in question. The bottom line is that all that secretiveness leads to distrust. Maybe you want to play a character that is distrusted by the rest of the group. If so that is fine, but as always you reap the consequences of your choices as a player. What amazes me the most is when the loner player then wants to blame the rest of the group for not including them. Remember, if you choose this path it is your responsibility to find ways to be included. You can only expect the rest of the gaming table to try so hard before losing the desire to bother.

  • You can be making your Dungeon Masters life difficult.

If you decide to play a character like this, it is imperative that your DM is aware of your intent. It may be far more difficult for him to provide you motivations, and hooks if he is not aware of your characters personality. Remember the players and the DM should be working together to create a story, not be adversarial to each other.


OK so I have given you some reasons why you may not want to play a character like this. I also said above that I was also going to tell you how to play it well IF you still decided you wanted to play a character with this personality type, so here goes.


The first thing is to COMMUNICATE as a player to the DM and the rest of the group. While your character may be a loner, it does not mean you should be. Make sure the other players know that your character is acting this way for a reason, even if you do not want to tell them that reason yet. Yes I said YET because as we said above, its useless to have secrets if they are not ever revealed at some point during the game. Talk with the DM and discuss your backstory, and work with him to give it some relevancy in the campaign. make no mistake it is YOUR responsibility to work with the DM with your character, not his responsibility to drag it out of you. Be proactive in talking to the DM, he is not a mind reader and as you are the one who wants some special concessions or situations injected into the campaign, so it is on you to take the lead to help him make it happen.

Even if your character says nothing, you can still Role Play his actions. For example. A group of adventurers are standing outside of a castle, talking to the captain of the guards about a recent increase in theft of local cattle. One of the characters is hanging back, standing several feet away from the conversation and for whatever reason, is avoiding the Captain of the guards. Instead of just saying, “I am not going over to the guard captain and staying back”, and then allowing ten of fifteen minutes of Role Play to happen without them being involved, you can Role Play your actions. “I seem noticeably anxious and a little nervous when I see the guard captain, so I loiter back. You see me lean against the wall with one foot pressed against it, and I begin to fidget awkwardly with a piece or string that I pull from my pocket. DM I would like to try to eavesdrop the conversation if possible from here”. As the Role Play continues have your character seemingly react to pieces of information that he over hears, “Hearing the mention of a local thief, My head lifts up and for a second I turn in the groups direction, before quickly averting my gaze once more”, or have him kick a rock with his foot. In short stay involved with the Role Play. One thing that is typically NOT conducive is to try to go off and do things on your own. More often and not you will just be bogging down the game and forcing the DM to divide valuable game time between you and the rest of the party. While you are being the loner, CHOOSE not to do things that will hamper of slow down game play, especially unnecessarily.

Another piece of advise is to take the openings given to you to expand your story. If you bother to Role Play out your actions, when a fellow player bounces of your description allow it to go somewhere. Do not just shut them down. In the above example, if a fellow character asks you “Hey you seemed really nervous to be near the Captain of the Guards, whats the deal”? Do not just say, “oh I wasn’t you were mistaken”. Let it go somewhere. That is one of the ways that great Role Play moments happen. Instead you could tell a brief story about how you have had a run in with him in the past, or how you and he grew up together and he bullied you. you could even use that moment to open up a little to another character, and let a piece of your back story come to the forefront. maybe you are wanted in another city and just want to keep a low profile. Whatever the reason, allow it to be part of the game, and not just some unspoken thing.

This brings me to make a point and one I will address in depth in another blog topic. Always describe your actions. As a long time DM I see this as a mark of a good Role Playing Gamer. Describing your characters physical actions adds so much to the game. From your intent and description of each attack, to how you plan on intimidating the door guard. As a loner you are often not going to speak up or volunteer information. However in real life, many a word goes unspoken, and your actions can tell the tale that your words do not. Describe your characters actions, and moods etc, if your character is not saying anything, instead describe his facial expressions, mannerisms and actions. “I snatch the chair out from under the table and sit down with a slump, exhaling loudly and folding my arms across my chest”, is a great way to let the other players know your character is upset about something without saying a word. Such actions will probably prompt a reaction from the other players and lead to great Role Playing opportunities. You can also use these type of descriptive actions to help hint at back story elements, or prompt other players to ask questions however, be realistic in your expectations of other characters. If you have spent much of the time not communicating, or have not given the party a reason to trust you, do not expect them to suddenly begin to do so when it suits you. Understand the other characters personalities and motivations and use that knowledge to better develop your character with reasonable actions. Here is an example. If your character once was a rich nobles daughter, who was disowned for falling in love with a stable boy, you may think that by saying “As I pass by the stables, you see me pause and look inside longingly. You see a single tear run down my cheek”. Is a great way to invite the other characters to stop and say something like “Oh whatever is the matter Esmeralda”? Well if the other characters are a grumpy Dwarf, a self serving rogue and a brutish barbarian, that is not a realistic expectation. Why WOULD they care, or even notice? However a compassionate bard, or a fellow female character, may be more likely to pick up on it and react. Be sure that the other characters can be realistically expected to pick up what you put down. Otherwise you may just get met with disappointment or discouraged when they do not react when you want them too.

Above all else you need to find ways to INCLUDE the rest of your party in your story, even while being a loner. That way everyone gets to be part of the fun, and I can promise you it will be a far more rewarding feeling. Remember that while you may have chosen to play a character that is a loner, you do not have to be a loner as a player, and you can still be very involved in the game. Everything you do as a player is a choice. If you choose to create scenarios for yourself that exclude you from the action or Role Play, that is on you. The more you are included, the more fun you will have. It can be a challenge to play a loner or outsider and it is not easy to do it well. more often than not, most fail. However I have seen a rare handful of amazing loner characters grace my table, and when done well they can be rewarding. More often however, this is not the case.

Happy gaming…….


Common Dungeon Master Mistakes.


So 35 years of Game Mastering has taught me many things. The most prominent lessons learned over that time (and one that definitely has spanned that entire time frame) are all the mistakes I have made as I honed my craft. Many conversations with other Game Masters has enlightened me to the fact that many (if not all) of us have made many of the same common mistakes, and that almost all of us did not know any better when we first began. Now I know that there are other posts or blogs out there, discussing this, but I wanted to chime in and give my 2 cents on the topic, mostly because I get asked to give advice regarding many of these points frequently. These are not in any particular order, but these are the most common mistakes I see among Game Masters and many of them I have made myself in the past.

Not knowing the game mechanics well enough.

You do not need to know every mechanic (rule), but you should know them well enough to run a basic game. You can “wing” a lot of things at the table (especially if you are experienced) but if you do not know the basic game play mechanics you are going to have a clunky awkward game that will not be enjoyable for the players. Also, typically the players look to you (the Dungeon Master) to know these things and be able to answer their questions. Before and after the game you have your manuals to reference,  but during the game session you want to limit the need to refer to these as much as possible to avoid slowing down the game session, and breaking immersion.


Over (or under) preparing.

A very common mistake is made in the amount or preparation a DM does, prior to his game session. It is necessary to prepare your session in advance, so that you are ready to handle whatever the players throw at you, as well as run a smooth and effective game. I have played with many DMs who come to the table ill prepared and just think they can improvise the entire session. While a good and very experienced DM can do this, most will fail and deliver a sub par game. On the flip side over preparing can also have a detriment. If you spend too much effort in trying to plan every little detail, there are some negatives to think about. Firstly players will be players, and much of what you prepare may be completely ignored or circumnavigated by them during play. The more work you put into creating something, the more likely you are to want to force your players to interact with it. While on occasion (where crucial plot lines exist) this may be necessary, a good DM doesn’t force his players to routinely do anything they do not wish to do. Finding a good balance is the key. Another negative is increased possibility of burning out as a DM. If your prep takes up to much of your free time, you run the risk of damaging the fun of running the game for yourself.

I will say that in regards to over preparing, if you are the kind of DM that likes to have EVERY little thing detailed, that’s fine. Just be willing to accept that much of your work may never see the light of day at the gaming table, and do not try to force it upon your players.


Not balance your time fairly between your players.

It is common at a gaming table, to have one or more players who take the lead. It is easy to interact with these players, as they are providing you with the most stimuli as a DM. This being said, it is important to engage everyone around the table, and allow them equal time as a player. If the party splits, many DMs focus on those that they feel are “doing the adventure”, and those that seem to be doing something not crucial to the plot can get pushed aside. As a DM you should break up your attentions and distribute them among the players in a fair way. A shy player will not come out of their shell if they are not given an opportunity to do so, and a good player will lose interest if she sits to long with no interaction.

Not knowing when to say yes and no.

So their is a general contention as DMs we are encouraged to say YES to our players. I agree with this (for the most part) but of course their are times when saying NO is necessary. As I mentioned before in a previous post, as a general rule, if a player wants to do something I have three points of criteria I consider.

  1. If I say yes will it alter the adventure in a negative way?
  2. If I say yes will the action give the player an unfair advantage?
  3. If I say yes will it have significant consequences later?

As long as I can answer no to these three criteria, I generally will answer YES to the player. I have played with some players that want to do outlandish or broken things from time to time, or perform actions that are just plain impossible. Even then I usually do not say “NO you can’t do that”, but instead describe what happens when they try. Mostly when you find yourself needing to say NO, it should be in regards to the game mechanics and not the actions of a character. Describing how something fails, is different than telling a player they can not try something in the first place. For example. If a player wants his low strength wizard to try and physically carry a five ton gold statue out of a dungeon, instead of saying NO you can’t do that, say “Ok you try in vain to lift the colossal statue, clearly it is beyond the ability of any man to lift”.


forgetting you are there to serve the players.

Some DMs seem to think that the players are their audience. This is not the case. They are part of the storytelling team around the table, and it is the job of the DM to facilitate that story. Good communication with your players outside of the game session is important to ensure everyone is having fun at the table. No matter what adventure you have planned, and no matter how great you think it is, if the subject matter is not something your players will enjoy, then you are missing your mark as the DM. I ask my players things like “What did you like about the last adventure?” or “Was their any part of the last campaign you did not enjoy?” Do not let your desire to tell a specific story, overstep the desires of your players.


Failure to know your player base.

I run several different types of games and use several different styles to run games, depending on who is at my gaming table. Some players love completely open world campaigns, others like focused more linear adventures. Some like a balance between the too. It is important to know what your players want, and what is reasonable to expect from them. It is pointless trying to run a structured linear style adventure if your players want something totally sandbox. This does not mean you can not try, but you are going to have to be ready to improvise and go out of the lines a lot. I know most DM’s have a preference to how they run their games (as do I). Some will even say derogatory things about a style that differs from their preference. I say the correct method is the method that suits both the DM AND the players at the table. There is no right or wrong as long as all agree to it.

It is also important to know the experience level of your players, and not present them with adventures that are either too basic or too advanced for them. Ensuring the adventure is inline with their play level is important if all are to have the most fun at the table.

Failure to be consistent.

One thing that almost all players universally dislike is a DM who changes his rulings session to session and lacks consistency. The players need to trust the DM, so it is important that they learn what to expect from you. If you are inconsistent, it makes it hard for them to trust, and as such will make your life much harder.


Allowing the rules to stifle creativity.

As I have said many times, the “rules” of a role playing game should be referred to as mechanics and not rules. Rule implies it is to be obeyed and followed, where as in role playing games they are their to help with the story and game play and provide a mechanics system to determine outcome and set perimeters. never be afraid to change a rule, BUT always make sure your players know about it, and agree with it. If a rule in anyway spoils the fun for those at the table, change it or throw it out.


Playing Favorites.

This one is simple. DO NOT PLAY FAVORITES! as a DM you are expected to be impartial, and not play favorites. It does not matter if one of the players is your best friend, brother, child or significant other, you must remain fair and impartial to all players at your table. many a gaming group has broken apart due to a DM playing favorites!


Trying to win the game.

This seems like it should be a no brainier, but with all the forums and groups I am active with I still see DMs bragging about defeating or killing their players. As a DM you can kill your players characters at any moment, so what accomplishment is their in doing so? How you win the game as a DM is having your players “LOVE” playing with you. Your job is not and never has been to defeat your player base.


This is by no means a concise list of mistakes, it is however a start and something a new DM or GM could do well to understand prior to running their game sessions. Happy Gaming.





Creating Better NPC’s


So often on the show I Dungeon Master for (Howreroll), People comment on the Non Player Characters or NPC’s that I create and introduce. I get asked questions about why they feel so “Real” or what is my process for making great NPC’s. Well this article is going to cover just that.

So first lets take a look at the potential role of an NPC. while the term means NON player character, it is important to understand that it is STILL a character, but one that is going to be played by the Dungeon Master, rather than a player. The NPC may have a variety of jobs, from being a quest giver, a protagonist, an allies or something else. We must first realize the importance of the role and the level of interaction the NPC is going to be expected to achieve, as this will define the level of depth that is required in creating him.

If the NPC is a simple distraction, designed to be a one of and short encounter, then you may not need as much depth and background for him than one that is going to be a reoccurring character. That being said, one thing I have learned over decades of play is that just because you envision your NPC as being nothing more than a passing encounter, it does not mean you players will. Due to this I tend to always create a level of depth with each and every NPC I create, because I just do not know how the players are going to choose to interact with him.

So where do we begin.

Well firstly I begin much like anyone would, creating a Player Character. I decide on Race, sex, character class (if they have one) or give them a job or roll in society if it is applicable. This all goes without saying, but then I sit down and start to make notes. I decide what I want this NPC to be to the Player Characters. And how I expect him to interact. I also determine the desired tone of the encounter, and how I expect him to be perceived. You will notice I used worlds like desired and expect. Well that is because no matter what I (the Dungeon Master) decide, the players may think and act differently than I expect.

At the start of creating my “Wrath of The Fallen” campaign, I had a dilemma on how to bring a group of selfish and dubious characters together. Part of achieving this was to introduce an NPC, that would help facilitate the creation of a bond within the group. I am going to use this NPC as my example herein.

What Role do I want this NPC to fill? Well as I mentioned I need to bring a group of Player Characters together and give them a reason to learn to trust one another (at least to some degree) and begin to form a bond. This being the task my NPC is going to be a facilitator. He is going to introduce the idea of trust to the Players, and provide them an environment to cooperate.

So I begin with a few basic facts.

The character is going to be on a tropical Island. The Players are going to find themselves washed ashore on this island after a ship wreck. I want him to feel native to the area, yet not be a native of this particular island, so I decide he will be from another island not to far away. The island our players will find themselves upon is inhabited by a tribe of Cannibals, but he is not one of them.

In my head I begin by trying to visualize an appearance for my new NPC. I decide as he is from a tropical climate he is to have tanned skin. I choose to go with a Human male for race and sex, and thinking that his life would be one of hunting, fishing and gathering (his role in his tribe), and thus he would probably be fit and athletic. I decide he will be bald, and probably has some kind of tribal markings. Maybe he is an experienced tracker and hunter. Experience suggests he has been performing this role for a while, so I decide he should have a scar or two on his body to suggest this. Maybe the scars were attained from retaliating creatures he had hunted, when he allowed his guard to slip and paid the price. I imagine his tribe are slightly shorter than the typical Human on the mainland so He is going to be about five foot seven (tall for his tribe).

How I have an image of my NPC, I decide upon a name. I shall call him Awadie.

Now what is Awadies story.

Awadie (as we already decided) comes from a near by Island. maybe a few miles away from the island we will be using as a setting for the start of the campaign. On his island Awadie belonged to a small native tribe, that fished as a primary source of food, but also hunted the creatures on the island. Being that it is a smallish island, they only killed a few animals to compliment their seafood diet, and even then probably used every piece of the animal so as not to waste anything. This idea means Awadie has a level of respect for nature. Awadie was experienced but capable so lets say he is thirty three years of age.

Now the Cannibals on our Campaign island are savage and probably had a disregard for nature. They have strip mined many of their natural resources, so began to look for other food sources. This lead to them attacking other tribes on nearby islands, and taking them back to be eaten! Awadie and some of his tribe were victims of one of these raids, so this explains how Awadie will come to be on the island when our Players arrive.

Now I need to explain and develop Awadies current personality and emotional state, as well as his motivations and goals for when the players encounter him.

Obviously Awadie can not have been eaten, so I decide due to a fortuitous situation, Awadie was able to escape his captors. I want Awadie to be fearful of the Cannibals, so I decide before he escaped, he was subjected to the horror of watching friends and family being boiled alive and eaten by his captors.  Awadie was pursued by the Cannibals but being a skilled tracker and hunter, he was able to evade them. Due to the island being small, evading them long term would be a problem, so eventually (as Awadie ran on one occasion from some pursuers),  He dove from a cliff and into rock filled waters bellow. His would be captors assumed he had met his demise. Now Awadie would look for a way to get off the island, but he is terrified of the Cannibals. Not because he is a coward, but because of the horrors he associates with them, and the fact he has been hunted pray for a good while.

With these things being the case, he would clearly be a little skeptical  of strangers and fearful of being discovered by the island natives. I want Awadie to know the island well as he will become kind of a guide for the players so I decide he has been here many months. He has been hiding in a small cave during the day, far from the Cannibals village, and coming out at night to hunt. Once he learned the typical habits of the natives, he may have gotten a little braver and ventured out carefully sometimes during the day on parts of the island far from the tribe. He also may have begun to fashion a boat in order to escape, and maybe combed beaches for anything that may wash up that he could use.

I intend Awadie to provide the players with an opportunity to escape escape the island, but not until they have had a few experiences that bring them together. Awadies boat will work nicely for this but why wouldn’t Awadie have used it? Well Awadie is driven a little mad with fear, paranoia and loneliness over his many months on the island. He has on occasion thought he is hearing voices. In his primitive and simplistic mind, he may associate that with something spiritual. Tie that to the fact that while Awadie wants to escape the island, he really has no safe place to go, and he begins to fashion an idea that maybe the spirits are trying to tell him something, and that he can only hear them on this island. In his odd way of reasoning, he decides (for mental and spiritual reasons) to reside himself to staying on the island.

Now enter the players.

So when they meet Awadie he will be cautious and wary, but at the same time once he sees the players are not a direct threat to him, he may welcome some people who are not the Cannibals. He will understand their desire to get off the island, and while he no longer wishes to escape himself he will be sympathetic of their plight. With this being the case he will aid the players, but with some reservation and skepticism.

He will be suspicious at first, but eager for company he will probably open up to them fairly quickly, out of a desire fro company. kind of like a dog that has been cooped up all day and a stranger comes and lets it out.

Going through this process I use circumstance to help shape Awadies personality, and situation to help dictate his actions.

One thing I always do Is ask myself a lot of WHYs. Why is the NPC suspicious? WHY is he able to survive on an island with Cannibals? WHY is he so fearful of the natives? WHY is he willing to help? I try not to decide on anything without a why to back it up. Doing this not only gives justification but adds depth.

If you say the NPC has a scar down his left cheek, you should ask why he has it and how it got there. Do not take it for granted because the odds are a player will ask about it, and you want to have a good answer. If you decide a particular NPC is going to be a giggling idiot, then WHY does he act that way? What caused him to become so inflicted?

It can be important and helpful to develop your NPC’s relationships. Is he a brother, son, father, grandfather etc. What does he do for fun? What kinds of things irritate him? Does he have a weakness for certain things or types of people? Of course you do not need to come up with every single nuance for your NPC, but some basic persona development is most definitely needed to bring him to life.

Some of my NPC’s that were initially intended to be minor plot characters were so embraced by the players and in some cases the viewers of the show, I found myself creating much richer and fuller back stores for them. It is true that you do not necessarily need to a full blown novel of a  back story for each and every NPC you create, but you should always have reasons that justify there demeanor, actions, behavior, emotions and outlook on life. Allowing yourself to develop that extra Depth is what creates an NPC that your players (and in our case an audience) can relate too. I have said it before, part of selling your world to your players is to maintain one foot in reality so that there is something relate able. It is also true with your NPC’s. If your players have no way to relate to them, then it is less likely they will bother to interact with them in the way you desire.

One final thing to mention is be willing to allow your NPC’s to change. If the players do things that in reality would and should change the NPC’s outlook then allow it to happen. Make him adaptable. It is way more believable than setting your NPC in stone, and refusing to allow him to grow. For a long term NPC, this is essential if you really want your players to embrace him as a believable entity in their lives.

Now go and make some new imaginary friends =)

Happy gaming……..


How to DM for young Players.


Dungeons and Dragons is a game that stretches the imagination. It can provide us with endless hours of fun and adventure, as well as social interaction, lessons about morality, and even help us practice math. Older players take all this in their stride, but for much younger players their is additional value to be found other than just fun. Dungeons and Dragons is tailored for players aged twelve and up, but I often get asked questions like “how can I run games for my younger children, aged six, eight and ten?” Today’s topic is going to address this question, and give some insight into how to run games for those below their teenage years.

Know your players (kids).

First off, you should know what your kids are into. What excites them and what hold their interest. Your game should incorporate elements from these interest. No I am not saying that they should be fighting, Giant transforming aircraft, or adolescent mutated aquatic animals. Or spending thirty minutes shopping for their characters next outfit, but the game should encompass elements of these interests.  Holding the interest of young children is not an easy thing, and especially for extended periods, so ensuring that your game has multiple elements of interest is vital. Remember that you are running a game for them, not you.

Have an age appropriate theme.

Now I am not going to even try to tell you how to raise your kids! but you know what is appropriate for younger children and what is not. Playing a bunch of evil doers may be fun for mature adults but it probably does not offer the best moral learning experience for a bunch of pre-teens. Make sure that you create and design adventures that will have the opportunity to teach your kids good morality and take advantage of the fact that Dungeons and Dragons can be a great learning tool for children. Also there are plenty of adventure options that do not constantly involve killing. You can offer other ways to defeat the villain rather than killing him if you do not want your children enacting that kind of thing, or you can simply keep combat PG rated and dumb down the prescriptive aspect combat and talk only about hit points and damage points as numbers. I STRONGLY advise that you impose an alignment restriction of an all GOOD party when dealing with younger players. It is easier to have them learn morally enhancing lessons if they have no conflict with making the goodly choices.

Short and Sweet.

The average attention span for children aged 1 to 6 is approximately three to five minutes per year of age, and from seven to twelve it is five minutes per year. This means that a six year old’s average attention span is between eighteen and thirty minutes, where as a ten year old is between thirty eight and fifty minutes. If you expect to hold your kids interest for longer than that, it has to be not only fun, but also very engaging. Either way I recommend keeping game sessions short, with a maximum session length of ninety minutes. Leave them wanting more, as apposed to letting them burn out on a session. It is also important to keep every player engaged and discourage the party splitting up if at all possible. If a child sits with nothing to do for five minutes chances are you will lose his interest. Also make sure to take a few short breaks between play to allow the kids to talk and be excited about what they are doing. Get a snack and a drink for them, take a bathroom break and then pick the game back up.

Choices Choices.

Another important part of running games for the younger players it to constantly offer them choices. Not only is this good for helping develop their powers of reasoning, but it keep them engaged. This being said, keep the choices simple and not to complicated. If you want to incorporate some puzzles to solve, that again can be a good learning opportunity, but it should be easy for them to solve. If they sit stumped for more than a couple of minutes you run a high risk of losing their interest. Children typically do not have the patience to work long on a puzzle, and will become frustrated easily if they feel it is beyond their ability to solve. Giving the kids clear moralistic choices to make and choices that yield positive and not so positive consequences is also a valuable lesson that Dungeons and Dragons has the power to teach.

Keep it Simple.

Try to keep the game mechanics side as simple as you can. Encourage them to calculate their own math for to hit and damage and skill checks etc, but do not overload them with complex mechanics. This is not typically fun for most kids, so the less complex the rules are, the better. Keep the adventures simple too. Avoid going off into plots of political intrigue or complex ed who done it themed stories, as again these offer potential avenues of frustration and the potential to lose the players interest.

Fairs Fair.

Another thing where children are concerned is the word “fair”. Or more often the phrase “that’s not fair!” Ensuring that each player feels they are being treated fairly is very important, so I suggest allowing the dice rolls to make many of the decisions for you. With adults, yes its likely that an intelligent monster will attack a healer or a weak caster first, and adults understand and accept this, however a younger player may feel like he is being victimized so by rolling the dice openly and allowing the players too see the roll and know that it was generated by chance is a great way to avoid them feeling picked on. When it comes to character creation for kids you should make sure the characters are all equally balanced and no one has any obvious advantages over the others. Often a points buy system works best for kids, and pre-generating the characters for younger players is never a bad idea. Lastly be sure to give every player the chance to be the hero. Try to give each player a moment of spotlight when they get to shine, and make a big deal about it. Encourage the other players to congratulate the success of their fellow player. This really helps pump up the confidence of the younger players and they will talk about it for ages. It creates a lasting memory.

Praise often Reward frequently.

Children love praise and rewards. When they do something good, make a big deal out of it. Let them know they did good and pump them up in a positive way. Also I find that awarding them Experience points as they go, is a great incentive and helps hold their interests longer. Make sure that they get loot frequently, and ensure that their characters are constantly progressing. A session where a young player feels like he or she did not accomplish anything should be avoided. Even if its just one hundred gold pieces, they should feel that they gained something tangible from the session.

Minis Matter.

If you really want to engage your kids when playing Dungeons and Dragons, nothing does that better than Floor tiles and miniatures. With adults I often do not use miniatures and we use a more narrative approach. With younger players I always do. They are way more excited and pulled into the game when they can visualize things. Also, lets face it, kids love to play with action figures and dolls, so they love playing with miniatures. It also helps them clearly visualize where their characters are and eliminates much of the need for in depth and (to children) boring descriptions.

A case of the giggles.

Some times children just get silly. They find something funny and lose focus. They break out into a fit of giggles or get a case of the silly’s. This is OK and it happens with children. The first thing to remind yourself is that if they are laughing, they are having fun. Secondly remember who you are dealing with. When one child gets a fit of the giggles the odds are they all will. Laughter is infectious. I have heard several times how game play with children comes to a grinding halt through these incidences. When it happens it is time to take a break. A snack and a drink and a few minutes from the gaming table can do wonders for settling the children down. IF it does not, well it is probably time to end the session at that time. One thing you should never do is get frustrated when it happens. This is like saying “Stop having fun”. If the children are not allowed to express themselves and laugh, they will stop having fun, and you will lose their interest.

Getting feedback.

One of the best ways to know what your young players enjoy is to ask them. At the end of the session it is a good idea ( to help future sessions) as well as a fun after activity to ask them what parts they enjoyed the most. Certainly if you pay attention to their enthusiastic chit chat after the game, you can get a feel for this, but nothing is better than just asking them. Go around the table and ask each player what their favorite moment was. This will give you good insight into what that child considers to be fun. You can then ensure to add more of those elements in the future. I like to make it its own separate activity, by associating it with something. Milk and cookies work well. At the end of the game, we get milk and cookies, sit back down and then go over their favorite moments. Not only does this help to ignite their enthusiasm to play again, but it is a good way to “wind them down” if they have become excited. Of course, I suggest you do this with all player groups, both child and adult. Although you may not necessarily pull out the milk and cookies for the latter..

The payoff.

One of the greatest things you will gain from playing these games with younger players is not only the quality bonding time, but you will create some wonderful memories for you to share as they grow older. The ability to look back and fondly remember “those days around the gaming table” is a valuable gift that the children will carry with them.

Finally here is a great link to something you may find useful. Monster Slayers is a free pdf game specifically designed for younger players. It has simplified rules and an easy to follow system that is great for six to twelve year old’s.

If you have any questions or need more specific advice, do not be afraid to hit me up under the Ask Gorebad  section of this site.

Happy Gaming…………

Reactions to other player actions in D&D


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.


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


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……………….