Thursday, March 17, 2011, 5:07 AM
I have been tossing this idea around in my head haphazardly for some time now. It finally hit me tonight as an actual workable tool that I and other DMs can use to improve many aspects of their campaigns. I have decided to give this idea the name “Flavor Questions” as they are simply pre conceived questions with the goal of adding flavor and story to many things in your campaign world.
A flavor question is nothing more than asking the players indirectly to contribute something to your campaign. A good flavor question should allow a player to come up with a creative and sometimes surprising answer. I feel the best way to explain would be through example.
During a battle one of your players sustains an injury to their leg, a simple flavor question would be “That monster really put a deep gash in your leg, do you think you will develop a limp?” On the surface this question seems plain but underneath it can have many implications. For one it gives your player a chance to develop his personality and appearance beyond his initial concept at creation. It also allows the other players a chance to role-play and further develop relationships with the character.
Let us explore another example. When players design their backgrounds and personalities you should ask for a copy. Many times it will be up to you to find way to introduce this information to the other players. If you plan it right the effect can be wondrous. Let us say one player mentions in his background that he often spent time with his friends cutting the purses of wealthy citizens in the market. A good flavor question might be: “What nickname did your friends give you in your childhood”. This gives the player an opportunity to perhaps explain that part of his background and come up with a funny or amusing nickname, the other players might also jump in at the opportunity to create a nickname.
Asking players to name their objects such as swords and shields can be good flavor questions. Again it allows the player to further develop their personalities and can have an exponential effect on role-playing opportunities.
Say the players are arriving at a new town, or perhaps even a home town of one of the players. Ask the flavor question “You arrive at your home town of XXX for the first time in many years. Your uncle owns one of the local taverns; do you recall its name?” This allows the players to directly participate in the construction of the very world they wander. That tavern will become much more than any other tavern they visit and will feel more like their own.
I could really go on and on with the idea but I think you get the idea. Sit for a moment a think of some flavor questions you could ask your players and then share them in the comments below. Till next time, here’s hoping your games are full of fun!
Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 10:51 PM
Pulling tight the chains securing it to the platform the beast defiantly thrust forth it’s massive weight against them rearing its head up high and opening its powerful jaws to reveal rows of razor sharp teeth before producing a bone chilling roar that filled the heart of every man, woman, and child with pure dread, all but save one.
Every detail of the massive muscles that moved beneath the sleek raven black coat of fur covering the beast could be seen by all. A sense of pure hatred emanating forth from behind the stare of the beast’s amber eyes as it focused its gaze upon Traben would reduce all but the most courageous of men to tears. The creature lowered itself low to the ground, perfectly balanced on six paws the size of a giants hand, each bearing talon like claws the length of a dagger. Much like its tail gracefully swaying back and forth, dual barbed tentacles protruded from the feline’s shoulders both as powerful and agile as the legs supporting its tremendous weight.
The trumpets once again pierced the silence as the orator gave signal for the match to begin. The chains of the beast dropped limp to the ground as the collar secured around its neck snapped open freeing the beast at last. Raising his shield and readying attack, Traben took stance moving about as slow and precise as the beast that now stalked him. Calculating each other’s first move, man and beast moved in circular unity waiting for the perfect opportunity to lay blow.
Now directly in front of Traben the beast extended its claws deeply penetrating the sand of the arena. Its powerful muscles tensing for but a spilt second as it sprang with an unnatural speed directly towards Traben, claws fully extended. Simultaneously shifting the weight of his left leg backwards, Traben quickly turned to his left exposing his sword arm to the beast now bearing down upon him. Using the momentum of the turn to further power the blow of his sword Traben turned his motion into a fluid strike, arcing upwards apparently attacking nothing but air in front of him. Just as the beast was about to deliver the deadly blow to Traben’s flank it disappeared from its place reappearing directly in the path of Traben’s sword. Pulling the edge of his sword cleanly across the beasts front legs and shoulder, Traben opened a terrible gash narrowly dodging the beasts own attack.
The crowd erupted in to cheer as the beast fell to the ground. It lay for but a moment before quickly finding its feet and its opponent once again. Backing away ever slowly the beast roared in anger at the sting of the blow. Seeing opportunity in its moment of weakness, Traben pressed with further attack. With a running start he leaped into the air, sword raised high as he came down with a mighty swing, yet his sword found nothing but the sand. The beast had once again displaced itself, this time to his right flank. With lightning speed it countered, the barbs of its tentacle driving deep into the flesh of Traben’s back. Traben released a terrible cry of agony falling slightly backwards from the power of the blow. Pressing forward, the beast lunged down and then thrust himself upwards ripping the barbs along with flesh from Traben’s back sending him spiraling through the air.
Finding himself on his back, Traben instinctively brought his shield up to bear as the beast pounced to ravage its downed foe. Massive claws savagely battering his shield as he felt tremendous weight bearing down upon him. The monster’s wicked tentacle, low to the ground, swiped horizontally underneath the shields protection, its barbs sinking deep into Traben’s left shoulder once again sending pain coruscating throughout his body. Easily sinking its teeth into the edge of the shield the beast forcefully thrust its tentacle in the opposite direction sending Traven tumbling across the surface of the arena depraved of his shield. To the cheers of the crowd Traben once again found his feet as the monster before him with a powerful swing of its head sent his shield flying across the arena.
Blood now oozing from Traben’s wounds, glistened in the sun off his chiseled features like fresh red paint. It flowed down his left arm meeting his hand where heavy drops accumulated only to fall in great quantity towards the sand. The displacer beast had now wandered some distance from Traben, pacing back and forth like the great cat it was, keeping its ever watchful eyes alert for its opponents next move.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 5:53 AM
The blistering sun beat down upon young Traben’s brow, tempting moisture from flesh as he gazed upon the blistering sand beneath his feet, hallowed ground of legend fermented with the blood of titans, true champions of often whispered tales. Traben found himself alone presently, lost in a moment of reflection before the chants of the crowd tore him from silent thought returning him to purpose. Raising his hand into view he peered upon the instrument of death clutched by his hand as he tightened his grip upon its all too familiar hilt, the sun revealing its marred surface. Glory or death would be his fate this day, an outcome only the Gods dare divine, yet he welcomed both freely.
The blast of many trumpets deafened the roar of the arena as the orator rose to give introduction of the coming games to the crowd.
“Good citizens of Woodhaven, I stand before you today humbled and honored to give introduction to a spectacle unlike any you have ever laid eyes upon. You shall bear witness to history in the making, and who other than the mighty Traben, the undefeated champion of countless victories, the hand of The Raven Queen herself to give it to you?”, the orator enthusiastically pronounced, arms elevated upwards towards the sky as the crowd roared to life chanting Traben’s name.
“Surly you expected the fierce Traben to stand before you, an obvious choice indeed, but what opponent could dare lay claim to give equal match to such a titan? I fear no man could hold deed to such a claim and all who have dared before lay fallen beneath the weight of his blade. No, his challenger shall not be of common flesh but a beast born of the world of nightmares, few ever having laid eyes upon one and fewer yet to have lived to speak of it. I present to you the challenger”, continued the orator as his hand eloquently motioned the eyes of the crowd to survey the arrival.
The platform beneath the arena stirred to life with the sound of great iron gears, shaking the ground beneath Traben’s feet as it slowly began its rise to the surface. An eerie silence fell over the crowd as hushed whispers of speculation began to circulate in anticipation.
“Grant me victory or grant me death, but bring me honor in all I do. Avandra guide my blade and I will always see it wielded to your cause”, Traben silently prayed as he tightened the strap of his shield.
Coming to rest at the surface of the arena’s floor the platform abruptly stopped the absent sound of gears only to be replaced by the gasps of the crowd as they laid their eyes upon the beast before them.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 10:24 PM
So, lately I have been trying to improve my roleplaying at the table as some of you know from my previous blog posting. I figured the best place to start was to simply develop a desire to roleplay and starting from there with some dedication and hard work towards my goal to follow. By changing a few habits and giving some logical thought on how best to approach the matter, I began to lay the foundation to securing a solid roleplaying presence at the table, though I still have far to go. I feel my roleplay and thus my enjoyment at the table increasing every time I play which gives me further motivation to succeed in my endeavor.
As of late I have been working on increasing my at-will roleplaying vocabulary an inspiration derived from my enjoyment of the TV show Spartacus. After watching both seasons of that marvelous show I found myself awed by the manner in which the characters used vocabulary to spice up plain sentences and immediately saw the benefit of using such language at the table thus improving my roleplay.
I sat there with pen and paper writing down some of the phrases they used, always pausing and rewinding to make sure I wrote it down correctly. With a little bit of memorization and practice I now feel I can bring many flavorful dialogues to the table that give my character and NPCs a distinct feel. Allow me to indulge you with a few phrases I have thus plagiarized into my roleplay:
- Would you have me bake in the sun or offer price?
- If you were lost my reason for breath would surely follow.
- Pride, always part of your considerable attraction.
- I pray fortune swiftly returns to your favor.
- Strike with your mind as well as your sword.
- Your tongue moves too freely in your mouth, secure it or see it join that useless leg of yours.
- Apologies, a questions born of good will I assure you.
- Rise dog, more death awaits!
- You think only with your sword and your shield.
- A welcome thought, one that keeps me from the afterlife.
- Your offer is well received, even in the turning away of it.
- If money is owed then it will be paid in due course.
- He sends insult, I will not see it rewarded with swift coin.
- You struck the wiser bargain.
- Even the walking dead eventually return to the grave.
- You have fought well friend, the Gods reward you.
- The agents have already been dispatched to the underworld, the hand behind them yet undiscovered.
- You saved my life, Gods or not, a debt demands repayment.
- The rational course would be to end your life before it further infects mine.
- You do us honor with your presence.
- I fear no amount will save them from the shadows grasp.
- He is the shadow that precedes death.
- I have given thought to your problem and arrived at solution.
- Perhaps such a travesty could be adverted.
- Only the Gods divine the future.
- You are an honorable man and will forever bear my gratitude.
- We are the toast of the city, let us give pause and enjoy it.
- You misunderstand intentions.
- That's your plan? I feel it malformed.
- You have not considered many things, take pause I beg you.
- I've done what I can; his life rests in the hands of the Gods.
- Come, let us negotiate a deal.
- If you have knowledge bring it to light.
- When a man is pressed lies flow with greater ease.
- Straighten your tongue and speak plainly.
- Loyalty can become a crushing weight if not braced with proper support.
- Death comes to us all.
- Ahh, the snake arrives walking as if man.
- Your cunning is sharper than any sword.
- I yet have business to attend and words in search of receptive ears.
- You have picked by bones clean, speak before I reclaim the meat.
- Honey drips from her lips like poison attacking the mind.
- Pull head from ass and use it for once.
- The truth will only unfold if your jaws split and your tongue unfolds in song.
- My hand ever steady to guide your resolve.
- The ego bruises deeper than the flesh.
- Do not press me again with accusation.
- You taunt an injured snake, one that may yet turn and strike.
- A Syrian could swindle the scales from a snake but could never command a charge.
- It is never an easy thing to see friend once loved now absent breath.
- He is but a man and all men fall beneath the heel of their hubris.
- A heavy heart weighs a man's sword.
- Your hand is weighted now float your tongue.
- My mind is taken with other thoughts.
- There is no meaning to glory without your eyes to see it.
- All men fall it is only time and method that defer.
- I fear your resolve grows soft.
I feel this is a great start to increasing my roleplaying vocabulary and I will continue to look for other sources in entertainment to draw from. With time and practice I'm convinced my characters and NPCs will surely be ones to be remember for some time. Till next time!
Monday, March 7, 2011, 10:47 PM
For some time now I have been anxiously awaiting the long promised arrival of the official Virtual Table Top. The idea in its rawest form is a dream come true for many gamers and might mark the beginning of a whole new batch of fresh players experiencing the fun and wonder that D&D offers for the very first time. Imagine finally being able to play a game of D&D with your friends halfway across the world, or finally convincing your relatives who could never find the time to travel to at least try the game, or your friend who could never join you because of his allergic reaction to your cats. The very idea of the VTT begins to eliminate one of the biggest hurdles in starting a new D&D game, getting everyone together at the same time at the same place, no easy task for anyone who has tried before.
Virtual Table Top gaming is not a new idea by any means, dozens of such programs already exist, many of them very powerful and effective, not to mention absolutely free. So why even bother with the official VTT when you could simply download your free copy of Map Tools and begin gaming? Well the answer to that question depends entirely on what WoTC plans to do with their VTT and the design decisions they have made while developing the program.
In my opinion (and I have many) the primary objective of the VTT should be first and foremost the attraction of brand new or returning players to the wonderful world of D&D. The very idea of the VTT should strongly appeal to the new or returning player in such a way that it provides them an opportunity to try the game when they otherwise would have passed. This is a win/win scenario for both WoTC and the game itself, WoTC gains new interest in their products while the game benefits from an influx of fresh players and DM’s. Suddenly it is not so difficult to find a solid game or two to play on your schedule (not matter how erratic it may be); you simply open the VTT, browse the games, and then join and play.
With the primary purpose of the VTT being the attraction of new players it must be designed in such a way as to be as painless, simple, and user friendly as possible. New players have a tendency to be overwhelmed by the many rules in the game already (a problem that has seen some relief with the introduction of 4E and essentials) the last thing the VTT should do is add to the learning curve of the game. A true masterpiece would be a VTT that actually makes learning the game simpler and smoother. The VTT must be as simple as clicking start and then playing, a task not so easily accomplished with third party VTT clients especially for those who are not very tech savvy.
Many third party clients offer an impressive amount of customization options and really bring more to the table than the official VTT in terms of customization and options. But when it comes to new players or less experienced players the old adage “less is more” holds true.
The second focus of the VTT should be to emulate the actual experience of a real “sitting around the table” pen and paper game as much as possible. Many third party VTTs fail in this aspect, while the game might actually see improvements (in the eyes of experienced players) by doing such things as vision blocking and automation, these improvements do not emulate a real sit down game where vision blocking is something that is nearly impossible to do and adding in your head is the only form of automation. By including too many unnecessary features you start adding more complexity to the game than necessary and start detracting from the authenticity and feel of what a real sit down game feels like.
The third key element of the VTT ties in with what I feel the primary purpose of the VTT should be (attracting new players) and that is pricing. To be effective the VTT needs to be absolutely free to use for players. The VTT should not be viewed as a product to be sold but rather a marketing device designed to attract new players into the game where the idea is they will enjoy it enough to start purchasing other products and services. Sure, perhaps you could have a premium version of the VTT that adds some non-essential features such as integration with the character builder & compendium into the mix but the free version should be 100% functional, playable, and fun for everyone with the premium version adding only minor fluff.
I await the arrival of the DDI subscribers BETA so I can finally try the software out for myself, until then I remain optimistic of the possibilities. So tell me, what are your hopes for the VTT?
Sunday, March 6, 2011, 11:06 PM
From the early age of six with my introduction to the wonderful Commodore 64 I have been utterly enthralled by the majestic beauty that is machine. Like so many others I have embraced technology with a passion unmatched by most. Newer, faster, and better gadgets catch my heart's desire and I often find myself saving pennies to one day welcome their comforting glow into my anxious hands. Everything from desktop PC's, monitors, projectors, netbooks, blu-rays and tablet PC's warrant my attention and chances are if it has electrons flowing through it I not only want it, but need it to sustain my life, or so my wife would tell you.
Seeing the practical uses of such technological devices and the amazing things they can do to make once difficult tasks child’s play, many people would be hard pressed to find many situations that could not be enhanced by the addition of some sort of technology.
I’m sure that I was not the first person, nor will I be the last, who wished to bring the wonders of technology to the D&D table. At a minimum you can expect to find at least one laptop, netbook or tablet computer at most RPG tables. Surely their mere presence at so many tables merits the question: “Well what do they add to the game?”
Looking at your fellow gamer’s gadgets as they enthusiastically explain all the neat little programs and applications that they use to do pretty much everything from tracking initiative to keeping logs of the number of carbonated beverages served over the course of a campaign can seem pretty cool. However, do they add to or detract from the overall experience of the game? The answer is both.
Using technology one can track initiative and conditions, look up answers to questions blazingly fast in the compendium, keep a digital character sheet, keep campaign notes, and a plethora of other things with the imagination being the only limit. But one thing I have noticed is that such devices often detract from the game itself and takes players away from a very vital part of the game…immersion. That really cool initiative and condition tracker you use might very well take more time to use than a simple non digital alternative such as a white board. That digital character sheet might save you the trouble of not having to erase your character sheets or print out new ones but can lead to a tendency to not find the info you need when you need it.
By no means am I saying that technology at the table is a horrible thing, but like most things in life you must seek a balance. Find ways to use a technological solution to a problem only when it’s the best solution. Don’t simply use technology for the sake of using technology, use it because it truly brings something to the table that no other solution can. Don’t get so wrapped up in the gadgets that you’re having more fun using them than you are playing the actual game.
If you’re not sure if your gadgets are hurting the game, then try to play a session or two without them. Find practical ways to replace those gadgets and give it a go taking note of how well the game is going. When you bring the gadgets back after a few sessions you should immediately know if they are adding to the game or are causing more headaches than helping.
Thursday, March 3, 2011, 12:25 AM
So as a new DM and returning player to the world of Dungeons & Dragons I have really been thinking a lot about roleplaying at the table. To be quite honest, D&D can be quite boring in specific instances. Most people have been in a similar situation, where the game or campaign is just plain dull and has a noticeable drag to it. More often than not in these types of games the most common words spoken are "Roll Damage" and "Does a 18 vs AC hit?", and the most exciting part of the game is your three minutes in the spotlight once per round while the other ten minutes of the round are spent in boredom wondering why the hell it's so hot in this room. At the end of the game you thank everyone and say that you've had a good time and then return a week later just to do it all over again. We subject ourselves to the same subpar games week after week when deep down inside we know the experience could have been ten times better.
The magic ingredient is a good combo of fun roleplaying, witty humor, and a table full of people with the same mindset. Don't believe me? Just watch a video or two of Chris Perkins Dming the Penny Arcade guys and see if you don't find yourself wishing that you could play just one game with that group. Notice just how much fun they had before they even started rolling the dice. While D&D is most certainly a game at heart you shouldn't necessary view it in that context. D&D can be so much more than a simple roleplaying game, it can be a conduit to some of the greatest social experiences of your life. When you leave a good D&D game you shouldn't be telling yourself "Ahh, that was pretty fun" you should be saying "Oh my god! That was awesome!" and then counting the seconds until you return next week.
But such games only exist in fantasy they say...or do they? Surely you could never have that much fun at the table...after all Chris Perkins is an amazing DM and the Penny Arcade guys are professional funny men, we could never pull that off. But I feel that’s where people are wrong. Games such as these are happening all over the world and they aren’t just at big conventions played by professional actors and comedians, they are played at the home or game store right down the street by people just like you.
So how can we "get there" so to speak? How can we turn our boring weekly meet up into something you truly enjoy that you'll want to head back to week after week? Well that part I am still figuring out myself, but I do know that the first step to getting there is a rather simple one, and that is to want it, to find the motivation and desire to work towards it and realize that it is actually an achievable goal and not some impossible fantasy that will never see realization.
Role playing is an art not a science and like most arts some people are more naturally talented than others, but even the talented ones must practice the art to truly master it and you are no exception. Unlike other arts such as painting or playing the piano, role playing cannot be practiced effectively by one’s self, you require others with whom to interact with to practice. What better place to practice this art than at the table with others who should also share the desire to improve their roleplaying and also their fun?
I feel a good place to start is not learning how to role play your character, but rather learning how to make it easier for your friends to role play theirs. Think about some of your worst conversations where one person does most of the talking and they really don't leave you any openings to interject your opinion or they are simply talking about something that you hold no opinions on. This is one of the things we should all wish to avoid, not only in conversation but in your roleplaying as well. Roleplaying is very much like improvisation and the one thing you want to do is take what someone says and build upon it and then give it a small twist so that they can then build off of it further. While this sounds easy in writing it can be much more difficult to do, especially when you’re playing the role of someone else who might answer things differently than you would.
Try and get your fellow gamers interested in the desire to improve roleplaying at the table and then set aside the first thirty minutes of every game just sitting there getting into character and practicing role play. Trust me, it may sound like an easy task, but it will be very awkward at first if your group is not used to roleplaying, however, the payoff will be worth those few moments of awkwardness. Try and get out of your comfort zone with roleplaying and try different and alien personalities. If your pretty comfortable roleplaying the battle loving barbarian that charges into battle recklessly then you should try roleplaying the coward know it all mage or the happy go lucky cleric. The real goal here is to get the OTHER players engaging in frequent roleplaying because it makes it much easier to role-play yourself when the others around the table are doing the same.
Find ways to interject roleplaying into all aspects of the game. If your characters are investigating clues to an adventure don't be afraid to sidetrack a little in the dialog and task at hand. If your in the middle of a heated battle try to find every opportunity for your character to say something. Try and describe what your character is doing rather than saying it in game terms. Nothing will destroy a good roleplaying session quicker than a few rounds of "I use my xxx power to shift xxx 3 spots and then attack with my crossbow and I roll 2d8 +10 for 14 points of damage" when you could just as easily say "Ducking under the last swing of the goblin's dirty spear I trust myself upwards throwing the goblin off balance sliding him three squares backwards as he struggles to maintain balance, a look of surprise and pain enters his eyes as he feels the stinging bolt of my crossbow pierce a weakness in his leather armor for 14 points of damage, I say 'Taste the sting of revenge you dirty beast and surrender before my might". After all how many battles with 10+ creatures would remain completely silent? This is a moment where your characters resolve is tested and a moment for those personality traits to shine.
Now start thinking after the battle how easy it would be to role-play. If you simply spouted out game terms during battle your really don't have much to go off. But now that you have described what your character did your allies should have no difficulty roleplaying out an after battle talk: "A fine move you made on that Goblin friend, I have never seen a method like that before where did you learn it?" Which brings us back to opening up opportunities for your friends to role-play and discovering (and acting upon) the ones your friends give to you.
I wish I could give you an easy 10 step process but the truth is the best way to learn is to simply do it. Much like the game itself, the best way to learn is to simply play and learn as you go, supplementing that with a little out of game research here and there. I wish you all the best of luck and a future full of entertaining games.