October 28, 2010

Living Dungeon-Part Two

Orc Lair

As written, this dungeon is designed for a party of level 8. In total, there are 11 rooms to explore and 7 potential encounters. The map was taken from the WotC website; their old map-a-week pages; Scepter Dungeon (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/mw/20020725a).

This small complex was initially built by followers of Ioun who focused on his messages of peace and thoughtful coexistence. They carved a place for themselves from a rocky hill with the intent to separate themselves and explore the ways of peace. They called themselves the Perfect Mind. They felt peace with the world was the first thing a person had to do before they could begin to understand the world, its mysteries, or gain perfection of mind. Unfortunately, others did not agree with their thoughts and within 10 years they were overrun by a group of gnolls. Since that time the place has alternately been the lair of various monsters or abandoned. Recently, a band of orcs (the Pigsnouts) wrested the lair from an aging troll and have made it their home.


October 27, 2010

Living Dungeon-Part One

This is not a new idea, but it is a new idea for 4E. I’ve been rereading some older modules for a future article and one thing I’ve noticed is what some call the “living dungeon”. This is the notion that when a dungeon is the lair or home of something it should be non-static. It is not a place of numbered rooms waiting for the PCs to kick in the door and kill whatever is listed as being there. This article is about how to write a non-linear, non-static adventure for 4E and includes some new concepts and structures to allow for this.

A tribe of goblins doesn’t sit waiting in a room for the adventurers to come by. They are out raiding the countryside (which is often the catalyst for the players being there in the first place). They are sleeping in the barracks. They are eating what the hunters caught and the cook warmed up in the kitchen. They are on guard patrol, protecting their lair from foul adventurers. They are in the back closet playing a game of dice and hoping they don’t get caught.


October 20, 2010

100 For Me

100. Recently I put up my 100th post. It’s been a little over a year since I started this blog and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. To celebrate this blog (and because posts that are only self-congratulations can be annoying), here are 5 links to some of my favorite posts that may have been missed over the year.

Dynastic Campaign Pt1 and Pt2. This is an article about a twist on the old style of campaigns. I plan on running such a campaign once my current games end.

Players are Builders. This article deals with my thoughts on player motivations and how to use them to make a better game.

Twist It. This takes a look at stereotypes within the RPG genre and how to use them with a fresh eye.

Birthright Encounters; Pt1 Pt2 Pt3 Pt4. These are series of adventure ideas from the viewpoint of a leader of men. There are a lot of good ideas here.

Immersion. I am always trying to push the envelope of immersion, or the ability for a DM to bring the player into experiencing what is happening to the character. Here are some ideas and examples of some stuff I've used in the past.

And now for the obligatory look back…

I’ve tripled my followers! OK, going from zero to three isn’t really tripling (since 0 x 3 = 0), but the thought is there and I am pleased someone actually thinks enough of my scribbles to be forced to acknowledge their presence. Don’t worry, once I have taken over the blogosphere and all other blogs are bowing at my feet, I will remember you three!

I’m still trying to “find my voice”. I think I’ve gotten better at my style, but I still have soooo much to learn.

I was super pleased to have one of my articles be accepted and published in the Review: Open Game Table – The Anthology of RPG Blogs Vol.2

And now to let loose some of my pet peeves…
Things I’ve Seen in Other Blogs That Annoy Me
-Don’t apologize for not posting on a regular basis. I will see your blog and its posts when you next post. Go ahead and take a week or two off.
-Post something I can use in a game. The majority of blogs I see post opinions. Sometimes it seems like people are holding back their good content, saving it for some future (and often never to be seen) publication for which they hope to get paid. I’ll admit I do the same, but I do try and throw some of my “publishable” ideas into the blog mix.
-A single paragraph which is nothing but a link to another blog is not a blog post. Don’t try to pass it off as content. At the very least, try and analyze the other blog post; something more than a “dis iz a gud post ”.
-Don’t disguise your product as something else. If your blog is trying to sell one of your products, let us know that. Putting up an article about the proper use of NPCs is fine, but then ending with “and the best place to see such examples is in my new module” makes it all come across as nothing but a con job. Start the article hawking your product and then if you want to write an article about proper use of NPCs go ahead and cite examples from your module. Just don’t let me think I’m reading a useful gamemastering article only to realize I am reading nothing but a long advertisement.

For the upcoming year I’ll try and continue what I’m doing…only better. I’m still trying for at least one post per week, though two is preferred. However, I don’t believe in crap posts so I’d rather “miss” a scheduled post than put up something I don’t like.
I have a number of articles or series of articles partially done; now to finish them.

October 12, 2010

Catch Phrases for NPCs

Catch phrases have long been advocated as a means to add some role-play to a player’s character. I remember in our Gamma World game we had a war cry of “Where’s Our Cow!” which we developed as we rescued the town’s cow from some muskrat raiders. It gave us an identity and set us apart from the “ordinary” people.

However, I believe there are special benefits when catch phrases are used by the NPCs of your campaign. It can make a specific NPC become more memorable and distinctive. It can also enhance a campaign setting by being a reminder of what makes that setting unique. For instance, the Dark Sun setting has no gods. The closest things to a god are the sorcerer-kings. Having an NPC make the declaration “Oh my kings!” instead of “Oh my god!” serves to remind the players they are not on Earth or even another “typical” world setting.

Here are some examples for the Dark Sun setting…

Belgoi’s Bells! = Hell’s bells
Water for the eyes = A sight for sore eyes
All that glitters is not iron = All that glitters is not gold
The Dragon comes = All good things come to an end  
Better the King you know = Better the Devil you know, than the Devil you don’t  
Elves will be elves = Boys will be boys  
Even a slave eats = Every dog has his day  
Let a mage cast = Give a man rope enough and he will hang himself
Haste spills water = Haste makes waste  
Become a templar = If you can't beat em, join em  
It takes a gladiator to kill a gladiator = It takes a thief to catch a thief  
Elf goods = Let the buyer beware  
Defilers don’t start that way = The road to hell is paved with good intentions
There's always more sand in the desert = There's always more fish in the sea
A templar in slave’s clothing = A wolf in sheep’s clothing
Pay the Dragon's levy = Give the Devil his due

October 8, 2010

Too Much D&D

I know there are similar articles floating around that take a humorous look at our obssession with D&D. Here is mine.
How to tell if you've been playing too much D&D

  • You calculate how money you would have saved when buying that CD if you had made a Haggling roll.
  • You can’t watch a sporting event without calculating weapon damages for the sports equipment (Football 1d6 Range 30/60; Hockey Stick 2d8 Two-handed).
  • You’re at a meeting and you start assigning AC and HP to the other people there. If the meeting is really long you start assigning ability stats, usually beginning with Charisma.
  • You have a unique rating system for new restaurants in your area.
            5 Gold Inn
            1 Gold Inn
            Conjured Food
            Trail Rations
            Worse than Trail Rations

  • You refer to John Mayer as a Bard.
  • You know the prices of things by their gp value; milk, eggs, shoes, etc.
  • You give and expect 5’ of personal space and you are constantly calculating reach for nearby people.
  • If the floor is tiled, you find yourself stepping inside each tile and spending movement rates.
  • At least once a day, you note a time when a 10’ pole would have come in handy.
  • A promotion at work is considered ‘leveling up’.
  • Whenever you carry something, you make a note as to whether you are Lightly or Heavily Encumbered.
  • You still think Conan O'Brien should have used his two-handed sword when he was fired and replaced by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show.

Things you say that indicate you’ve been playing too much D&D

  • “Made that saving throw” after getting out of having to stay late at work.
  • “Nat 20” after seeing you got an ‘A’ on a test.
  • “Won that initiative roll” while darting in front of another car when making a lane change.
  • “Made my Strength check” after lifting something heavy.
  • “Need a Cure Light” after getting a paper cut.
  • “Need a Cure Serious” after cutting your finger on some broken glass.
  • “It’s called a dump stat for a reason” after saying the wrong thing to your in-laws.
  • "Failed my Perception check" when you didn't hear something someone said to you.
  • “I wonder how many hit points that was” after seeing a hard hit in football.
  • “I usually go with the orcs” when your co-workers are discussing their fantasy football league.

October 5, 2010

Downtime Before the Game

We often talk about how to avoid downtime during a game session, but we don’t really talk about downtime before the game starts. By this I mean the time when some of your players show up, but the group inevitably ends up waiting for that last player. You know he’s on his way, but you know he’s also running late. Whatever the reason, maybe he has a lot further to drive or he gets out of work/class later than the rest of your players, you will have time before the game actually starts and you have players sitting around. 

Unfortunately, you can’t start the game until he shows up. Perhaps you are in the middle of an encounter and his character is needed. Perhaps the group has reached a point where they need to make a major decision, as a group. There can be a number of reasons why you can not start the game until the last person arrives.
The normal response is to sit and talk, get all the socializing out of the way before the game begins. This is not a bad idea, but if you tend to be cramped for playtime (with my group we schedule 3 hours of playtime so any time taken away from that diminishes the game) looking for ways to utilize this downtime can only help.

There are a number of things you can try to do. The key is to try and do things that are relevant on some level with the game you will be running that night. Also, whatever you do has to be flexible enough to allow for those who do show up without alienating those who do not.
Here are some ideas I’ve used in the past...

Back when I was running 2E Dark Sun we used the Complete Gladiators Handbook to set up and run a gladiator style mini-campaign. Basically each player bought and sold gladiators, keeping up with the expenses thus accrued. They would then enter their chosen gladiator into the arena and their fortunes would rise or fall according to how well their gladiators did. The fights were fast enough that we could run one or two fights before the person we were waiting for showed up.

Flashbacks are also something that can be done. Pick one or two of the characters from those that are waiting. Write up a quick scene that doesn’t even have to involve a combat. These scenes should focus on something in their past, but doesn’t have to be something that has to do with the adventure being run that night for the entire group. For example, if a couple of the characters share a history you could revisit such a time, perhaps as youngsters they skipped school and almost got caught. Did they run and hide, or did they let themselves get caught? These sorts of flashbacks can be used to further develop characters. 

Another thing you can do, which can tie into what you have planned for your evening’s adventure, is have the players run NPCs that work for the villain of the night. These can be NPCs that the players might be facing that night, further into your campaign or NPCs they may never meet. For example, I had one of my players had to leave the campaign I was running because she went back to night school and couldn’t make my game anymore. We never did a closure scene wherein she left the party. One day she was there and the next she wasn’t and the rest of the party didn’t seem to notice. I decided to play off that and had her kidnapped by the major bad guy of the plot. He then had memory of her erased. So one night, I had the players quickly generate some evil characters. She had escaped from the major bad guys control and the major bad guy gave these newly created NPCs the task to recapture her. It didn’t take long, but it gave those who shown up early for the game something to do and it tied neatly into the overall campaign. In addition, the players are now looking forward to meeting this group of NPCs. As a side note, they enjoyed playing evil characters and exploring a class they hadn’t had a chance to play yet, but had piqued their interest in the past.
Similar to this is the concept of running something that is happening elsewhere in your game world. Is there a war going on between two nearby kingdoms? Run a little war game session while you wait. It doesn't even have to be relevant to the plot or adventure. If nothing else, it adds background to your campaign world and the players will find it cool when their characters start hearing how the war is faring.

Another idea is to run a quick dream sequence. This would be about something related to the ongoing plot and should present the characters involved with some choices. Perhaps they could see what the world would be like if the big bad guy succeeded in his evil plans. Or perhaps they can see what life is like now for the child they rescued four game sessions ago. Because it is a dream, you can go a little farther with your ideas.

So, if the time you have on game night is limited and precious to you and your players, don’t waste the time you do have while waiting for that late-comer. Run your game before the game starts.

October 1, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing

When I run a game I like to have the players identify with their characters. I want the characters to be more than numbers on a character sheet. I want them to play their characters as if they are real people reacting to situations beyond the normal.

I like to do slow buildups of anxiety and tension. I use a lot of foreshadowing, a lot of “showing how the monster works” by having the bad guys use their abilities and powers on someone other than the player characters. I do this to show my players the threat they are facing, to add some fear. I have been trying to make the players feel isolated within the campaign world to add to the feeling of overwhelming odds and to get them to bond together better.

However, I may have done my job too well. At last night’s game we started with the knowledge that one of the character’s mothers (she may have been an adoptive mother) is going to be burned at the stake at noon the next day. I prepared for a sneak mission into the keep where she is being held; I was happy I was finally able to use my MageKnight castle walls. I prepared for a daring midday rescue as she was being moved from the keep to the city square. I was not prepared for the characters decision to let her die and walk, no run, in fear from the city, but that is what they did.

Did I instill too much fear and anxiety into the players? Have I turned them into fearful store clerks? They have had some debate amongst themselves about whether or not they should find a hiding spot in some far away corner of the world and stay there. Only the fear of being discovered has put that idea to the side, since they feel they are being hunted until the end of their days.

I guess I have to retool and show them they can buck the odds and prevail as heroes. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too good at what you are trying to do.