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Showing posts from 2015

An Alternate System for Handling Proficiencies

Most d20-based D&D-related systems give out proficiencies in blocks based on classes or groups of weapons. Some use feats and even races to augments this. While effective, this sometimes pidgeonholes characters into using the same sort of weapons over and over again. It also limits the number of weapons available, because any clearly better weapon will overshadow lesser alternatives. To add some useful detail to this part of these systems, I am proposing an alternative system using proficiency points. As with all ideas, it probably has been considered by other folks before (though I have found no discussion on the internet of it). Still I throw this idea out as one whose time has come.

Proficiency points are granted to allow character to gain proficiency in specific weapons. Common, less dangerous weapons require few proficiency points to learn to use. Complex, exotic, dangerous weapons require more proficiency points to learn to use. This can be expanded to include siege weapons …

Pacing 101: Getting Your Game Moving

How do you keep players engaged? How do you keep players off their phones and in the game? How do you handle the game when the party splits? How do you keep tension high? The answer to all these questions is pacing, and that's what we're covering today.

Pacing is about 2 things: how long progress takes, and how much time there is between direct interaction with a player.

Generally, a good GM will move the story forward quickly enough so that the players aren't doing the same thing over and over. However, the story pace can't negate the players ability to make decisions and deal with consequences. The story isn't something that happens to the PCs; the PCs are the story.

Interactions with the players should happen often, but quickly. Why? Because the time it takes to get from one turn to the next is the sum of all player interactions in between. Don't give players time to get bored; keeping the game moving.

The first key to pacing is to set expectations properly…

Top 10 Things to Know for the New Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Dungeon Master

There is no doubt that D&D 5E is pulling in a lot of new players. Unfortunately, this exacerbates the problem of needing more Dungeon Masters (DMs), and luckily more players are jumping in to be new DMs for games. If this is you, then this article is for you. Let's cover the top ten things to know as a new DM for 5E, well, besides the rules, which come in convenient book form.

You need 3 books: The Players' Handbook (PHB), the Monster Manual (MM), and the Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG).
You can get started with just the first two, but the DMG will teach you a lot of important skills and give you a lot of needed advice.
Learn the rules, but don't sweat it when you get them wrong.
Learn the rules as best you can before hosting your first session, but don't feel bad when you don't know a rule. Even experienced DMs take many session over months to learn a new rule set. Ask your players for help, make a ruling, and make a note to revisit it after the session. Keep rea…

Rails and Bumpers: Designing for Free-Range PCs with Invisible Fences

Every GM struggles in the beginning balancing between authoring a compelling story and giving players freedom. Go too far into authorship and you start railroading players and denying player agency. Swing towards giving you much freedom and there will be a lack of cohesive story and a big problem with trying to prep for the game. To cover this were going to use an analogy of trains versus bumper cars.
Trains are a pretty simple idea. You connect major points via a path. There is no deviating from this path. Anytime anything stats to lead us off the orphaned path, something pushes back in the right direction. This is the perfect model for describing how not to put together a campaign, hence the name railroading. Railroading can deny entire potential plot lines. It can also deny actions that players want to take because they lead off track. This is very frustrating to players who want to be driving the story.
Still, we need a way to keep players in some rough limits so we can prepare f…

My Go To Starter Adventure: Pink Dice's Version of "A Dark and Stormy Knight"

"A Dark and Stormy Knight" is a 1st level adventure written by Owen K. C. Stephens. It was released by Wizards of the Coast for d20 aka D&D 3.5.  It is one of my favorite starter adventures because it covers all the major bases for a starter adventure -- introducing characters to each other, introducing some lore, hitting all the major rules, and teaching many beginner lessons of D&D. I personally have used this adventures in different forms for D&D 3.5, Pathfinder, and D&D 5E.

The adventure takes place in a tomb covered in a large hill, often called a barrow.  As the story starts, a squall sets in from the coast that is throwing heavy rain, wind, and deadly lightning at the PCs. They are traveling through the woods on their own, unconnected, when the storm hits. One of the lightning blasts cracks open the doors of this tomb, and the PCs take shelter there one by one.
In this part of the country, which I usually set on the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms,…

Interesting Encounter: The Puzzle Clock

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

This week we're covering a giant puzzle encounter. Our encounter is located as the only entrance into an area that the PCs really wants to access, details left to the GM. The top level puzzle, which isn't to be explained to the players, is a clock. The entryway to the area is a portal that leads to area 1. Portals lead in order from the end of area 1 to the start of area 2, from the end of area 2 to the start of area 3, and so forth, until finally the portal at the end of area 12 leads to the area of interest.

Lore, legend, or a tavern conversation will tell the party that the entry portal only opens at noon each day. The detail that the PCs will need to discover for themselves is that the initial portal is only open for …

Interesting Encounter: The Coordinated Enemy

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

I am sticking this interesting encounter in as an extra because it is a short one. This encounter is also highly tactical and depends on the rules for your system. If you can't use it as is, there is probably a way you can adapt it to your system.

In this scenario, the party is wandering through a structure, dungeon, mansion, cavern, or other large structure with rooms and corridors. In my case, it is a dungeon. The PCs are fighting large numbers of a single type of enemies -- undead, orcs, goblins, kobolds, or, as in my case, warforged. Whichever location or type, the early battles in corridors and scattered locations will be easy.

Why are these early fights easy? Tactics won't matter in them. The enemies are spread out,…

Interesting Encounter: The Hermit Mage

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

Sometimes adventuring parties gain too much confidence from too many victories, and throw caution to the wind. In these cases, it is sometimes necessary to remind the party that the world is a big place, and for all their powers and abilities, there is always someone more powerful.

I usually throw this encounter into an unlikely place, like searching through a dungeon or a cavern system or even in an old ruin. In this remote, unpopulated location, the party stumbles across a room with the glow of a burning fire and the smell of stew boiling over the flames.

In this room is a powerful mage. Feel free to build this mage to fit into whatever bigger scheme of the plot. In my recent campaign, centered around an evil gnome army, I made…

Interesting Encounters: The Battle for Skullport

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

It is sometimes very challenging to get lower level characters engaged in a way that feels epic. This interesting encounter is putting some moderately leveled (5E level 7-ish) characters in the middle of a huge battle. This battle is designed to make the PCs actions determine the outcome of the battle. It is also designed to feel epic and balanced.

This particular battle takes place in Skullport in the Forgotten Realms, however, by replacing the foes with equivalents, it could really be a battle in almost any setting. Skullport is a city of ill repute that bridges the surface worlds and the Underdark in the realms. Unfortunately, in this scenario, it has been assaulted by an army of warforged and the PCs needs to help take it bac…

The Dread Naught Campaign Summary

This is a brief summary of the 11 month campaign that I GMed and recently ended. I have left out the bulk of details about the party, which changed several times over the 11 months, but rather captured the framework of the plot used. I thought other GMs might find this inspiring. As with most of my campaigns, this one focused on epic deeds, not just humdrum bandit-bashing. There are, of course, added to this framework, a number of character specific plot lines which are mostly not discussed here. If you reuse any of this, definitely considering customizing it for the motivations of your party.

For reference this campaign took about 33 sessions. Each session took about an average of 3 hours, meaning that the campaign was about 100 hours of play. The party started at level 1 and fought the last battle at level 12. It was played using D&D 5E.

The Dread Naught Campaign continued a previous year and a half campaign that I ran in Pathfinder in the Forgotten Realms. Though the lore contin…

Interesting Encounter: The Grande Hotel

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

The Grande Hotel is a social encounter. I originally wrote this encounter as a balancing bit of luck for a min-maxed overly-charismatic bard. It certainly highlights the dangers of being too reliant on only a single aspect in a single character. It is also a lesson in not splitting the party.

The Grande Hotel is the first big chance for the new big damn heroes to flaunt their wealth and get some rest. From the moment the party walks into the hotel, they get a flood of elegance. A doorman opens the door for them and offers to take their *ahem* luggage. If they agree, a bellboy will appear with a cart and take any items, weapons, etc and load them on.

At the front desk, a very polite man will offer to get them a room or suite, sepa…

Interesting Encounter: The Goblin Luge

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

This encounter is all about excitement and speed with a lot of humor thrown in. The encounter takes place on a sleepy little snow-covered mountainside in a village. The party can start out either inside or outside.  After an overnight ice storm, the party will be startled by screaming and strange noises.

A group of goblins has gathered up the mountain from the village. They have recently discovered that if they load 4 or more of them onto metal shields they recently recovered from a nearby battle, they can attain a lot of speed going down the hill. They get the wonderfully evil idea of using this new found method of transportation to make a raid on the village.

The raid starts with the first few groups sliding through the village…

The Danger of Stereotyping Players

We probably have all heard the stereotypes: the munchkin, the min-maxer, the power gamer. There are entire sections in gaming books written on different types of gamers and how to deal with them. Today, I'm covering why this kind of classification of players is dangerous for being a good GM.

Using stereotypes to identify players is a terrible way to relate to your gaming group. Once you believe you can adequately boil down the needs, wants, and behaviors of a player to a single name, you have lost sight of all of the details that differentiate that player from everyone else. You start thinking that those stereotypes are the important part of what defines a player. You start designing a game around those stereotypes. People are rarely so fundamentally cookie-cutter. Stereotypes gloss over the details that you need to pay attention to in order to be responsive to your players.

So how do you deal with a power gamer or a min-maxer, if you don't want power gaming or min-maxing in y…

PinkDiceGM as Harry Dresden

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween

My home will be safe from candy-seeking adventurers tomorrow night.

Horror Games: The Evil Within

The horror genre in gaming is drastically different than the horror genre in movies and fictions. In a game where monsters are fought all the time and where the PCs are trained warriors of some ilk, monsters just aren't as terrifying. The lack of direct visual representation of the situation, combined with the lack of real-time pace, makes it more difficult to generate the wonderful jolt of being scared. To replace these elements, consider focusing on another great horror: the evil within.

The evil within is all about generating paranoia and fear within the party. By making the party a potential enemy, it makes combat more tense. Trust is broken. When your ally could at any moment become your enemy, it makes it hard to let them do the things they need to do, even like just standing behind you.

To bring out the evil within, we are going to use 3 different mechanics: sanity, disease, mental domination. Sanity mechanics allow us to use horrific circumstances to mentally break down th…

Planning for a Long-Term Campaign: When Sessions Turn into Years

It is the holy grail of gaming: to have a game that goes on for years, chewing through PCs and plot lines to build truly epic heroes.  Today's article is addressing how to plan out a long-term campaign and what to expect.

The first aspect of planning a long-term campaign is recognizing that things are going to change. Long-term campaigns only succeed when they can continue through the expected changes. The first thing you can expect is that real life is going to generate absences. To make a game resilient against absence, get a group size that is larger than what you need to play. For my games, I run with 6, knowing that most encounters will do just fine when only 4 are present.  Even with this, there are going to be times you just can't get together a quorum. Expect this to happen around holidays. Whatever you do, maintain consistency in scheduling. It is way to easy for a few skipped session to turn into the defacto ending of your gaming group.
Another change you have to be …

The Darkness and the Light: Using Foil NPCs

Without light, there is no darkness. In literature, we take this simple idea of contrast a step farther with the idea of a foil.  A foil is a character or object used in literature to purposefully contrast another character or object, in the process, emphasizing the contrasting characteristics. The use of a foil character is not just limited to literature. You can use it very effectively in a TTRPG game too.

A good example is the pair of Boromir and Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. Aragorn and Boromir both are fierce fighting men joining a mission.  However, the contrast between these two character is what is most emphasized in the telling in the story. Without Boromir's complete failure in resisting the ring, we would not be able to recognize how strong Aragorn really is.

Similarly, in the RPG stories we tell, we often want to highlight certain characteristics of both NPCs and PCs in the story. In these cases, adding a foil character can really bring out the contrast. For example, i…

Evaluating Homebrew and Third Party Options in 5E

There are a lot of questions always flying around in the community about the balance of third party and homebrew options.  Unfortunately, it isn't always obvious how to make this judgement and how to evaluate the options. In this article, we're going to look at some strategies for making the evaluation in 5E.  For a light example of this analysis, take a look at my thoughts on fixing the Ranger Beastmaster archetype in 5E.

The first thing to keep in mind, is that a well balanced option should be neither clearly better or worse than existing options in order to be balanced.  Unfortunately, this kind of comparison has to look at a lot of different aspects and try to compare them as a whole. Some of these aspects are easily quantifiable. Some of these aspects are hard to measure. Our first step is to try to get things into the same language.

Combat effectiveness is a definite consideration. A PC during combat causes damage against foes while taking damage from foes. Improving per…

Interesting Encounter: Goblin Canyon Ambush

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

The goblin canyon is an excellent whimsical "random" combat encounter to throw into a campaign for a change of pace.  For this encounter, you will probably need to break out your mass combat rules.  I had about 70 goblins in play.  This encounter is best used with non-flying PCs that are traveling with companions, mounts, wagons, and other non-worn supplies.  It can work for a caravan too, or a ship floating down a river with minor modifications.

The party in this encounter is traveling through a canyon with sloped sides and a lot of rock formations.  The formations and canyon walls are 20 to 30 ft up.  This is all pretty visible when the party enters the canyon. Because of the open layout, it doesn't seem that dang…