How to DM for young Players.

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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…………

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Reactions to other player actions in D&D

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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.

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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

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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…………..

 

 

Character creation & development. Thinking outside the box.

character-development-outside-the-box

So we all know that in most editions of Dungeons and Dragons there are just some skills, talents, feats or abilities that seem to rise to the top. For example a fighter in 3.5 just about has to take the desired weapon focus and specializations for his weapon of choice, and feats like power attack and cleave are almost impossible to ignore. So more often than not we start too see the same old fighter, rogue and wizard rising to the surface, with only the alignment, race and the way they are role played to offer diversity. Well of course if you are going to play in a min max environment, then you are going to take whatever feats you can to make you as bad ass as possible right? Most people immediately gravitate towards making their character powerful. However in this topic I am going to challenge you to think outside the box and remember that the best part of any role playing game, is the role playing itself!

Now when you create your character you have a wealth of options available to you, but yet most people only concentrate on getting big stats, and feats or talents etc that make their character Mr awesome. I have had many epic characters (stat and ability wise) in the past three plus decades and many gimp ones. The most boring character I ever played was a Knight who was seriously over powered. At the time I fell foul to the same trap as many and continued to take him down a development path to ultimate power. The luster of slaughtering every foe wore of quick and what was left was the fun of role playing his personality. In contrast the most fun I ever had was with a one armed thief with poor stats. He was so much fun to role play, and the failures he had were down right entertaining, while his successes were more epic due to his minimal chance of victory.

When you create your character, other than selecting a race and maybe the base class, you should begin by write his or her back story. I know many people write the back story after the character has been created, but doing it first will change the outcome of your decisions. A point about race selection. If you are going to be demi-human then for the love of Gygax make sure your character feels demi-human! Do not play it like its a human with special abilities. Explore the culture of the race in your character creation process, and let that be a part of who they are. Go back to your characters childhood and decide on things that happened to him that shaped his personality and desires. Put thought into his past life before becoming an adventurer, and then take this well developed story and decide where he would have gone next. At this point you can begin building the character, but instead of picking the “go too” talents for your class, pick ones that make sense for him to have acquired. Spend skill points based on experiences and not just on what skills make you the most effective.  It can be challenging to do this, as often you will be picking situational abilities that may be great at times but not as commonly used as something like Dodge, and the desire to be a powerful combatant will need to be repressed.

In regards to stats. Just because a clerics prime stat is wisdom, should he always put his highest stat in that ability? what if his wisdom was just adequate, but he decided to be smart and use his head as much if not more than his divinity? What if a fighter decided to make dexterity his highest stat, and use light weapons and go for feats like weapon finesse instead? Would a swashbuckler or duelist emerge instead?

As your character develops and levels, try to think about the tasks he performed, and the situations he went through, and spend skill points and pick feats that reflect them. Do this instead of picking the next logical feat that improves his bad assness. Try selecting non common feats for your character. Feats like improve trip or improved sunder are often ignored, but they can bring a lot of diversity and fun to the game and make your character something different from the norm.

In our current Howreroll campaign “The Children of Drakhar” , we have a female monk with some interesting ability choices. I am very interested in seeing how this character develops, and already her choice of improved trip has proven far more useful than something like cleave.

With a non standard character design your options for role playing this character will change. When this happens you will find you are able to embrace a different personality for the character, and as such break from the cliche. The fun to be had role playing a weak or less than perfect character, or just being different is far greater than that when your warrior kills an ogre in one attack round.

Giving your character a few quirks, even if they offer some type of disadvantage (like only having one eye) can give depth and open new doors when it comes to role playing the character. Choosing to be hard of hearing may mean you take a penalty to your listen checks, but it could be fun in certain social situations.

The characters I remember most from my years of gaming are the ones that were different and stood out. Not because they had max stats and were seemingly invincible, but because they were memorable due to being different and the unique quality they brought to the gaming session. For example. The Green Flash was a ranger who acted like a super hero. Bruce Custard was a Halfling chef and barber who fought primarily with a sling. Thaal was a barbarian that used to rip enemies apart bare handed. Tom “Nubby” Denton was a one armed human thief. Lindsafel was an overly compassionate and gullible female Druid. Fritzgig the bull headed dwarf, that played chicken with a charging Rhino and liked to headbutt his enemies. All these characters stick with me due to their interesting quirks and not their effectiveness in a situation. In fact many times Nubby Denton failed as a thief, and his failings out numbered his successes by far. Thaal could have done more damage with a two handed axe, yet when he lost his temper and just waded in fist firsts, it was far more memorable. And the Green flash was so full of himself and loud in both personality and appearance that he stood out like a sore thumb in any wilderness setting.

In time the joys of playing a powerful character fade, and you look back and do not even remember the names of the characters you played, or met along the way. That being said some will stick with you for ever. For me it has always been the ones that broke the mold or challenged the norm. Seeing the joy those characters bring to a gaming session can not be quantified for me as a Dungeon Master, and I am always willing to work with any player that wants to bring something “unusual” to the table, as long as it is going to improve the story and enrich every ones experience at the gaming table.

My challenge to any player is “make me believe in your reality”. I want to know without asking why you performed a certain action. I want to understand who you are and why you do what you do. I lose interest in cliche characters that act based on what is “best” for themselves all the time.

Learning how to create a good character is more than just knowing what stats to put where and what feats or skills make you optimal. I cringe at the growing movement for optimal character builds, and the way people are encouraged in making their characters like its something from a video game. A pen and paper role playing game character needs to have many more levels to it than just its stats, skills, feats and abilities.

Try building your next character outside the box, and really “going for it” in a role playing sense. You wont be sorry…………………

About the Mechanics. Initiative.

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About the Mechanics is a new series of topics where we will discus and examine a particular aspect of the game mechanics and how and when to use them. Now this may seem redundant and you may be thinking “well I already know how to use the game mechanics, what is there to discuss? Well hear me out and keep reading….

In this post we are going to look at Initiative. Initiative is what determines the order in which players and Non Player Characters act in an encounter. Depending on what edition of Dungeons and Dragons you are playing, typically you will be rolling a D20 and adding or subtracting a modifier from the roll. For example in 3.5 Edition you may have Plus two from your dexterity bonus, and the improved initiative feat, giving you total plus six to your Twenty sided dice roll. Usually you roll initiative at the start of combat, and then that order stands for its duration. The Dungeon Master will roll for the adversaries in the encounter and then the order of action for all involved will be determined. Some Dungeon Masters may choose to roll initiative for every single Non Player Character or monster in the encounter, others may roll once for them all, or once for all types. I personally roll for each type and separately for leaders or key Non Player Characters such as leaders. For example if my players face four orcs, four goblins and an Ogre, I would roll once for the orcs, once for the goblins and once for the ogre. Combat can be hectic enough to keep track of without having a ton of different initiative numbers to keep track off.

OK so why do I feel a blog post needs to be dedicated to this mechanic? well it is not the mechanic itself that I want to discuss, but WHEN to say that well known phrase “Roll for initiative!” You see when the Dungeon Master utters those words, everything changes. The players mood changes, their attitude changes and the tension level changes. The rolling of initiative typically marks the beginning of combat. No matter where your players heads were at, unless they were already hell bent on a fight, telling them to Roll for initiative is almost like ringing the bell in a boxing match and is going to start a fight. If they were thinking of trying a diplomatic solution, or evading the encounter, being told to roll initiative kind of implies the fight is on, and will most likely stop the characters from continuing with other courses of action, and just wade in to battle. On the other hand if you do not ask your players to roll for initiative your players may perceive that the encounter may not be intended for combat, or that the Non Player Characters they are facing are not hostile. This of course may be totally wrong and then, when the Bad guys suddenly jump the players they may be upset that you did not give them a chance to roll for initiative to begin with.

Rolling or requesting a roll for initiative also drastically changes the mood and mindset of the game and the players at that point. If I (as the Dungeon Master) ask them to roll for initiative during a heated discussion, it snaps the tension bar and says to the players “OK FIGHT”! This may rob them of any continued diplomatic efforts or role playing options. In my story I never want to alter the natural flow, feel or atmosphere of the game at an inappropriate time. If I am going to ask them to roll for initiative, I want it to be the epic start of the conflict and battle and not disrupt a flow of negotiation or exploration of non combat options.

I know some Dungeon Masters that like to PRE roll initiative. They get each player to roll a number of times prior to the game session and then use them in order for each encounter (applying modifiers as needed at that time). This is not a bad idea, but I feel it also offers to take away some of the epic tension moments that arise as combat is about to kick off.

My solution is to never prompt a roll for initiative without a combative or aggressive declaration first. Either I will say something like “The ogre rushes towards you, with his club raised high, intent on crushing your skull”, or a player will declare that they are engaging in some way. At that time, I will often say “EVERYONE roll for initiative to determine the order should it be needed”, or just ask the specific individual who chooses to enter combat to roll, depending on the current situation. I use descriptive language and I roll play demeanor and intent to let my players know how an encounter is going. They can tell by my voice and actions if a negotiation is going sour and a fight may be imminent.They can then choose to act first if they wish or wait and see what happens. Either way I am not going to request an initiative roll until a blow or spell or other timed action is about to take place. It can be hard enough to get the correct feel for an encounter, without ruining the immersion by bringing game mechanics to the fore front. This is why I do not mention the initiative roll, until it is one hundred percent clear that it is now required.

Initiative can also be used in non combat situations of course to determine the speed of almost simultaneous actions. I remember one time I was running an encounter where everyone tried to rush through a door first. The situation leading up to that lead everyone to the same conclusion and each player (in turn around the tabletop) declared the same action. So I had them roll initiative to see who has the faster reflexes in that situation and got their foot in the door first. If I had said prior to the declaration of intent “OK I want each of you to roll for initiative” I guarantee they would have all stopped and hesitated, as they as players would have expected a possible combat, even though there had been nothing to suggest that to their characters. Even those that try hard not to meta game, still fall foul to a change in emotion and may act differently when lead to expect something is going to happen.

In closing, treat initiative as the mechanical resolution to an in game declaration. It should not be requested before it is needed, and the Dungeon master should do his job properly and allow the scene to imply weather or not it may be imminently required. It should be the last thing to happen before a sword be swung, a fireball be cast or a dagger thrown. If you do not care about the feel and immersion of your game, then I guess it matters less to you when to request a roll. I live to tell a story, and not play a game. I believe in immersion over mechanics and Role Playing over ROLL playing. If a dice is going to be rolled it better be for a good reason, and as it is almost always going to determine the outcome of an action, I want the appropriate tension level to be present when it is rolled.

happy Gaming……

Gorebad.

Home Brewing and House Rules.

home-brewing

One of the great aspects of any Role Playing Game System is that while the designers go to great lengths to create a wealth of material and game mechanics for us to use, none of it is set in stone. The forum posts I see where some Dungeon Master complains about this rule or that rule make me cringe, and the battle over which edition is best is just as agitating.

Before I go any further I want to make a point. While the mechanics are called “RULES” this term should be taken lightly and with a huge pinch of salt. I prefer not to even call them rules. The term “rule” implies that it is set in stone and must be followed or obeyed. This is far from the truth with any Role Playing Game system. Instead think of them as nothing more than game mechanics that are at your disposal to help facilitate the running of the game, and the telling of the story. Once you do this, you can see more clearly that any of these mechanics are open to change or modification by you the Game Master.

In truth any Game Master (with experience) worth his salt will have altered and modified the game mechanics to suit his own brand of story telling or game in some way. This article is going to address this and both give some advice and make some observations.

Each Game Master will (over time) develop his own style. This style will reflect how he runs the game, and the way in which he tells the story. The Game system that you use is the frame work on which your story will be built, and the mechanics are the tools you will use to create the outcome of events. This article applies to any Role Playing Game but for the sake of simplicity I will relate it to Dungeons and Dragons.

So lets look at Dungeons and Dragons as a game. It first come to light in January 1974 with a three booklet set. in 1977 it was divided into Basic and Advanced rules sets. In 1989 the second edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was released, and brought with it many more options for players. In 2000 we saw the third edition come to light (under the new ownership of Wizards of the Coast), and shortly after (in 2003) was the revised three point five edition. Third edition changed much of the mechanical system that had for the most part remained fairly similar for the past twenty plus years. The year 2007 brought us fourth edition and almost simultaneously pathfinder (by Paizo publishing) which was a revised three point five rules set. Then the current release of fifth edition hit the shelves in 2014. Over the span of the games history it has gone through many changes. The current edition is a far distant cousin of the original game concept, and for those of us that have played through every edition that has ever existed, we can draw vast differences in not only how the game mechanics work, but in the overall feel of the game.

I am often asked “which edition is your favorite?” In truth I can not answer that. I have many fond memories of First edition and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I have a crazy amount of game hours with many groups of people sunk into running three point five, and I have had fun and new experiences with some younger players with fifth. My favorite edition changes based on who I am running the game for, and what kind of feel I want for the story. You see to me an edition is nothing more than a tool set to tell a story. Whichever edition I have to modify the least to get the feel I want to achieve is the edition I will use. I am not an edition puritan. I hear people give reasons why they prefer fifth edition over three point five, or why pathfinder is superior. Each to their own, but I do not view mechanics the same way as many. I borrow “rules” from various editions and discard others. I change and modify things to suit my style and the situation.

As mentioned in an article you can find here, I run a game differently for a virtual tabletop than I do a physical one. Regardless of who I am running the game for, or what base edition I am using for my tool set, one thing is certain. Its Home brewed.

The term Home Brew is basically the more recent buzzword for what us old guard used to call house rules. That is to say it is our own custom rule set or mechanics that we use for our individual game. To Home Brew with any benefit can only be achieved with some experience behind you. I know some fledgling Dungeon Masters that refer to their Home Brew system and it makes me chuckle a little inside. They barely know the game or have a good grasp or understanding of the mechanics, so to be changing them already is kind of like a new chef trying to restructure a family recipe after one taste. It is not a requirement, or a status symbol to have your own set of Home Brewed mechanics.

Before you begin butchering and modifying years of work, you should truly understand it. Only then can you make changes to it that can infer any benefit. Changing rules or mechanics for the sake of it can only impose a negative result. Each time a Dungeon Master changes and modifies a rule he alters what his players have come to know and expect. If he is going to do this he should be able to explain why he wishes to do so, and convince the players that it is a change for the better. Back in the early editions of Dungeons and Dragons, you gained experience points for gaining gold and treasure. It was originally envisioned to reward the thief class, but it did not differentiate effectively. This was one of the first rules I remember changing. When I found myself limiting treasure, not to be stingy to the party in wealth terms, but because I did not want them gaining to many experience points to fast, I realized I did not care for this rule. I explained my thoughts to my players, and pointed out that if wealth was linked to experience, then every foppish young rich noble would be a level nine fighter. I also told them that I refrained from giving out wealth at times because I did not like the fact that it encouraged players to horde and hold back treasure and caused imbalances in experience. They understood and agreed and so we changed the rules. You see the rules change ultimately offered improvement to our idea of the game that we wanted, and as such was welcomed and mutually embraced by all. I often speak about trust. The players have to be able to trust their Dungeon Master, and if they feel he changes the rules without their knowledge or understanding it damages that trust. Also any change should be mutually applied to both players and Non Player Characters where applicable. IF for any reason this is not the case then the Dungeon Master should be able to explain (with justification) why.

I do not intend to discourage home brewing in anyway, in fact I encourage it, but I urge Dungeon Masters and Players alike to not do so until they have a clear understanding of the system mechanics as is. Sometimes when you alter a rule, you indirectly break others. You should realize the effects your changes will have on all aspects of the game, and not just the individual situation in which you applied them. For example creating and using a critical hit system can seem like a great idea, but how does it work with the improved critical feat, and does it then make that feat over powered? So now do you have to modify that rule? and alter the crit range of certain weapons? also if it is to be a mutually used rule are you prepared to have a goblin lop off the rangers right arm? Often there is more to consider than you may see at face value.

Beginning play with a set of home brew rules, is also easier than altering and changing as a game progresses. If you begin a certain way, its easily accepted but if you change it mid flow, you have to look at who it may hurt or hinder and how will they feel about it. Remembering my golden rule that you (the Dungeon Master) are there for the benefit of the players and not the other way around is paramount. You may not like a rule but do your players feel the same way? You should consider discussing it prior to coming up with changes or implementing anything. Players will be accepting of a rule change that they know is coming but will almost certainly rebel at one that is imposed upon them without prior knowledge. The game after all belongs to everyone at the table, and not just the Dungeon Master.

When you feel the need to alter a rule, firstly you should be able to identify why it needs altering. Knowing the reason then allows you to measure the impact of the rule on the game, and think of ways to better balance this impact. At this point, you should mention your thoughts about why a rule does not seem to work to your players and see if they agree. Once you have an idea for how the change will work you should then discuss it with your players and see how they feel about this solution, or if they have any input on a better way. Once the idea of change is agreed upon, and the method of change accepted, then you can implement it. Doing this will ensure acceptance of the change, and make sure you continue to have trust in your players.

Another observation is that many do not record the changes to a rule or what home brew rules they use. You should. Writing these changes down is important for a few reasons. For one it is good to have for your own records but it is also good to be able to show a player the rule (as written). I typically also write the date that I applied the change. This serves to show players that it has been in practice since that time, and not something I just came up with and threw at them. Writing things down also helps you to commit them to memory.

I have different sets of home brew mechanics. Some rules I use with my very experienced players, that I would not with newer ones. I also have some that I use for younger players (kids) that i do not use with adults. I do tent to let people know however when I am using a particular modification and again I always come prepared to explain why. I remember one case when I mentioned a home brew rule I wanted to use (that i had done so with many other groups) and it was met with resistance. That particular group did not like the idea of the rule, so after we had discussed it and everyone put fourth their thoughts, we collectively modified it. They understood why I had changed the particular rule, but not how I had changed it, so we collaborated to find a solution. By doing this I showed the players that I was fair and that I was there to run the game for their enjoyment. It developed trust. I know several Dungeon Masters that would not have changed the rule and some who would not have even told the players that it had been changed. To me that is the typical “the DM is god” mentality that piss poor Dungeon Masters seem to share.

In closing, I say Brew your proverbial asses off! However only do so where needed, and be sure that your players know about it, understand it and agree with it. No one likes a dictator………….