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Showing posts from December, 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…