August 30, 2011

Epic Monsters

There has been some talk lately about epic adventures and monsters for 4E...or rather the lack of them. Today I’d like to talk about the monster side of epic. While this article is geared for 4E, many of the concepts can be applied to any system when it comes to providing epic monsters.

One complaint seen repeatedly is that there are no new monsters to challenge epic level characters. You can’t write epic adventures without epic monsters. I decided to write some up to post here, but ran into some problems rather quickly. These problems are fairly fundamental to epic monsters and epic adventures so I thought I would take a closer look at the topic.

Let’s start off by defining what I mean by epic; which is divided into two definitions. The first is level based; epic adventures and monsters fall between levels 21-30. Second is more subjective wherein epic adventures take place in unique locations and the characters are dealing with global and planar problems. Likewise the monsters need to be epic as well. It is this second definition of epic that causes all the problems.

August 29, 2011

Wanted: 15

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting.

-Witches! They are always evil and out to harm normal people. They are also always innocent of these charges. Is Twenaria guilty or innocent? That is up to the DM.

August 26, 2011

One Person, Two Views on Character Death

The topic of character death is currently making the rounds again on the blogosphere. As I read several of them, I realized my opinion on the matter is split into two divergent paths, depending on who I am at the time. I have different viewpoints depending on if I am a player or the DM.

As a player, wherein character death affects me personally, I am fine with having one of my characters die…as long as I feel it was not arbitrary and that there was a chance for me to avoid it. I completely understand there needs to be the threat of death, and without character death there is no threat. I completely understand not all encounters are balanced to the characters. I completely understand that to create a living breathing world, characters die. I really am fine with it.

As a DM, I try to avoid killing characters. When I am running story based campaigns (which is my normal course of campaigns these days) I build the story around the characters. The death of a character can stymie the story. If the story is about James Bond or Luke Skywalker, having him die halfway through the story kills the story. Deaths of story driven characters should happen at the end of the story, not at the beginning or middle. I will kill a character if the player is playing him stupidly (charging into a hail of bullets while naked is stupid), but otherwise I will avoid killing a character…or I will find alternatives to keeping the character in the game (

Player = Go ahead and kill my character.
DM = Avoid killing characters.

Anyone else find themselves looking at the topic of character death in two different ways?

Quick Tip- Monster Second Wind

One of the problems in higher level play in 4E is that player abilities can “stun-lock” a monster such that it can take no (or limited) actions for a series of turns. This can create an anti-climatic fight for the end of an adventure. One thing I have started to do (past Heroic Tier) is to allow a monster’s use of an Action Point to end all ongoing/save effects currently affecting it. Of course, such use of the monster’s Action Point means it uses that Action Point only to end the ongoing effect and it does not gain an extra action.

It is only Elite and Solo monsters that have Action Points, so it will only be the “hard” or adventure threatening monsters that can do such a thing. This is in keeping with these types of monsters being high points of an adventure.

August 23, 2011

Listen To Your Players When They Aren’t Talking

Here is my scale of DM ability when it comes to listening to their players:

-Horrible: Ignore the fact your players are not having fun after they tell you so, “because the DM knows best”.
-Good: Listen when the players request something.
-Great: Open avenues to make it easier for the players to talk to you.
-Awesome: Listen to your players when they aren’t talking.

It is that last one I will be talking about in this article. It is easy to listen to your players when they let you know what their desires, likes and dislikes are. How a DM reacts to those times of open expression is the mark of a good DM. However, players can also communicate those same desires, likes and dislikes without ever speaking about them in an open manner (and I am not talking about a passive-aggressive thing). Often, the choices a character makes is a reflection of their desires as a player.

At first glance this appears to be a no-brainer statement, but looked at a bit more deeply it shows that often the players are letting a DM know their desires without ever expressing them and often without even realizing they are even making a statement. And a good DM will pick up on these desires.

As an example from one of my current campaigns; I designed a race of apemen to be the equivalent of orcs, i.e. fodder for combat. I didn’t even allow the characters to speak their language, purposely created a language barrier. I then also I designed the race as one that values strength and physical confrontation as their way of interaction. I set them up as antagonists. However, every time the players have encountered these apemen they have decided to try negotiation or avoid combat. I believe the players are trying to tell me they prefer something other than mindless combat; they want their characters to integrate with the native society instead of being marauding conquerors. They want to actually role-play instead of the usual (and expected) hacking.

My players are not going to openly tell me, “Hey, Dave, we want to get along with this race and not kill them”. They are letting their characters do the talking for them. And it is my place a GM to give them what they want, or at least allow for its possibility. Of course, I have to be listening for what they are saying, even if they aren’t saying anything.

So what can a DM do to listen to his players when they aren’t talking? First is to observe. Take a look at what the characters are doing. What choices are they making? Are they consistently making the same choices?
The second thing a GM can do is to create opportunities for the players to express what they desire in an in-character way. Don’t have the NPCs immediately attack; let the characters dictate how a confrontation starts. This will show a DM whether they prefer hack-n-slash or negotiation. Provide options that will show what they are looking for in your game.

Do the characters prefer stealth over a combat charge?
Do they prefer talking over combat?
Do they spend large amounts of time preparing for a fight over a blind charge?
Do they get excited about magic items or are the items filed away to be forgotten?
Do they enjoy spending gold or is it a chore?
Do they try and gain followers/people to their cause or are NPCs an annoyance?
Do they try to build things (businesses, castles, etc) or do they quickly move onto the next objective? Also, do they save certain items for a future endeavor (starting a business, castle, etc)?

The players are communicating with their DM; the trick is to know how to listen.

August 22, 2011

Wanted: 14

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting.

-Whatever could this key open? Why are there two of the exact same key in existence? Why so much gold for a key someone already has? Will the key lead to a dungeon crawl wherein the two keys are used to allow access to an ancient part of a complex?

August 19, 2011

PC Naming

Just a quick thought today.
Why is it that players get to name their characters? This is akin to a character naming himself. Naming is done by parents, outside the control of the character. In real life I was not able to make my own choices until after I was born, so why should a character be able to do so? After all I didn’t get to pick my real name; it was something I was stuck with. In real life, my name is something I have to deal with that was not of my choosing; so why can’t a character carry that same baggage.

Of course, players get to name their characters because it is the player’s creation. And they will be stuck with that name for an entire campaign (or until the character dies) so it only makes sense to allow them to choose something they will like and are comfortable with. After all, not many people would like to be “A Boy named Sue”. However, in a purely simulationist game it would be best to have characters named by something other than the player who is to play the character.

A Boy Named Sue

August 16, 2011

Watch Your Language

This article is not about using cuss words at the table or implementing Greek as a form of flavor. No, this article is about the fact that what a DM says at the game table can affect his players and how they play. At first, this seems blatantly obvious but this article is about the subtle things a GM can say that he may not even be aware he is saying. The words you choose may be saying something you are unaware of.

In a recent game I decided to write up an information packet for one of the characters. He was the only one who could read the language that the books in a discovered library were written in. Here is how I started the info packet…

“After having some spare time to peruse the books you found in the ruins…”
This is an accurate depiction of what happened. However, one of my desires for this campaign is for the characters to act as a group; no lone wolfs. So, I changed the same line to the following…

August 15, 2011

Wanted: 13

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting.

-Obviously the leader of a bandit group. But is he out for himself or on the run from an oppressive government? It may not matter since rumors are saying the reward will be doubled since he captured the Sheriff's daughter.

August 10, 2011

The Circle is Complete

This article is about the transitions of RPGs through the years, with a focus on where D&D fits into this evolution…and I get to bash on the Old School a little bit.

In the beginning there was D&D, the one game that started this niche called Role-Playing Games. It was sleek and simple. Everything was basic with no frills. That lasted about a week. As the game was being developed it grew as new layers and options were added. Want to play something other than a fighter; we can add that in. Want to use a weapon other than a sword; we can add that in. Because this is fantasy you want new spells; we can add that in. However, D&D still stayed fairly simple…at least when compared to other RPG systems.

August 9, 2011

Thank You to the OSR

I play 4E. I am running two completely unique, built-from-scratch 4E campaigns. I really like 4E and its options. I am the type of person who likes to have a lot of options, both as a player and as a DM. I like the interplay between characters in combat, wherein group support is recommended and encouraged; wherein a person can affect combat even if it is not their turn. I have sold some 4E material for publication and it is therein where my goals for further publication lie.

All that being said, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to all those who produce material for and continue to support the OSR. Your enthusiasm for a simpler game play style is a wonderful thing. I believe there is a place and need for the OSR style game systems. The systems can be a lot of fun to play within. They can show us how to game with the minimum and still have a good time. And it was the OSR that brought these options to the forefront where people could see it, perhaps for the first time, and where it can continue to thrive.

I will admit I am not enamored by those pundits who try to engage in edition wars. This is a detraction from the OSR, but in the end the OSR is about people wanting to bring something wonderful to the community of RPG gaming and they have succeeded, so again I wish to say…

Thank you to the OSR.

August 8, 2011

Wanted: 12

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting.

-A fairly basic dungeon crawl. As the message implies there will be undead involved. However, nothing was mentioned about the necromancer and his cult being there as well.

August 4, 2011

The Game Trumps the Internet

I will admit that with all the internet hatred of 4E it can get a bit depressing. Sometimes I feel like I might be doing something wrong, playing the wrong game for the wrong reasons. After all there is soooo much wrong with 4E. There are countless articles by people about why they don't like it. And to be honest it is not a perfect system. It is easy to point (and harp) on a singular issue and drive the system into the ground. Add to that more singular issues and eventually a person can start to feel like the entire system is wrong.

However, last night we had an awesome 4E game. The characters managed to finally destroy the item that was causing them to be hideously cursed. The characters drove the adventure with passion and a sense of urgency. 6 straight encounters without a single extended rest. They saved their best stuff for the final fight and went to town. The players felt on the edge, rationing their resources and feeling behind the 8-ball. As the final fight finished they cheered at the conclusion. Some were giddy with how they were able to help the party. Some were excited about how they used every power they had and were left with nothing at the end. Everyone felt as if they contributed to the final fight And this is from players who have been playing RPGs for 20+ years each.

My players have embraced the system and seem to really enjoy 4E. They like all the things 4E has brought to the RPG table. Detailed powers, every class bringing something unique to the table, rationing of abilities, intricate combat, encounter balance. Many of the things the internet pundits decry as being wrong. But ya know what, my players had fun last night, a lot of fun. And that is the important part.

So, the heck with the internet; my players will determine what system is right.

August 2, 2011

Declaration Meme

I wasn't going to post anything this week since most of my potential readers will be gone and at GenCon. In fact, I had some articles posted for this week but pulled them to post later. However, Greyhawkgrognard posted a fun article about his preferences. This was followed by RPGBlogII doing much the same. I thought it would be interesting to join the fun. Bear in mind these are slapdash opinions of my own on a variety of topics on RPGs. Take them with a grain of salt.

New is new. New is ideas that I might, just maybe, be able to use at my table. New is not necessarily better but sometimes it is. So, I will not dismiss “new” simply because it is new, and I will not like “new” simply because it is new.

I like the Tolkien elves. Real mythological elves are obnoxious little twerps. I like the imperious elf model. I like the Tolkien dwarf and halfling. As for gnomes…for many many, many years I would disallow them at my table. If a player insisted, I would kill them off at the first game. However, in my doddering old age, I have mellowed and allow them.

It’s my story, my world and my campaign. If you as a player want to create your own world do it yourself and stop trying to muck around with mine. You can change my world with your character’s actions but not through some arbitrary rule addition that makes you a mini-GM in my world.

Bring it! You want to play a half-teifling/half-unicorn multi-classed into Barbarian/Bloodmage/Astral Walker, you go right ahead. Go ahead and cherry pick the best feats/skills/powers. I don’t care what perks you think will make you uber beyond the GM’s ability to confound are wrong. A good GM can challenge anything you bring to the table and I am good enough to do just that. I am not scared of your character.

On that note, as both a player and GM, I prefer lots and lots of options. I love to min/max and I encourage my players to do the same. I love to explore a game’s system. I love to add to my world all the things a system adds to its game over time. How do Bloodmages fit into my world? It’s fun and exciting to try to figure that out…and then spring it on my players.

Role-playing over charts and tables when it comes to character play. It’s your character, run him as you please without arbitrary tables to control how you play. Same goes for alignment. Alignments are a role-playing straightjacket. You can play your character anyway you want; all I ask/demand is that you do it consistently.

PDFs blow. Give me a dead tree! I prefer something I can hold in my hand. I can find the right page number in a book faster than you can following your pdf bookmark. Yes, I could get Stars Without Number for free, but instead I spent $24 to get the hardcover. Of course, pdfs are nice if I want to print out a specific page, but at the table I want a real book.

Laptops/cell phones etc. I do not use them at the table. I do not disallow them but really, why do you need one? Usually it is to check your email or do some web surfing when it’s not your turn.

I really want to run my “evil-but not evil” campaign. Maybe someday. I will never run a pure evil campaign since they always end in a couple of sessions when one character betrays the rest of the party and on the way hurts his fellow players. On this topic, I allow for inter-party conflict as long as it doesn’t degenerate into combat. And no, you can not make an elf-hating dwarf if someone in the party is playing an elf.

I despise the d30 and any die outside of the “Holy 6” (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20). Other dice are gimmicks and a waste of my time. It is just as easy to make a chart that uses one of the Holy 6 as it is to make a chart that uses something outside of them.

I also can not run a horror game. I can not build the tension required. Also a horror game is not about how long your character can last until he dies. Games where your character is doomed to die, no matter what he does, is lame.

He She It. I tend to default to He but make an effort to include She on occasion. But really, don’t try and force me into a certain speech/writing pattern to avoid sexism. To do so is also a form of sexism. I will do it in a way that feels comfortable and no other way.

Related to the above, fun over realism. Yes, realism means women in medieval time periods have to stay at home being pregnant, barefoot and never get to use a weapon or armor unless they are an aberration and looked upon as a freak. That is not fun for my players so in this case, fun wins.

Use the right words. The person who runs the game is the DM which is short for Dungeon Master. I will even let slide GM for Game Master. However, the DM is not a Referee or Judge or Narrator. He is the DM. Also, they are demons and devils, not tanar'ri or baatezu.

Artwork is made to enhance the game. Gore for the sake of gore and to elicit a gut reaction is dumb. Gore to showcase the effectiveness of the monster is ok. However, the best artwork is that which I can make a copy of and show my players when they reach that scene.

August 1, 2011

Wanted: 11

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting.

-Goofy smile, the crime of littering, the huge reward, only wanted dead. There is more to this poster than the usual. The target is an exceedlingly dangerous man, a man for which no crime has been found for him yet, so the most simple crime was attached to him. The powers in control want him gone, and gone in a bad way, but they fear him like no one else.