Sunday, September 30, 2012, 7:43 PM
This was a 2-show of 1 player and 1 DM for the Summer 2012 playtest of D&D Next.
[Following a repentant cultist's report concerning Doomsday and the base of the recent raiding operations, the party, after a mid-sized and ominous description, throws their gaze over the desolate gully and its silent, eye-less watchers: the yawning holes deep in the hillsides, the black mouths of the Caves of Chaos!]
Player: And I asked you what we're doing here.
DM: You're the character; you tell me.
Player: I go home.
DM: *Backstory!*, or the Borderlands will go up in flames.
Player: I don't care about Borderlands; that game only looked fun when I wasn't playing it. [still plans to buy Borderlands 2]
DM: There are raids on the Borderlands -
Player: Can I join them?
Player: This isn't D&D; I'm going home.
DM: Well, you can...
War Cleric: I don't think my god would allow that.
[The party, consisting of an elf wizard and dwarf war cleric, enter the ogre's cave. The DM decides that on a 6 on a 1d6, the ogre would be away at the moment. Rolls a 6. When would be the most fun way for it to return?]
[The party find a secret door, decide not to open it until after they stash the sack of coins, many of them copper coins painted gold, and kegs o' hooch. On their way out, they find an ogre in the doorway. The cleric throws the bag at the ogre, spilling the contents across his feet; the wizard casts shocking grasp on the coins. Because they are mostly copper, they conduct well. While the ogre's startled, the cleric powers up while the wizard turns invisible to sneak behind.]
Wizard: "I grasp the ogre's testicles...shockingly."
[A subsequent swing from the cleric's hammer sends the stunned ogre reeling toward the back of the cave. The cleric chucks a keg o' hooch at the ogre while the wizard catches it, airborne, in a cone of fire from his palms. The barrel just sat there smoldering. The cleric clubs the ogre again for good measure, and the party dives from the cave into a gully outside, abandoning their treasure.]
[Following the explosion, a wave of copper erupts from the side of the canyon topped by a flaming ogre. The wizard freezes the ogre's feet to the hillside, and the beast bellows. The cleric downs healing draught. A few rounds pass wherein the party repeatedly freezes, approaches, hammers ogre, and retreats while being peppered by a growing number of arrows (goblins arriving to defend the ogre).]
War Cleric: Guardian says that, when a creature within 5 ft of me is attacked, I can interpose my shield to give disadvantage to that attack."
War Cleric: Well, I'm a creature within 5 ft of me.
[Orcs begin to arrive too, and skewer the ogre on their pikes. The wizard casts the goblins to sleep, and the party spends several seconds gathering up what coins they can while the orcs finish off their enemies' dreaded mercenary. (The orcs finish off the last 5 hp of ogre; the entire encounter, from when the ogre arrived, was 12 rounds.)]
[The party must leave 1074 cp behind, as they are antsy to go. 5 orcs are gesturing at them; some are pursuing goblins. The party runs past the goblins' cave and spend the next 30 seconds dodging their arrows. The wizard faints, pierced by an arrow.]
[The now ragged party spends the night at the keep on the Borderlands. At the keep's temple, the dwarf dumps his elf companion's near-corpse at the priest's feet. "Can you fix this?" The priest agrees for a 10 gp donation. The dwarf spills 1000 coppers at the priest's feet. "God... bless you, my son." They sell the cheese found in the sack for 10 silvers and ask regional lore of Joran, a keep clerk. A halfling rogue joins the party. Somebody realizes he hasn't chosen spoken languages for his characters.]
Player: Is Owlbear a language?
Theoretical Owlbear: I wanna eatchu.
Theoretical Player: Blah, blah, blah, Diplomacy!
Theoretical Owlbear: I wanna eatchu.
Player: No...that's not going to work. Who did the Keep say were reported in the raids?
[The Player settled on Goblin.]
[Upon cautious return to the ogre's cave, the party finds that the secret door is pull, with no grip on their side. They use a crowbar, wind up in the goblin guard chamber currently in use by several guards. Besides the party's torch, it's pitch dark because goblins see in the dark.]
[The party fought many of the guard out down an inclined hall, upturned a table to form a barricade from that direction. Hearing footsteps approaching from all directions, they spilled a bucket of water they found down the inclined hall and used shocking grasp to fight goblins with science. They didn't count on goblins coming from the opposite hall entry, having ignored all the signs.]
[Necks encircled by goblin spearheads, the party shouts in their best goblin that they'd never let them use the Eye of Gruumsh. The goblins stop. A goblin twice the width with a maned helm pushes thru the crowd. Once the goblins determine the party is not from any cult faction, they escort the party thru many turns in the dark into an ember-lit mess hall full of armed hobgoblins, where a particularly grim hobgoblin with a patched eye beckons out the cleric and they take turns hitting each other with sticks until the former thinks he's seen enough and the party is pressed from the chamber to the sound of the helmet gob and eye-patch hob argue about fealties owed to a queen, mercs, shock troops, and who's a traitor or not. The party is again in darkness, herded into a small cave, the deep sound of moving stone at their backs, the only exit a skylight far above.]
[An interpreter emerges by-and-by, and the party bargains to help the goblins on a few points in return for the goblins' goodwill.]
[Later, in the forest, they spy orcs entering a hidden cave.]
Player: What are we actually supposed to be spying on? Nothing's happening!
Goblin: We don't want to be here after dark.
War Cleric: It is after dark.
Wizard: Aren't there tigers in that cave?
Goblin: Oh...yeah...wait, then why'd the orcs go in there?
[Orcs bolt from the cave, arms full of fungi.]
War Cleric: All right, everyone up in the trees! (No wonder you're losing the war!)
[A great, loping form shoots after the orcs, two goblins caught below are chased by a second monster and bee-line toward the orc cave entrance. From the trees the spy party sees flashes of light from a distant cave (cult's). Packs of reflective eyes in the darkness yelping and whooping pour from the hills and are ambushed by many large, tall shadows swimming about the valley floor. Smashing and shouting is heard from the orc cave mouth.]
War Cleric: This place is crazy; let's go home.
[They lead the goblin scout party to a cave inside a relatively quiet, not on-fire corner of the valley, wherein they find a sign in the entry way telling guests to head left for amenities; the party turns right, and before their hands touch the doorknob at the end of the hall, the door swings open, almost flattening War Cleric against the wall. They see a giant, dark fur-covered face taking up the entire doorway.]
DM: The face says-
Player: 'Save versus Dragon's Breath!'
Face: Why didn't you go left?
Player: I can't read.
[The war cleric flattens the face with his hammer. Backed by their archers, the party breaks into a the room, which is deep red-orange in the light of a great fireplace. Shaggy assailants fall from ceiling and grab the cleric, carrying him to the burning hearth. The goblins shoot arrows into the room, but the carpet-man uses the cleric in its arms as cover, then forces him into the fire. After a struggle, the party sets the room's catnip supply and their own hemp rope on fire, climbs up the chimney to the outside, wedging the bodies of two of their enemies tightly in place after them. They emerge from the chimney atop a hillside. A hobgoblin detachment accosts the party to supplement their jailbreak mission and the party re-enters the same cave with them. In the basement, surviving a terrible ambush, the party finds warriors from a raided caravan in a slave cell, and chained to the jail's walls, other, odder inhabitants: a dark, wild-eyed man speaks in a voice like an approaching storm.]
Man: I am Ragnar! Unleash me, and all the gods of battle will be yours!
[Ragnar heaves War Cleric against the wall violently, roaring a battle cry as he speeds out of the chamber and into the darkness.]
Player: Um, okay. [turns to a gnoll prisoner] What will you do?
Gnoll: The same thing with less shoving?
Player: Okay, here you go!
[The party takes the caravan members and what sacks of grain and meal they can carry, and escape to the keep. The erstwhile caravan guards that were captured join the party: a dwarf fighter and human cleric.]
[The hobs send the party ahead into the Temple of Chaos as a decoy while they free their queen, said to be hostage inside. The high-ceilinged inner hallway is black marble veined with pulsing red veins. Great alcoves line the halls; in them sit gaunt bodhisattvas, about 8-feet tall, in lotus position, their eyes on the verge of opening or closing, their lips and gums retreating from needle-like teeth. down a narrow hall, the party hears a woman's voice from beyond a barred window in an iron door.]
Player: Lady, why are you crying?
Lady: I will be sacrificed to the cult's demons.
[It is then they are attacked by hooded people in the dark. They discover that these men are already dead.]
Player: [noting Turn Undead ends if the targets are attacked] Does disrobing turned undead count as attacking them?
[They strip the zombies of their cult uniforms. As the party stands guard outside the doors, the war cleric undoes the veiled lady's manacles in the cult's dungeon.]
Lady: The cult has overrun the shrine, seeking the power they think it holds, and its worshippers are made its slaves. This is what happens when outsiders know of what sleeps in the shrine. No one from outside, who does not belong to valley, should leave here alive.
[The veil blows back. Her face is hollow, like a doll's head broken open, and snakes pour from it. Something else unseen is felt escaping that emptiness, hardening all flesh it touches. The war cleric leaps back and closes the prison door on her. The lady immediately reverts.]
Lady: ...I'll be good. Please return me to my knights.
[They leave her with the hobgoblin scouts waiting outside the shrine, then reenter. Exploring the area they left, they find a torture chamber. A robed figure with a tong in one hand and a hot poker stops them.]
Robed Man 1: Wait a minute!...You didn't take a number.
Robed Man 2: Now serving number 1.
"Oh boy!" [The man sitting ahead of the party in the comfy chairs leaps up and runs toward the robed men, who beat him mercilessly before chucking him in the iron maiden and throwing it into the fire pit. He is melted by lava.]
"Now serving number 2...number 2?"
[Party find goods in storage stamped with the sign of the caravan the new party members were protecting before they were imprisoned. The halfling rogue climbs among the crates and acts oddly, as if she is suddenly underwater. The party notes there is something large and translucent taking up much of the chamber, including some of the bounty. As it moves after them, the party rescues the rogue by constricting a lasso around the translucent and mostly permeable shape until it tightens around the character inside. They then heave her out. They then fight the shape until it can no longer be found.]
[The party again slips off to the keep, this time with as many stamped goods as they can carry. Some level-up.]
Wizard: Do I have to summon a cat familiar?
Wizard: Can I summon a tasty boar familiar?
Wizard: How about a juicy chicken familiar?
[They return the stolen caravan goods and hear of hobgoblins capturing a merchant family and a guild reward for their return. They also hear hobgoblins are known to eat humans.]
Player: I explain to the hobgoblins how they owe me at least 3 and a half favors.
[As the guard relays this to his captain, his one good eye darts sharply between the guard and party like a dagger that hasn't decided which to kill.]
Capt: WHAT? [pushes guard aside, jabs finger at the party] You've got a lot of nerve!
War Cleric: I thought that's why you liked us.
Capt: Hah! [punches dwarf]
[In return for the return of the guild members, the party is the first wave sent into the shrine to drive out the cult. On their march there, they follow the sound of rending owlbear meat and find Ragnar, who says he won't be hungry for a month but his purse is feeling light. The rogue empties her purse of 58 false gold pieces, 3 silvers, and 13 coppers (she'd previously stocked up on 21 flasks of assorted chemicals, 500 ball bearings, and 5 pitons, most of which she will forget she has before the end).]
Rogue: Let's go to the Shrine of Evil Chaos and kill things.
Ragnar: Ragnar finds that pleasurable.
[They arrive at the cave entrance and find the first of the hobgoblin parties. Our party is marched into the dark hall with hobgoblin blades at their backs. The hobgoblin warlady (whom they have not seen before now), informs them that they will desert on peril of their perforation.]
[They found the south extremity of the great hall sealed by broken rock and bags of sand. Turning their attentions down smaller off-shoots, they discover a room of only darkness and sighs, which they do not enter, and a former audience hall where their torchlight is answered by red glinting from the back. Tall, thin, armed men stand silently at attention therein, and the party stop short of attacking them, turning again toward the red glinting: four large garnets set into a throne. That is when thin men draw their swords. Following that fight, Ragnar demands more than half the gems and the party is leery of crossing him. Their noise attracts a troop of the robed dead. The party fight their way to the door and escape. Using the robes stolen the previous day, they spoke to cult adepts in a side room. The cult used demons to locate the shrine, seek out its back spaces, to fight and capture its steward (the lady). They know the leader found a "great power to which even demons bend knee" in the bowels of the shrine. Also:]
"We already found the Eye of Gruumsh, if that's what it is, but we dare not use it or go down that passage again. Our demons were no match for it. I heard our leader had the passage sealed until further notice."
[A black iron bell without a ringer rests in the dim chamber the party finds. Forms dance upon the wall. The wizard examines it. A throaty voice inside him speaks words he doesn't understand, He can't staunch them as they pour from his mouth.]
[The bell without a ringer rings.]
[An alarmed cough or cry, at times as deep as a lake, at times breaking into shrill, awkward notes, echoes down the great hall from the south, soon joined by others, and the sound of many feet. Undead erupt from the walls and entrance.]
[The party flees further into a suite of small, attached rooms, finds an escape door behind some murderous furniture, and finds itself farther down the main hall. The sound of combat rings near the shrine entrance. By their lamplight, they find the northernmost of the great alcoves now empty. Retreating back, they shelter in a checkered-floored room. They test each color of tile for traps. At their entrance, numerous black candle flames wink to life. Bent relics groan to life upon an altar now visible at the back of the room. The artifacts appear to breath, but do not move from their arrangement.]
DM: According to the module text, they glow purple.
Player: I don't need to Detect Evil to detect THAT evil.
DM: Why is my favorite color always evil?
Player: I rearrange the evil artifacts! [resists the curse]
[Behind them appears a mural: a boringly calm rendition of the forested hills of the region, but, as they watch, a growing stain bleeds from a cluster of caves, converting the vista to a barren, and twisted hell, lighted under a bloated, red skull drifting amid the hazy clouds. One eyeball peers luridly from the back of a cave-like socket, a thick line of dark blood pours from it onto the hills and trees. Demonic shapes emerge from the shadows and crags of those hills, two holding onto the pale form of a struggling human child. A dark-robed man approaches down a lonely road therein, growing larger till he actually steps from the mural.]
Man: I've seen it! You're too late; the eye of our lord will emerge by itself in a matter of days and shed all the world in its glorious light.
[Shadow tentacles spring from the relics and assail the party. The wizard creates light with magic; the greater light sources multiply the shadows but dilute their weight. The man's metal staff winds itself around the wizard and bares bronze fangs at its end. Someone breaks the staff, and others rain blows upon the man. His skin chips like dry plaster. Flakes of him flutter to the checkered floor. The rents grew larger and quiver in winds the party doesn't feel. Black streams erupt from his left eye, but the party avoid these searching "fingers". I forgot who lays the final blow, but the man splinters. The winds that blow through the desolate valleys of the mural snatch these scraps up and dance with them down that lonely road, disappearing there.]
[The alarm still sounds outside. The party moves cautiously from the chamber. A giant form stumbles in the shadows of their lights. Its head rolls on its shoulders, too large for its narrow neck, but sound escapes: a belabored, deep, and sometimes high-pitched moan.]
[The party covers the floor behind them in oil, the rogue empties around 100 ballbearings across it, and the hall is set ablaze. The giant stumbles heedlessly onward, flames crackling along its dried skin, and the party flees down the hall. Bodies of hobgoblins and robed figures litter the halls. The fractured remains of a stone bodhisattva are strewn across the floor. They encounter the hob warlady near the entrance, flailing vainly at a winged creature made of inky scripples with eyes of light. The party shoots its body, with dissipates like blown smoke, but its bright, orbular eyes streak outward, exploding upon contact with the floor and wall. The warlady, shield worn and armor splattered with the bile of her enemies (and perhaps of her friends), barks, "Follow the queen!" and charges into the darkness. The party, as is their wont, head in the opposite direction.]
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Thursday, August 2, 2012, 8:34 PM
What follows is how I prepared the May 24th D&D Next playtest materials for play as DM: how I "unboxed" the adventure.
First, the Bestiary.
I appreciate that paragraphs (namely, the Legend and Lore ones) are given to aspects of evil humanoid cultures other than how inhumane or what flavor of jerk they are. The goblins' somewhat tragic underdog niche, the hobgoblins' discipline and devotion, and orcs' superstition were fun to read and role-play. These humanoids were undeniably unsympathetic and brutish, but they also had a story as people, they weren't XP-bag bogeys that only lived to die on the end of a sword.
This aspect of them was necessary to make Caves of Chaos as flexible as it was; the group I DMed actually allied with the goblins and then hobgoblins and coordinated raids with them upon other humanoids. These were cautious, passive-aggressive, who's-using-whom alliances won with proofs of prowess and medical service, but alliances still, and they were only possible because both sides were visible as people despite their bestialities. Their humanity made their bestiality interesting.
Now, the Adventure.
The module itself does not appear at a pass to be much: several room areas occupied by large numbers of homogenous monster groups, but I felt more appreciative of it after actually running it. What did these tribes want? What were their relationships to each other? Noting the locations of the tribes and who had whom as prisoners in their dungeons, I made up my own situation:
The Shrine existed before the cult moved in. The Medusa lived there as its protector, using the humanoid settlers as support. Only the Medusa was allowed in the farthest rooms of it, and only she knew what it held.
I used the MM descriptions of the humanoid cultures as a starting point:
The militant and disciplined hobgoblins became the Medusa's sworn guards. With her as queen, they united all the tribes under her with their tribe as the ruling class.
The cultists came seeking the source of their visions of power buried in the hills. Under the queen, no one could use the power of the shrine. The cult claimed, "Under us, the shrine's power will be tapped for the benefit of all." That, and claims that the shrine held the eye of the orc's god from the region's mythology, convinced the superstitious orcs into helping them. I extrapolated that gnollish worship of demons was linked to some discipline to constructively channel the powers of fear, rage, lust, and, in their legends, even their own deaths. The cult's ability to summon and bind the demonic representations of such emotions gained them the gnolls' respect.
The cult overthrew the queen with their demons, but the hobgoblins secretly remain loyal to her and plan her rescue. They only ask for PC help if the PCs prove their prowess. The goblins didn't care for queen or cult, but realize they need strong allies for the good of their tribe. They may be friendliest toward indy PC parties. Kobolds just want to be left out of it. They may think PCs are ugly hobs or cult members. Bugbears want to seize rulership for themselves and have been preying upon everyone as much as they can blame on other causes (owlbear predation, fatalities of raid expeditions, the rebellious tribes).
I ruled the caved-in section lead to the bowels of the shrine and the "Eye"; according to a cult adept: "We already found the Eye of Gruumsh, if that's what it is, but we dare not use it or go down that passage again."
Because orcs and gnolls had to feed the cult as well, raids have been more aggressive and frequent. The keep's regular militia defend the caravan lines, and they've been forced to supplement their forces with freemen mercenaries (that's where the PCs come in).
A recanting acolyte revealed the caves as a raider base and said a cult was the ringleader, even planning a war in a few weeks in the region.
The PCs asked the keep's chronicler, Joran, for any info on the Borderlands region. A mythology attached to this land was that a god put out the eye of another god, and the eye fell to earth (the orcs, as I've said, share a similar version of this tale).
So laying this outline of a civilization was fun and actually fairly quick, but I was concerned my party would try to kill everyone without talking to anyone. Contrarily, what followed was much more colorful.
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OVERALL GOAL: PROVOKE JUDGEMENT & PARTICIPATION FROM PLAYERS
1. Put players into their characters' bodies. Show; never tell. Observations are clues, not answers. The DM is a window, not a character. Because players learn thru what they are shown, describe succinctly as many separate specifics as you can about what the PCs perceive going on around them. This gives the players something with which to work. Avoid multiple specifics about the same thing to avoid slow-down; if the PCs want to know more, they will inspect further.
Making the world alive:
A. Avoid game terms (ie hit, damage, hp) and automatically naming things encountered.
B. Describe using multiple senses.
C. Everything has an adjective (be evocative)
D. Emphasize what is different about your world
-vocabulary/names: science-fiction worlds could use dozens of technical terms for made-up technologies; Period European sets could use words like forsooth, forfend, fain, betide, thou/thee, ye/you; place-names could push one's diction: wold, cuirach, sluice.
-Exoticize traits that may otherwise be glossed over as mundane: perhaps the different coins hail from separate realms, perhaps elves are rare and more ghostly.
E. Give things context: When you mention something, connect it to something else (Ex: this gate has a plaque claiming its dedication in the Year 485 to the reign of Duke Belion, who forged an amnesty with the east city-state to which this road leads; "this item is so expensive because reef pirates are blocking the usual trade route we use"). This info may relate to the adventure later or be mere color.
2. Give players creative power in things they like.
Give them a chance at what they want, but attach a price.
Real decisions and consequences.
Clear goals (even if how to get there isn't clear) and direct feedback.
3. After & above all: What's the players' experience? If it is fun for the players to do, don't make the dice do it for them, but if it's not fun, discard or change it.
Ex1: Don't say, "the bugbear attacks, hits, deals damage"; say, "The shaggy shadow swings his morning star. It only clips you, but its weight spins you backward. [If the player is keeping their sheet, say damage]."
Ex2: Rolls and common observation don't say the patterns on the wall are part of a secret door. They don't tell you the trip wire is a spear trap; they don't tell you that clatter earlier was a bugbear failing to hide.
Ex3: I see the NPC gazes steadily at the sword on my pack; it does not tell me he wants my blade, recognizes it from the city barracks, or fears I'll draw it.
RECIPE FOR ADVENTURE: NEED, RISK, SURPRISE
NEED: An antagonistic force (circumstance, a person, the law of the universe) stimulates the PCs to change, to act.
RISK: Satisfaction comes from unravelling a problem on one's own with chances for both success and failure. Give the party a mess with no obvious or pre-decided solutions. It is the players' job to make their own solution. One could offer them something they need at the cost of something else they need, or all immediate options may feel rotten. For example, they may have to choose from among duty, virtue, and personal desire, and there may be valued NPCs betting on different outcomes.
SURPRISE: As Super Mario's creator MIYAMOTO Shigeru says, "Put a surprise in every box." The PCs will do things unexpected; you should too; happy, sad, whatever to keep the feeling that anything could happen.
As DM you're not telling a story; you're setting up world events and NPC schemes that the PCs then run into and tear apart with their own choices. The story is born of that ensuing, collaborative chaos. The DM must not be attached to specific things; neither world nor story stops because the characters die or the kingdom falls.
DM's business: Know NPC motives, what they have done & are trying to do. Don't wing this part. This way, you will know how NPCs will react even to unexpected turns.
The character develops plot importance and players become invested in them naturally as play goes on; one needn't artificially induce it.
Player Engagement with the world comes about thru #1 & #2 at the top: #3 makes them want to return.
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Sunday, January 29, 2012, 5:35 PM
A few years after 4e came out, I fled the collectible mathematical combat paragraphs and intricate decision-killing synergies to make my own edition of D&D, one that could use, with minimal adjustment, all the edition books and basic box sets of spells and monsters I had. Players use this page instead of the books for the main rules (it is however written with the assumption one knows the very basics). So, for what it's worth:
• You add your modifier to all d20 rolls except saves. You add your level to attacks & defenses.
Roll : Difficulty
10 : Simple
15 : Medium
20 : Hard
Max level: 10. Monster HD can be larger, but beyond 10 it doesn't affect attack and defense.
• Attack: Add Str mod to melee and heavy thrown dmg total; Dexterity mod to ranged and light thrown dmg. Rolling a natural 20 on your attack roll is a critical hit: you automatically hit and all dice you'd roll for dmg this attack are instead their max number.
• Defense: (AC, F, R, W), you pick which of the 2 mods to use. You roll for both Attack and Defense (AC, F, R, W) with a d20; the numbers on your sheet are added to your rolls. For these rolls, natural 1 = failure, 20 = success. Enemy Attack & Defense are fixed numbers.
• 4e saves (10-20=success): All ongoing "status effects" are "save-ends" (death, polymorph, & turned to stone are one-time, not ongoing).
• Death: If at 0 hp, fall unconscious. If at negative hp ≥ your Constitution score, you die. Otherwise, each round you are at negative hp, roll a save (called a "death save"). If you succeed, you stabilize at 0 hp; fail 3 death saves in a row, and you die.
• No Skills: Just an ability check (d20 +ability modifier), using most relevant ability. Thieves additionally have +level to specific tasks. Some tasks (sneaking past guards, listening at a door, or noticing a hidden monster), the character does not know the result; so the the DM rolls and keeps the results secret. Retrying a roll needs to make sense.
• Collective rolls are where multiple people can roll for one task and add their rolls together to reach the DC. The number of people able to participate in one task is limited by what is reasonably possible. Any roll can be collective if it makes sense (attack, defense, & saves usually don't).
• Cumulative rolls can be added up over the course of time to reach a target number. Only tasks that can be worn away at use cumulative rolls.
Light: Leather +2 AC
Heavy: Mail +5 AC
Very Heavy: Plate +8 AC
• Encumbrance: A character can carry up to 20 items, of which a number equal to the character's Str modifier may be heavy. If one carries more heavy things than that, one is encumbered (auto-fail physical d20 roll actions). A zero Str mod means you can carry only 1 Heavy item and you are encumbered by it. A negative Str modifier means you can't carry any Heavy items. Heavy weapons and armor count as one heavy item each. Very Heavy armor counts as 2 heavy items each.
(optional: 100 coins/small gems (ones that fit in your fist) = 1 "item")
10 arrows/shuriken/bullets = 1 "item"
• Shields: Shields don't add to AC, but can reduce one hit to 1 dmg. Light: 1 hit. Heavy: 2 hits. If their uses are up, it needs repair (during downtime) to be used to soak again. A buckler is Light and allows you to use a weapon on the same hand, too. Shield bashing is 1d6, 1d4 with buckler.
• Weapons: Any class may wield any weapon. All deal 1d6; unarmed deals 1d4.
Light (small and quick): Wielder gets +2 attack.
Reach (pole-arm or chain-based): Most are 2-handed. Wielder gets +2 AC. On a mat, it may strike from 2 sq away.
Heavy (hammer, ax, claymore): Always 2-handed. Beating opponent's AC by 5+ means you roll dmg one more time and add it to the total.
Ranged: One of the above types (Reach ups range), but they cost more and require ammo.
Dual-Wielding: Wielding a one-handed weapon (not unarmed) in each hand gives you one attack roll with each weapon per round, but, if both hit, you choose which one deals dmg. The defender's shield comes into play after that choice.
Cleric (1100) crusader warrior monk, shaman
Fighter (1000) knight, samurai, soldier
Mage (1200) mystic, shaman, wizard
Martial Artist (900) brawler, chanbara ronin, gunslinger, shinobi, swashbuckler, wuxia
Thief (600) pirate, shinobi, swashbuckler
For the following, *=reversible:
(for random determination, roll 1d6 per level, 1d8 for levels 2 and 4)
(for random determination, roll 1d12 per level) (Lv11 spells must be found)
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011, 4:00 PM
A. (duke VS duke VS commoners) Country X and Country Y are at war. The duke of X is being held captive at a castle now under Y control. Y soldiers are now clearing X loyalists out of X settlements. Some former X ruling class and their followers aim at political liberation from Y invaders, but many commoners from X just want to live unaffected by the fighting; they don't care who rules. Y's goal is to claim a port, which can be found in X (Y is land-locked).
When things look too straightforward to the players, throw them a curve ball; something conceptually simple; remember you have to know how it works to run it.
A. A third country, Z, is planning to take advantage of the conflict between X and Y to launch a takeover of the 2 countries. Z's goal is to expand its dominion, claiming X's port and Y's mines; nominally, it claims to "deliver unto these small, warring states Z's prosperity and stability." It is, however, separated from both X and Y by a great natural boundary (like mountains, marsh, desert, or river). Hoping the watch along this border is weakened in X due to the Y invasion, it moves here. This will make X a battleground between Y and Z. If nothing is done, Z plans to push into Y and take that as well.
What NPCs will be important? Generally, a leader for each within the faction and perhaps some mass troops
A. X duke, leader of X resistance and their soldiers, Y commander and their soldiers, Z commander and their soldiers
What locations will be important for this scenario? Generally the HQs of each faction and possible battle points generic enough to be used even if the PCs surprise you.
A. An X liberation base. A castle or three. A fort along a border. A beset village. A port city perhaps.
Finding a Hook
Now, the players are responsible for devising their own PCs' motivations, and those should offer the DM some hints at how to engage their interests, but there are things that most every PC should care about: their own life.
Start the PCs in situations wherein they will be trapped, ruined, or dead if they do not act. This is not a hook one can turn down and live, but one could respond to it in varied ways, for it is not a mission directive, but the arm of a threat. They should be able to choose a side among the factions or seek their own path, which would be difficult if they start as loyal followers of one faction, so it is easiest that they start as bystanders without allegiance to any of the conflicting sides.
Review the plans of NPCs or forecasted natural disasters you have previously decided will unfold. Find a spot in these events that offers entrapment but doesn't require too much prologue to explain how the PCs got there. That is where the game will open.
The players should have a choice of faction or independence. Because we have laid out plans, sets, and key NPCs, we will be reasonably prepared in any case.
A. Possible starting places:
B. Factional Schemes: (church & business VS crown) a rich nation's Church wishes to expand its culture to a small "heathen" kingdom, so it works with a business to surreptitiously fund that kingdom's civil war on the condition that the rebels convert. The beset king calls in help from a relative's country (also "heathen") to cut these supply lines, as a Church victory here would for these allies not only replace an old ally with a new wild-card country, but would see a viral alien culture creep closer to their borders. If nothing is done, the rebellion will succeed and its leader will proceed to convert the country.
C. Factional Schemes: (crown & knights VS knights & commoners) In a land recovering from the turmoil of the last monarch, a young heir is placed on the throne. The sole heir was kept secret because of her illicit birth, and a few of the educated townsfolk where poised to turn the land to democracy (who gets to vote or be on the drawn lots is another issue). Many knights, however, are still loyal to the crown family and support the new queen. Unless the townsfolk posses the backing of knights also or some other leverage, they must probably wait to petition more gradual legal changes.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010, 3:02 AM
(Last edited Feb 9, 2012; concised.)
The best way to learn how to make something is to be the audience first. Examples of my aim: The Twelve Kingdoms (book/anime series), Code Geass (anime series), and MATSUNO Yasumi's writing in games such as Final Fantasy XII , Tactics Ogre, and Final Fantasy Tactics: War of Lions.
All strategy (and the intrigue from pursuing it) is about putting oneself in a position of strength. What is judged strong depends on your objective. This means one must at times trade one strength for another.
Being a DM
Planes of Power
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Monday, December 7, 2009, 11:58 AM
Role is the Heart of Role-Playing
Role-playing is about assuming a role, an identity different from your current one, be it an entirely different person or a version of you who lives in another world, and choosing what to do under such-and-such circumstances (which are often set by somebody else).
Let's take a choice like: "would you rather go the safe road that takes longer or the short cut that's dangerous?" By itself, it is hardly role-playing until you stipulate who or what "you," the role, is and perhaps a more details about the setting for "you" to consider and better interact with "your" world.
If you don't have a role, you don't have a foundation to role-play. Also, if your options are too restricted, hence creativity in answers limited, the role-playing will be limited too. What if, in the example above, you decide to venture the road at a different time or turn back, avoiding either road? What would happen then?
Role-Playing - Role = Playing
What if, in the previous example, you, the player, knew that something horrible awaited down one road, but the other led to great fortune...but the character did not know? You, as the player, would try to find a way to justify turning down the "correct" path, right? Role can always be ignored by selecting only what effects one finds beneficial. It is always done with a mind toward saving the player or character some present or future hardship, but it only conflicts with role IF the player knows what the results are while the character does not.
Without considering role, choices like this are purely strategic (which isn't bad but changes the nature of the game); in contrast, strategizing within the confines of character knowledge and behavior would be both strategy and role-playing.
To keep a role-playing game from dropping role when it shouldn't, do not allow the players to know more of the consequences of their actions than their characters know (in other words, eliminating "meta-game" knowledge). Conversely, one can draw no difference between character and player knowledge, keeping the game purely strategic (as in chess or go), assuming there are situations that encourage strategic thinking, of course.
One can encourage both role-play and strategy simply by offering many open-ended choices with mechanical, story, &/or flavor consequences. The difference between a pure strategy game and a role-playing one is whether or not keeping to character knowledge is a concern.
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Friday, October 16, 2009, 1:17 PM
You know you're playing D&D differently when your player says, "I think I'd like to play in a Medieval Europe setting next; it would feel more exotic."
Up until then, we'd played in a science-fantasy setting reminiscent of Outlaw Star or Xenosaga and even tried our hands at Japanese gothic horror, but the last fairly European-inspired session we'd played was in about 2000.
PART I - What is Medieval Europe?
When I think of European-inspired settings, 2 large fields spring to thought:
1. Historical Europe, which one learns in pre-college textbooks was a stark and drafty place inhabited by a gray-skinned and disturbingly hairless people who wore ugly things like apple green with pink trim, spent way too much time in church, and probably perished in some nebulous event (XXXX-YYYY) on page 154. However did elves, magic, and fashionable video game heroes come from this?
Part of the problem is US K-12ers tend not to be taught history from things like the court records of Jeanne D'Arc or the diaries of Napoleon Bonaparte; they're taught it from some list of dates bleached of all faces and world context out of which someone screened most social meaning anyway to sell in those school districts that haven't moved past 1926.
2. The other is what you get when you go anywhere else. Many copied from the work of a man whose name begins with a T or the game of 2 men that's called D&D.
But without certain elements of a campaign setting (and I've yet to find a pre-published one I've liked entirely), where's the culture? What parts of the culture make it "Medieval European"?
Research! Every culture out there has interest in it, but you have to view the living thing. To wit: ancient Greece wasn't a place where everyone walked around in white sheets, carved white statues and made white buildings with pillars instead of walls; there's evidence togas were brightly colored, those statues painted, and many Greek buildings made of wood, mud, or clay: Anything surviving is just foundations or temples from around the 4th century BCE. (Imagine if all that survives from our century is parking garages.) Think ancient Greece looks a bit more interesting now?
So I rummage thru Joan of Arc by herself and her witnesses by Régine Pernoud, Daily Life in the Middle Ages by Paul Newman, books on historical knights, a complete copy of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, and various articles on topics from the Wild Hunt and Sluagh to manor life and the price of a Saracen slave.
Did you know not all Jotunns were humanoid or even giant? Did you know the Medieval Church tried outlawing battle on most days of the week?
PART II - How to get there
Culture can be tricky to convincingly portray in a medium that often has few visuals and sound. The trick is not to merely rename things, but to change how they act, as appropriate.
Take this story:
Lord of Avon and Lord of Clane were to be given lessons in court etiquette by a powerful noble Marquis Clyde, one of the Duke's men. This Marquis was something of a grating character, and bore his students roughly. While Clane's counsellors bribed the Marquis to treat with their lord kindlier, Marquis Clyde's insults fell heavier on Lord Avon, even in public, for not offering similar favors.
In a corridor of the Ducal Castle, after one such outrage, Lord Avon attacked the Marquis's face with a dagger, managing but a light injury. Nevertheless, it was treason to draw weapons within the Duke's Castle.
In punishment, Avon's own castle was seized his retainers kicked out. A certain number of the lord's knights, however, sought revenge against Marquis Clyde, and planned his murder. Beforehand, they divorced themselves from their families lest the families be held legally responsible, for the knights knew the law against what they would do.
They later set the Marquis's head upon their lord's grave. The knights gave an abbot there what money they had, asking him to bury them decently and offer prayers for them. They then turned themselves in.
Does this smell strongly of Medieval Europe to you? Do you feel it?
I don't. This is the story of the 47 Ronin, a famous historical event in 18th century Japan. If this took place in Medieval Europe, 'twould seem to me the vassals wouldn't be punished for their lord's own misbehavior and any vengeful knights would not turn themselves in. Further, the story of court insults and offense seems more Japanese to me than Medieval European.
Some themes do carry across cultures (by this fact many Akira Kurosawa chanbara films were remade as westerns), but while like sacrificing oneself out of loyalty is fairly universal, it can be done in different ways (and each culture may have a preference). If one can't make D&D distinctly Japanese merely by trading trolls for onis and claymores for katanas, why would D&D waft pungent of Medieval Europe by the mere presence of plate mail and mead?
They must act the part! Where's the religious hierarchy in government? Where's the legal web of whose-fiefs-are-rented-from-whom? Are you a noble, free-man, serf? Knights lived on manors, you know! Must you know another language entirely to be able to speak in court? (At some point in England it was French; dig it.) Are your lands named things like Avenois, Vausten, or Westfalia (as opposed to those alien Ryk'tk'ixxz-Vaa names that pass for spelling in places)? Do your trolls have tails and turn to stone in daylight? Perhaps your next reward will be a mill that generates income depending on how good your rental prices are (instead of ABC gold pieces). Such things serve the heart of a culture beyond different looks and sounds, and therein lies the path to that exotic or familiar place you want your game to reach.
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