July 21, 2015

Why I Demand Character Generation Be Done at the Table

The usual reason is to watch die rolls for stats, but that is not why I want the players to roll up their characters in front of me. I do so for a few other reasons.

Why are the players making the character? First is that I want to see the choices the players are making and am looking for some insight into why. Recently one of my players made "the healer" for the party. However, as he was discussing it with the other players, he made mention of some interesting things. He wants to "cure everyone" even if that includes necromancy as a way to "raise someone". He wants to be the party healer but in a twisted version. If he had just brought a completed character to the first game, I wouldn't know the background concepts he has in mind. Sure, he might have mentioned such things to me, but they would have been bullet points on his character sheet and I wouldn't have the same insight into the concepts he is exploring. I know more about what the players are thinking.

Likewise, I can see the general style of play each players is looking for. If someone is taking lots of negotiation skills I can see they want a game with more role-play. If they are combat heavy then I want to make sure to throw them in. This goes beyond just abilities. As players are making their characters they often talk about "how cool this ability will be" or "I can't wait to use this ability". A character sheet can give some idea of what a player wants to see, but not as complete a picture as found during character generation. 

Get to know the characters. Similar to the above, being there when the characters are created gives me knowledge of the character themselves. What flaws did they take, what areas did they specialize in, what skills does each have. When I am running a game I try to allow the players and their characters to shine. Often this means playing to a character's strengths. The best way to get to know their strengths is to be there while they are being created. Sure, I can take a look at a character sheet after it is made but the impact will not be as strong. being there for character generation means I know the characters better. 

Party unity. When the players are all together making characters they tend to collaborate. They discuss who is going to be the healer, who is going to cover the wilderness skills, the thief skills, the magic knowledge skills. They find their place in the party before the campaign even starts. Even if they went in planning to make a lone wolf character, they end finding themselves part of a team. This can start at character generation. 

Excitement. There is a general excitement when a new campaign is about to start. As a DM I have all kinds of cool ideas for the campaign (okay, maybe just cool to me). Everyone is wondering where things will go, what their characters will face. It is the ultimate in playing with the unknown. There is a buzz in the air. As a DM I like that buzz, that excitement. I can feed off of that. And basically, I enjoy it.

So for me, there is more to character generation than keeping the dice honest.

July 14, 2015

Why 5E is the Last Edition of D&D

I know I'm going out on a huge limb here, but I am telling you that 5E is the last edition of D&D. This is both literal and figurative.

D&D has nowhere to go now as a system. Throughout the various editions D&D has slowly changed with the times. The first edition and the various iterations of that gave us the core concepts of role-playing games and what D&D is...including the concepts of variability and additive systems that can be attached to the core system. Future editions gave us further enhancements and refined ways of doing things. 2E gave us a more streamlined system and near its end more sub-systems. 3E took the concept of additional material/systems to the max. 4E added in system balance. D&D has been ever evolving and showing us new things with each edition.

5E stated that would be a modular system. A simple core that would allow for additional systems to be added in seamlessly. They actually gave us that (much to my surprise). 5E can take the abuse of new support material...but it also can play lite. There is no reason to release a new edition, 5E allows for new concepts to be added onto its core design. If someone has a radical idea 5E can handle it, just release a support book with the radical idea and detail how to integrate it with 5E. Whatever evolutions in game design emerge can be handled by the modularity of 5E.

Of course, some of you are thinking that there will eventually be a 6E, if only as a money grab. And that might indeed happen. However, this brings up my second point. A new edition of D&D will die. It will be a non-factor, a non-issue, a non-game system. People will ignore it as nothing but a money grab. They will see no need for a new edition. In essence, 5E is the last viable D&D edition.

D&D never needs a new edition and people won't want a new edition. Between those two points, 5E is the last edition of D&D.

July 7, 2015

5E Traps - Samples and A Better Design

I am not happy with the layouts of WotC's traps. Basically there is none. They jumble the information about a trap into a couple of paragraphs that a DM has to sift through to get the relevant info. I prefer something I can easily look at and immediately find what I need.

I've been writing an adventure for my group that is laden with traps (it is a kobold lair). I came up with another layout/design for traps that work better for me and maybe better for other people. Here are the traps so you can see the layout and if you are looking for some more traps to use... 

Tar Trap
See Trap: DC14 Wisdom (Perception). “The floor feels weakened here.” 
Disable Trap: DC15 Wisdom (Perception) to move across the trapped area without setting off the trap. Roll with advantage if the person watches someone else cross safely. “There are parts of the floor that are still safe. The trick is to figure out where exactly that is.” 
Activates: When someone moves near the center of the trap area. “The floor gives way.” 
Set Off Trap: Anyone in the trap area is Restrained. A person may take an action to make a DC 12 Strength Save to end the Restrained condition and move out of the trap area. “You fall all of 3 inches. However, those three inches are covered in an odorless tar and your feet are stuck.” 

Leech Pit
See Trap: DC12 Wisdom (Perception). “There is something wrong with the floor up ahead. In fact, you swear you can make out where a corner of the floor is lifted up.” 
Disable Trap: DC15 Dexterity. “The floor is in fact nothing but a loose cover for a pit. You think you can make it so it will not collapse when walked on.” 
Activates: When a person moves to the halfway point. “The floor falls out from under your feet revealing a pit beneath you.” 
Set Off Trap: Everyone in the area of the trap must make a DC12 Dexterity Save. Failure means the person takes 1d6 falling damage and is now in a 10’ deep pit. In addition, the pit is filled with leeches. Each round the person takes 1d4 damage from the many leeches on them. Once out of the pit they can spend an action to remove the leeches. “You fall to the bottom of the pit which is covered in rotten meat, a couple of carcasses and hundreds of leeches. The leeches quickly latch onto you.” 

Stinkbomb Trap
See Trap: DC18 Wisdom (Perception). “There is a tripwire low to the floor. There is something odd about the ceiling.”
Disable Trap: DC15 Dexterity. “Any movement of the tripwire will set off the trap. A wedge needs to be placed where the wire enters the walls so when the wire is cut they will not release tension.”
Activates: When a person moves to the end of the trap and trips the wire. “You feel the pull of a tripwire.”
Set Off Trap: Everyone in the trap area must make a DC12 Dexterity Save. Those that fail are covered in a liquid that gives off a strong musky smell. At the same time the giant weasels from location 6 move to the smell and attack, focusing their attacks on those covered in the scent. “Parts of the ceiling collapse revealing bags that fall to the ground and burst. The bags were filled with a liquid that now covers you. The liquid seems to be water and does not harm you other than leaving a bad smell.” 

Collapsing Ladder Trap
See Trap: DC14 Wisdom (Perception). “The ladder looks shoddy and not safe.”
Disable Trap: None, ladder is fake and cannot be used as a ladder. “The ladder is designed to collapse. It is best left alone.”
Activates: When a person climbs up the ladder and is near the top. “The next rung suddenly gives way as the ladder itself falls apart.”
Set Off Trap: Entire ladder collapses and the climber takes 2d6 falling damage. “The entire ladder comes off the wall in pieces. You plummet to the floor.” 

Deadfall Trap
See Trap: DC12 Wisdom (Perception). “The ceiling looks loose. There is a string stretched across the tunnel.”
Disable Trap: DC15 Dexterity. “Cutting the string will release the tension and disable the trap, but be careful as tugging on the string will activate it.”
Activates: When a person moves into the end of the tunnel without seeing the trap. “Your foot pulls on a tripwire near the floor.”
Set Off Trap: 1d10 damage to everyone within 10’ of the end of the tunnel; DC15 Dexterity Save for half damage; makes a loud noise alerting location 4. “The roof comes cascading down with a loud series of crashes.” 

Pit Trap
See Trap: DC12 Wisdom (Perception). “The floor ahead looks unsafe.”
Disable Trap: DC15 Dexterity. “By wedging a small item into the seam where the pit and regular floor meet it should be safe to walk over one at a time.”
Activates: Move to the end of the northern end of the trap. “The floor tilts downward and then collapses.”
Set Off Trap: Everyone in the trap’s area must make a DC12 Dexterity Save. Those that fail take 1d6 falling damage and are now in a 10’ deep pit. “You fall into a 10’ deep pit.”


June 9, 2015

5E Background - Gambler


The turn of the card or the roll of the dice have a clarion call to your soul. However, it goes beyond just games of chance, some like the thrill of not knowing how it will all end. Taking an action that leads into a situation that requires wit and will to get out of, that is what keeps life fresh and exciting.

Skill Proficiencies: Deception, Insight
Tool Proficiencies: Two types of gaming sets
Equipment: A set of common clothes, a set of bone dice, a deck of cards, a belt pouch containing 1-100gp

Feature: Ready Money
Always ready to make a wager, you can turn this into a way to maintain your basic needs. Anytime you are in a place where you could place a bet with a stranger (innkeeper, tavern patron, blacksmith, merchant, etc.) it is considered that you have food and lodging for the day. It is assumed that while you may lose some, you are a good enough gambler to come out slightly ahead.

Suggested Characteristics
Contrary to what others may think, gambling is as much about knowing the people you are with rather than random luck. Knowing how a person will react is the key to being successful in any type of situation, whether they are your companions or an enemy.

Personality Trait
1. I like to study the eyes of everyone I meet.
2. Many decisions I make by flipping a coin.
3. In every conversation I try to let the other person speak first.
4. When I am focused on something I tend to blur out everything else.
5. I like to use gambling metaphors a lot.
6. I dislike people who lie to me outside of a game.
7. I’ve learned that being polite will go a long way.
8. I like to pretend I am dumber than I really am.

1. Nonchalant. We all have to deal with the hand we are given. (Neutral)
2. Charity. I don’t keep all my winnings for myself. (Good)
3. Risk-taker. I love living not knowing what is coming next. (Chaotic)
4. Ethical. Even games of chance have rules. It’s not a challenge unless I can win and still play within those rules. (Lawful)
5. Cheater. It is easier to fleece the marks if I cheat. (Evil)
6. Lazy. Working for a living is for chumps. (Any)

1. I like to keep back-up stashes scattered around in case I ever run into a string of bad luck.
2. I still keep the first coin I won in a game. It is my good luck charm.
3. I won a deed to some land a while ago. I haven’t had time to go check it out yet.
4. Most of my winnings go to the orphanage I was raised in.
5. I once lost a big game to another gambler. I want a rematch if I ever see him again.
6. I have groupies. I have a reputation of being a respected gambler and people like to watch me play.

1. I do not like to make eye contact or be expressive with my body language. Most people find this very disconcerting.
2. I assume everyone is hiding something from me.
3. Right now I’m in the middle of a string of bad luck. Not sure how to get out of it.
4. If someone tells me something can’t be done, I’ll give it a try.
5. If I have money in my pocket, I either have to spend it or gamble it.
6. I once won a big game against some unsavory types. They want their money back.

May 26, 2015

Baseline of Narrative Systems

Part of the "new" wave of rpg game systems are ones that incorporate narrative and role-playing aspects. Even 5E has taken some of the concepts and interjected Backgrounds, Inspiration and similar ideas that try to entice the players to role-play. A game like FFG's Star Wars rpgs tie narrative directly into character actions where every "success" and "failure" is dictated by the die roll and has a narrative consequence. For instance, a "success" roll comes with mandatory exposition and narrative consequence. It takes the "yes, you hit, but ..." to a new level where the "but..." is mandatory.

All this leads to my real question -  How much narrative interpretation of die rolls is mandatory? or to further refine the question - What is the baseline of narrative interpretation?

Gamers are made up of all types. Some like the heavy narrative rpgs and styles. They can turn a shopping trip into hours of fun. They can let everyone know the angst of killing a goblin. And then there are players who just want to "I rolled a 21 so I hit and did 8 points of damage." Some groups tend to come together because they have similar play styles ("We only like emo vampire games"), but some are just friends outside of gaming and bring a like for a variety of play styles.

What type of system can best satisfy a wide base of styles? The obvious answer is the one that is most minimalistic, the one that starts basic but still allows for more if that is what is needed/wanted. A system that only requires die rolls with simple interpretations ("I hit for x damage" or "I miss, move on to the next person") is that baseline. Sure a simple system with no required narrative interpretations can be lacking for some players. However, narration can happen in such a system where the player, or DM, simply adds it themselves.

Conversely, a system that requires narration as a result of every die roll requires that players who do not like narrative styles...be narrative. This will be a turn-off for the system for those people.

So, I say, keep a system simple and add in options for narrative interpretations of die rolls - do not make them mandatory.