Initiative Checks

At the start of a battle, each combatant makes an initiative check. An initiative check is a dexterity check. Each character applies his or her dexterity modifier to the roll. Characters act in order, counting down from highest result to lowest. In every round that follows, the characters act in the same order.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Using Modern Technology During the Game, Is it worth it?

If you play any edition of D&D, or really any game for that matter, then you know that modern technology can be either a boon or a hindrance depending on how it's used.
On the plus side there's a whole world of inspiration just a few keystrokes away. With a strong connection to the internet and the right search phrases a good DM could show up and run a game from scratch with little or no prep time, believe me, I've done it. Think about it, he/she would have trillions of pictures, premade stats, generators, and music at their fingertips and I haven't even mention the value of word processors like Microsoft Word and OpenOffice Writer.
But just when you though you'd found the holy sanctum of planning, distraction rears it's ugly head. You know what I'm talking about if the DM has ever paused in the middle of describing a beautiful, babbling brook because nobody is listening anymore or they've had to remind the same player fifteen times how many orcs are left in combat because he's also playing Minecraft and chatting on Facebook.
This brings us to the question presented in this article. Is it worth it? Should you ban all gadgets from your games or just some? Does the DM have to follow that rule too or is he excused because he needs his computer to organize things? 
Fortunately there is a simple, time honored answer: Leave it up to the DM. As the driver of the fantastical car it's his job to decide which distractions are allowed and which ones aren't. This problem can be complicated if the DM's the one being distracted or if the distractions are more often the players than the electronics. Both of these are more or less resolved by a group discussion about out-of-game house rules (See my earlier article about problem players entitled Dealing With Grief And The Players That Cause It).
So I guess it's up to you and your friends to decide: Is using modern technology during a game worth it? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dealing With Grief And The Players That Cause It

Chaos can be caused by many factors including troubled players!
Sometimes D&D games go off without a hitch. Sometimes everyone has a grand-old-time and you're able to smile sincerely and high-five that player who's sword just took off the dragon's head, as it was about to devour the king's daughter, amid a chorus of back-slapping and cries of "Huzzah!" from the other players. And sometimes one of the players decides it would be funny to launch a fireball right in the center of the room where it's certain to hit all of the monsters as well as the fighter, the swordmage, and the cleric.

Now, as a DM you have to expect to mediate a certain amount of "friendly-fire", but when players begin to maliciously attack one another it's a fair bet that some good-old-fashioned DM intervention is required. To make a long story short, the party wizard saw a chance to off his enemies while settling a dispute with his fellow players, perhaps not in the most mature way, but a means to an end is a means to an end.

I must admit that there was some previous bad blood between these players, something that DMs have to deal with every now and then, involving a magical item from a few games ago. Feel free to refer to my previous article on dealing with treasure distribution if this is a constant problem in your group.

As we of the generally adult world know, backstabbing is never the best option, especially when you're not even playing the same characters you were at the time of the dispute but it begs an interesting point, dealing with troubled players, the troubles they cause, and how to (peacefully) resolve said troubles.

1) Troubled Players - I want to point out that I'm using the words "troubled player" not "trouble player" because even the most straightforward, D&D loving, lawful-good paladin can stray to the path of chaos if they feel jilted enough. The main split between troubled players and trouble players is this: Troubled players act out when they feel they've been tricked or cheated out of a prize be it xp, loot, or even a coveted role-playing opportunity, such as the final blow to a particularly hated enemy or if they're bored with the premise/game. Trouble players just want to watch the metaphorical world burn.

2) The Troubles They Cause - A good DM must learn to discern between an idea being an honest, if crazy, one or a troubled player's way of getting back at someone in the group. This can be a hard thing to do as most creative ideas may require a bit of collateral damage. However, a troubled player's idea will generally include maliciously attacking another or kicking someone when they're down.

This seems a good time to point out that in an evil campaign (A campaign in which the player characters play the roles of an evil adventuring party causing mayhem and mischief across the lands) you shouldn't limit your players chaotic potential, including aggression against other PCs.

3) Resolving Problems - Resolving troubled players is surprisingly easy. Unlike trouble players, troubled players are not in it just to destroy relationships and objects. You can handle these situations a number of ways: You can give in to the player and fulfill his/her unspoken demands, you could talk to the player outside of the game, or you can try to do a better job mediating in the future. In the end what's done is done, and no player can totally ruin the game. Or can they?

Troubled players are a hazard. They can derail a game and cause others to lose sight of why we play (fun). But they are nothing that DMs have not handled before and will continue to handle until that last twenty has been rolled.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Guild Building

I'm sure some of my readers have played Assassin's Creed 3. If so you know the joy of building and maintaining your homestead. In a recent game (Of Gods and Mortals, run by ZBlackHeart) our group acquired a hero's guild in the town of Loudwater and began the delicate task of rearing the next generation of heroes. Not unlike Assassin's Creed 3 "The Guild" as we took to calling it, started as a small two-story building on the docks of Loudwater, a small shipping town near the sword-coast. Not very impressive on the outside, and only a little bit better on the inside.

At first we only had three members not including our group of four, two of whom didn't wish to participate. Really it could only go up from there, or so I thought. We soon discovered that, of our three young initiates, one was a kleptomaniac, one was a traitor, and the third was possessed. Over all not a very fortunate turnout. But we powered through and over the next fifteen years (in game time) the guild prospered and grew. Today "The Heroes/Merchant's Guild of Loudwater" has found fame and a place to call it's own within the political hierarchy of Loudwater.

As of late I've offered to buy out my friend's portion of the guild, thus taking on full responsibility of The Guild.

Don't underestimate the importance of this part of the game. It is a high stress job. Think about it, if you fail or if too many of your trainees die in the process you've effectively damned the next generation to a life of misery under the cruel lashes of one overlord or another.

Why do I tell you all of this? Well if you look at the above example of play you'll see lessons in marketing, business, teamwork, and an example of how sound investment and time can make you rich.

Heed this lesson next generation.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Hey, why does he get more?"

Ah, the arguments spawned during loot and xp distribution are legendary in proportion. The phrase "Why does he get that?" or "That's unfair!" can bring a stalwart game to a halt in a moment. Especially if everyone is playing greedy, care-only-for-yourself rouges, and I seriously don't recommend that. But alas there will always be loot and xp in D&D to be divied up so what are you to do with that one dwarf fighter who hordes what ever the party finds for himself?

There are several ways, many are mentioned in the back of the Player's Strategy Guide. But I've never actually read that whole section in one sitting, it's kind of dry reading, so I'll settle for explaining how my group's party does things.

The first way, for mature players, is to make a contract and have (make) the group sign it. It's simple, fast, and ostensibly effective assuming your group has strong enough will power to up hold it. I'm not going to tell you what to write, I think you can figure it out, and it's different within every group.

The second, this is the one my group uses most often, is to create a list of the items in question and have a short debate about their fate. Why does the wizard need the +2 longsword? Does the dwarf really want those robes of fast travel or is he just going to sell them? Use discretion and try not to over think this thing, as much as I hate to say it, it's a game don't let it ruin your friendships.

The last, is to have a grab fest. Usually this provides the most complaints of the three mentioned here. One player or another winds up gypped and angry. However with some more healthy debate, trade, and commerce this method can be made effective.

That's all for the day, be on the look out for more re-caps and articles, now that school's back in session.

Johnathan Rollen Revard the Bard

Friday, May 25, 2012

Play-Testing D&D Next and 1001 Traps

A few posts ago I trash talked D&D Next. My objection was the amount of money that one spends on books in the first place, even though I bought most of mine on Amazon, here's a link just in case you've never heard of Amazon. Now, I've signed up to play-test it. I'm sure your all wondering how much they paid me to change my mind, but actually they didn't have to. There are three things I like about this new version of the game over 4e.
  1. The Hit Points are Lower - Our group spends so long in some combats, it loses it's fun, this should shorten combat. Some would argue that I, as DM, could fix this by letting my players take on easier monsters, good point but with Toc in a party it is imposable to balance everyone. Toc can breeze through dungeons I've designed to challenge PC's three to five levels higher then him. However less hit points doesn't mean that the PC's are weaker then the monsters, it lowers whole bar, monster can be smashed with one hit, creatures beheaded with a single stroke. It gives a real sense of empowerment.
  2. The Magic System is Back! - In 4e they gave powers to everyone, not in next. Now only clerics and wizards can use spells, just like in 3.5e, which brings me to number three.
  3. What were they Thinking? - Like I said, in 4e they gave everyone powers. They called them different things, like spells for the wizard, prayers for the cleric, and martial exploits for the fighters, What? My Half-Orc Fighter, who can barely write his own name is not going to use martial exploits. He is going to hit things with a big sword, hard, while screaming. Also placing powers into the hands of a fighter drastically tipped the scales of power in the fighters direction.   
There you have it. That is why I'm play-testing it, when our group next meets. Now to send you off here's a tidbit I got in today's email. It's a thread on the D&D website with over 1001 trap ideas for your game, have fun! 1001 Trap Ideas

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Death and the Afterlife 2

I wasn't planning to do a second part on this subject, but after re-reading my first article I realized that I forgot to mention a crucial thing! The afterlife part... In D&D, and perhaps other RPG's, afterlife depends mainly on four things: Your alignment, What you did in life, What your character believes, and Who your character worships. These things, and perhaps some other minor things, control what happens to your character. The fun thing is that you really never have the same afterlife twice, unless of course you make the exact same character, and I mean exact same. For example, a fighter who worships Kord (God of Battle), believes in reincarnation, and has generally followed a good alignment all of his life, may be reincarnated by Kord as a good red dragon, or the son of a mighty warlord. However this outcome will be entirely different for a wizard who worships Orcus (Demon Prince of the Undead), believes that you gain power after-death, and followed a chaotic-evil alignment all her life. The point is this: the afterlife is wide and varying. Your ideas of a cool after world may be different from your best friend's, but no matter what your alignment or your ideas your death and afterlife are truly yours to create.

Note: You may have noticed words like, "chaotic-evil" and "good" (Well that's not that hard to figure out). These words represent your alignment, or basically your attitude toward the world. In 4e there are: Lawful- Good, Good, Neutral, Evil, and Chaotic-Evil. I may write a more expansive article on these subjects later.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Death and the Afterlife

I recently read an article about character death in D&D (I would post a link but, alas, I've lost the site). Anyway, today the topic is character death. If you play any RPG you've had to deal with it. But in D&D, and perhaps in other RPGs, there is a shining ray of hope on the other end of that long, dark hallway. Resurrection! Now this is assuming that your fellow party members want to fork over the 2,000 gold pieces (gp) per ten levels to revive you. In many cases, *cough* my group *cough*, the other party members may divide the dead person's stuff and leave the corpse to rot. This also raises the question: Are there ways for the characters to die from which they should not be able to return? For example, if a fighter is blasted by the fiery breath of a 700-year-old dragon, then thrown from a 400-foot-cliff and lands on a bed of sharp and jagged rock, assuming the party can find his body, should they be allowed to restore him to the world of the living? To answer this question we have to ask another question: Why does D&D allow resurrection in the first place? Well I believe that perhaps D&D allows resurrection for two reasons. One, characters become more than a piece of paper upon which are written numbers and strange words. They become a source of imagination - perhaps you've spent time perfecting a back story, or drawing pictures, or even just imagining how kick-butt your character is in combat. The point is, once you've invested all that time you don't want it to end. Number two also has to do with time. Once you reach higher levels starting over just doesn't seem to be a viable option. It's like playing a video game half-way through and then it crashes and you have to start over. Not fun.

As with most things there is another side to this proverbial coin; character death isn't always a bad thing. Perhaps your character went down a different path than you expected, or maybe the character sacrificed himself for "the good of all goodly folk", thus reaching his personal "Valhalla". The character doesn't even have to die - sometimes they just retire. Becoming king, marrying and settling down, or even avenging the last of his/her people are all good reasons to end you character's adventures in the world. Sometimes the character just loses its fun, and fun is the main reason to play. 

To answer my own question with an incredibly vague statement: Yes and No. There are times when a character is dead... no questions, he has shuffled off this mortal coil. But there are times, too, when a character's story may just be beginning again.