Lessons from DMing with my GF

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Table of contents (thanks to Plantae the Divine Oracle)
Kandi and Pepper
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Zombiegeddon
Stats - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=8751912&postcount=422
Party Composition - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=8832718&postcount=444
Module - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=8946215&postcount=471
Modern Zombiegeddon - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9387320&postcount=529
Great Plains Survivors - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9410672&postcount=532
Zombie Anatomy and Called Shots - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9559018&postcount=544
Miscellaneous Info - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9715231&postcount=564
Response - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9741582&postcount=570
Response 2 - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9776578&postcount=580
Response 3 - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9776734&postcount=582
Miscellaneous Info - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9793370&postcount=586

Monster Campaign
Concept - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9647854&postcount=552
Character Creation - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9648113&postcount=553
Character Creation - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9656112&postcount=555
Character Creation - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9713830&postcount=560
Character Creation - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9714073&postcount=562
Character Creation - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9714691&postcount=563
Character Creation - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9715231&postcount=564
Narrative - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9721206&postcount=567
Narrative 2 - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9721536&postcount=568
Response - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9776578&postcount=580
Narrative 3 - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9793370&postcount=586
Narrative 4 - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9937884&postcount=604

Elements Campaign
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Response - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=8686115&postcount=407
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Miscellaneous
Response (Session Preparation) - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=8669478&postcount=403
Working on DnD in Class - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=8722660&postcount=413
What's In a Name - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=8751912&postcount=422
Perfect Defense/Spontaneous vs. Planned Gaming - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=8832718&postcount=444
Christian Gaming Community/Dungeon Crawl vs. In-depth Gaming - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=8946215&postcount=471
Listen/Spot Checks and Trapfinding - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9550820&postcount=540
Listen/Spot Checks and Trapfinding 2 - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9558691&postcount=543
Solo Campaigns - http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=9894765&postcount=598


Original Post
I recently dissolved my other playgroups for the summer/fall, because I have a new job and cannot DM two campaign and do all new lesson preps at the same time (I'll be teaching, obviously).

Thus, to get my gaming fix, I'm going to be gaming, about once a week, with my girlfriend. Up to this point, she has NEVER gamed before, and is not even a fan of the fantasy genre (no Tolkien, Jordan, or even Harry Potter).

The purpose of these articles, then, will be to relate to newer DMs some of the new lessons I am learning from this unusual gaming situation, as well as some of the tried and true lessons all DMing requires. Apart from that, I also hope they will be entertaining and possible spawn some adventure hooks of your own.

STARTING THE CAMPAIGN

I started the campaign, like I do all others, with a list of questions about what type of game that your group would like to play. Why? Because DMing is like refereeing a game. It is fun, but you are not part of the game. Too many DMs want to think of themselves like the coach, tellling others what to do by dictating a world to them, or heaven-forbid, like a player, by inserting their own uber character into the world to play along (the dreaded DMPC or uber NPC). The game world should reflect what your players want to play in, NOT the super detailed world you drew out in algebra class you want to show off.

DM RULE: There is no room for pride in DMing. The game is about the players, not the campaign world.

So, here are the questions I ask (and you might think of others):
All of the questions are ranged on a scale
1) Role Playing --- Mix --- Roll Playing (GF picked Role Playing, likely because it was the least rule intensive, making it the easiest to jump into cold)
2) High --- Mid --- Low Fantasy (Think high as Narnia, where animals talk and everything is exotic, mid more like classic D&D, and low being more like Robin Hood or King Autur) She picked Mid
3) High --- Mid --- Low Magic (She picked Mid)
4) High --- Mid --- Low Power (She picked High)
5) Dark --- Average --- Light Tone and Mood (She picked Light, so no "Night of the Living Dead" or Serial Killers in the Town, instead, more "rescue the child from the Ogres, who have not killed or molested it")
6) G --- PG --- R Rated descriptions and content (She picked PG13)

You will probably be surprised by what your group picks. You will be amazed at how few players really want to play in that gritty low fantasy, low magic, low power campaign you have drawn up. After all, isn't that just another way to make your PCs more fragile, giving you more control to stroke your fragile ego with?

Moving on, since she chose high power, I let her roll 5d6 and pick the top three (I was also going to let her reroll 1's, but since her first two rolls where 17 and 15, I decided against it. I wish I had her luck on the dice.) She came out with 17, 15, 15, 18, 14, 13. Much better than the 18,18,16,14,12,10 spread I usually give in high power play (4 points higher, if more spread).

She chose to play a Female Elf Druid, and put her stats like this
ST 15
DX 14 (+2) 16
CN 18 (-2) 16
IN 13
WS 17
CH 14

She didn't know the Elf's changes until after she set her scores, and was dissapointed by the loss of CN. She also didn't put the 18 on WS, like most people would.

DM RULE: Resist the urge to maximize. You are probably the most rules familiar of the group, so you can munch up your NPC and their PCs much better than they can. Let them make "mistakes" since non-optimization adds a flavor of "reality" to their characters. Your "hints" and "aids" are going to be taken as rules, and it makes the player feel less in control of their character, and afraid to make further "mistakes."

So, we began stating out the character. When she heard about the animal compainion, she got very excited and asked "Can I have a Penguin?" She LOVES Penguins (we had to drive an hour away to go see March of the Penguins). Of course, I said yes, because it was a reasonable request that was not metagamed in any way. Also, since she would love a Penguin in real life, she will make sure her character takes care of and protects her Penguin Companion like a Druid should, rather than as a 24 hour replaceable piece of battle meat. If the penguin dies, she will cry. You should always encourage that kind of passion in your playgroup.

At that, the session ended (we only had 45 minutes that day). Next time, I'll let you know about my prep work for the first real session of play. Until then, happy gaming.
So, here are the questions I ask (and you might think of others):

Out of curiosity, is that the entirety of what you ask? I game with a fairly established group that is having some problems right now, and soon I will be taking over DMing. I would really like to make sure everyone's all on the same page...The last time I tried to do something like this, it got long and unwieldy, and they all answered different things. (Every option was picked at least once, but never more than by about half of the 6 person group.)
Out of curiosity, is that the entirety of what you ask? I game with a fairly established group that is having some problems right now, and soon I will be taking over DMing. I would really like to make sure everyone's all on the same page...The last time I tried to do something like this, it got long and unwieldy, and they all answered different things. (Every option was picked at least once, but never more than by about half of the 6 person group.)

I would say if you had 6 people, and they were evenly distributed between
5) Dark --- Average --- Light Tone and Mood
Then this is when the DM can step in and make the decision, as a tie breaker. Since the DM is the one going to be doing the prep they should at least get some kind of choice as to the type of game.

I mean personally if I had players that wanted to all play rapists and murderers, I'd probably tell them that they need a new DM as that is a type of game I prefer not to run. The DM must be comfortable playing the game and can always step down if everybody wants to play a game they don't want to run.
First, responces. Yes, that is all I asked, and it being one on one gaming, it made it very easy. When playing with more people, I ask those same questions, though sometimes I have them put their choices as a 1 to 10 rank on paper. Then I do the averages. That way people don't try to influence each other, and often, I won't even tell them what won, that way if it is close (since all these distinctions are subjective) they will think that they did. If I have one person looking for a totally different type of game than the rest of the group, I generally will let them know, since they might want to find another playgroup (depending on the size of the local gaming community).

Side bar on drawing up characters: Characters or often refered to as being drawn from the "concept up" or "story up". Concept would be "I want to be an archer type character" or "I want to be a mage focues on electricity spells". The mechanics are worked out, and a backstory is created to flesh out WHY the character wants to be that. Story would start with the character's story and lets the mechanics be dictated by that story. This usually results in weaker, less synergistic characters. Some would say that this is an extension of power gaming or roll vs role playing, but I would disagree. The real key is having a full developed character, since even the most story based of characters are usually created with some background decisions already made, such as martial, aux, divine, or arcane based character.

That said, a fully developed character should have all of the following before the campaign begins:

Gender - Duh
Race - Duh again
Class - Tripel duh
Appearance - Elf female is not an appearance. A green eyed elven female with shiney brown hair and a stout build for her race, wearing a deep purple hooded cloak and the brown leather work outfits common to most northern villages IS an appearance.
Origin - Your character needs to come from somewhere (or have a distinct reason for why he does not know where he came from).
Background - Where you came from is not everything about you. Why are you still not there? What are your relation to that area? What, if any, adventuring caree have you already had? Where are your parants and family? Do you have any friends?
Insertion - Each character MUST have a reason for being where they are in the campaign world. This is much harder with a larger group or even a small group with major regional or ethnic difference (ie, a Halfling from the Southling Swamp, a Human Monk from the far north land of Ishgar, an elf from Syvanistad in the east, and a northland half-orc barbarian originate thousands of miles from each other).
Motivations - Why is your character adventuring?
Goals - What does your character want to acomplish? (these last two are super important for DMs to know. If you want your character to be a Paladin out doing good while seeking to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the Blackguard who murdered him, you have a motivation that will help the DM build story and adventures. If you let your DM know that you hope for your character to slowly grow more obsesced with revenge, rather that vengence, you DM can plan for your eventual goal of becomeing a Blackguard yourself and timing it with the eventual slaying of your father's murderer.
Personality - How will your character relate with other characters? Chiper? Gloomy? Moody? Morose? Happy? Energetic? Lethargic? etc

A fully developed character not only helps with role playing, it also helps the DM craft the campaign arround the characters by session 2.

On with the story: Prepping for session 2

So, with characters primarely drawn up (and ideally, session one is all about drawing up a detailed character), I figure that the session will get to actual play time, after skill and feat choices are made. Since my GF is new to the game, I am packagaing her equipment to save time (she already let me know what she wants her weapon choices to be: bow, backed up by spear).

I drew up her animal comp, the Penguin. I looked at the stats in Frostburn, and was sorely dissapointed. They made for a nice tiny penguin for a familiar, but an animal comp needs to be a little bit more, so I decided to advance the stats for a Small sized Penguin (Emperor Penguins can reach 4', so small size is within reach). The stats given, however, were still pretty sad, since the Penguin is a CR 1/6 creature. Therefore, I borrowed stats from the Owl (not quiet as good as the eagle, but still better than the penguin). I then advanced size, as per the normal advancement rules. I also increased the land speed with the size by 5' so that it was not a total hinderance, but left its superb swim speed alone. Thus, what you are left with is an animal comp that is slightly less powerful than the eagle, but with a focus on swming rather than flying (meaning that I am going to need to make sure the campaign has pleanty of water encounters).

So, water encounters and cold environment are great, as I set the campaign to open in a small fishing village "Shmelt" in the Northlands. Since she had not fully developed the character, I let her in on these decision, allowing her to work arround them. What we ended up with is a High Elf who was found abandoned in the snow, which is unusual, since High Elfs usually live far far far to the south. Raised by a then young, now old, Ranger named Uncle Jack (Ranger 3), she became a Druid by studying nature under him. She is the only druid (or divine caster) in the village, and Jack is the highest level character in the town.

DM Advice: A great way to make low level play exciting is to make sure that they start in an isolated low level area. If the highest caracters arround are level 3-5, they can do important things arround town from the beginning. Later on, as they grow, they will naturally outgrow their starting location and move on (if for no other reason, than to find economies able to bear their coin and goods).

There are several subtle advantages to her starting out in her home town. First, she already knows the townsfolk, meaning that everyone's reaction is naturally "friendly" making roleplaying interactions more friendly and dynamic, since it is easier to have a conversation with the blacksmith who saw you run arround in pig-tail than the total stranger you are hoping to cut a sharp deal with. Second, it gives her free room and board as well as general security for resting without having to worry about rent, inn fees, buying food, or being robbed. Third, it gives me a place to totally bury in a blizzard later on, for a dramatic shift and a reason to take up the wandering adventurer life (since you can't go home to a pile of rubble where your entire childhood died). The GF won't really like that event (shift from Tone/Mood light to dark medium for a moment), but it will make other parts seem lighter in comparison.

So, at this point, I needed some starter adventures. Luckily, the first few where easy.

1) Animal Companion. Since the GF is going to love and protect her AC (she told me today that she (her character) would die before she let the penguin get hurt (die), which is a breath of fresh air to hear from a Druid player), I figure that the 24 hour prayer for another companion thing is pretty much bunk for this character. Therefore, it seemed fitting that she should find her companion in her first adventure, rather than just have it be part of her backstory.

I am going to prep her for this adventure a little (heavy handed DMing, I know, but she shouldn't notice) by letting her know that she should have Endure Elements as one of her spells for the first day. Being in an artic area in early spring warrants that as being a good choice anyways, and it is going to take her some time to get up to par with all of her spell options. She is, after all, totally fresh to the game (never even seen me play, even after three years of dating....just always avoided the guys' nights out).

After having her walk arround town (getting introduced to all the people she already knows) and having the blacksmith give her a spear (made for a short tradeship guard who didn't reture with the boat, it is ideal for an elf girl who is not as big as the large and bulky Northland humans), she will be "reminded" that one of the local fishers was going to let her ride along as they go shmelt fishing.

While fishing, there will be an encounter with a leopard seal (Frostburn) attacking several Penguins resting on an iceburg. Of course, the leopard seal must be driven off. Either she can use EE on herself, and swim over to the iceberg, or she can use her bow. One the seal takes some damage, it will flee. When she gets to the iceberg (by swimming, or convincing the fishers to row over) there will be two penguins down. One is stable at -1hp and can be healed with magic for extra hp if she has any healing spells for the day, the other is hopelessly dead. It will have an egg that is in great danger of freezing and dying now that it is on the open ice. If she has EE left, she can cast it on the egg. If she does not, she will have to come up with some other way to keep it warm (which will be hard, since she is soaking wet if she cast it to swim). There are blankets on the boat, however, and she can likely talk one of the fishermen into holding it close, if she rows for him.

If she does kill the seal (critical hit or something like that), then it will have a market worth, and the fishermen will be happy to reture at that moment. Otherwise, it is going to take some talking to convince them to return to town (however, if she is soaking, they definately will, and try to cover her the entire way there, since EE is not something they will fully understand nor know the limits of).

She will then have an egg to use her Handle Animal skill on (DC 16 to raise, ie make the egg hatch (15+HD)). It should be an easy check, since it will be at +10 (4 ranks, +2 CH, +4 for Animal Companion). She can then start teaching it tricks, and will likely have more fun raising that bird than any three normal players have slaughering Goblins.

DM Observation: There are more fun things to D&D than just combat and hacking stuff to get the phat loot. Raising a penguin, creating the perfect magic staff, building a castle, running a theives guild, playing a game of dice in the tavern, there are tons of "games within the game" other than combat. I once heard some decry a D&D game that became E&E (empires and economics), because the character's stronghold and lands became a game within the game that took up most of the play time, with only a little time put to the side for combat and adventureing. That is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE!!!! (So long as the entire playgroup is involved and having fun). In fact, I suggest you search out these little mini games as diversions to help keep your game interesting.

The egg hatching will introduce downtime, though I will likely let her get to know the town better, and throw in an "Ice Rats in the shmelt shed" find and kill encounter as well, to further introduce her to combat and skills (trying to make sure she uses EVERY open use skill possible early on, to understand their uses).

The next adventure after that will be a lost child, to get her to use some more skills (Gather Info, etc), as well as work in some problem solving (on the GF's part), but that will likely be session 3, and you don't want to work too far ahead, as that tends to create more "leading" than you want).

Thanks to those that replied. Good to know someone is reading this.
I have to say, this is the first lengthy post I read fully! Nicely written, and I can honestly say it's given me many ideas on how to become a better DM.

Do you mind if I take that little character application thingy to use in my campaign?

I'll keep reading if you keep this updated!
Thanks to those that replied. Good to know someone is reading this.

It sounds like an interesting campaign, to be honest. And I'm interested in how to run good one-on-ones too.

If I have one person looking for a totally different type of game than the rest of the group, I generally will let them know, since they might want to find another playgroup (depending on the size of the local gaming community).

It still baffles me how our group literally picked ALL ENDS of the spectrum and yet we still manage to play together somehow.

I got my copy of the DMG II today and was surprised to see that a lot of the gamer style archetypes from "Robin's Laws of Good Games Mastering" (until I saw that Robin Law was one of the authors of the DMG II :P). Anyway, I've been busily trying to figure out where everyone in the group fits. This is a lot less easy to do than it was six months ago. It seems that everyone is a bit of two or three, or none at all.

Characters or often refered to as being drawn from the "concept up" or "story up". Concept would be "I want to be an archer type character" or "I want to be a mage focues on electricity spells". The mechanics are worked out, and a backstory is created to flesh out WHY the character wants to be that. Story would start with the character's story and lets the mechanics be dictated by that story. This usually results in weaker, less synergistic characters.

Our group doesn't do this, except possibly for me and my fiance. And even then a fair bit of our concepts come from looking at a prestige class and saying "hey, I could make a really cool character who...". I dunno, I find the pictures and concepts embodied by the PrCs make it real easy for me to jump to a concept. I've noticed other players don't seem to make that leap.

I posted this in another thread, but I think it's clever so I'll repeat it here: I don't care whether the chicken (concept) or egg (mechanics) came first, just so long as they're both there...or at least the chicken, so she can keep laying eggs. Or something. :P

On with the story: Prepping for session 2

You know the first thing I thought about this was that parts of it were kinda railroaded, but if she's brand new to the whole thing and she's been your gf for 3 yrs then you should know her pretty well so it's not a problem.

You seem to have a handle on what kind of style of play she'll like, which is very very useful. (Now I'm scurrying off to ask my fiance if he'll let me run a solo campaign with him.)
Your posts are insightfully written and very clever. They cause laughter all the while teaching. It is rare to find a well-written and properly spelled post from a player that still values imagination and fantasy in a rapidly growing population of power-gamers. Thank you very much and keep them coming!
Nice way to start your GF out!

My daughter plays a druid and has an owl as her companion...she even had it awakened. She role plays everything with her owl: feeds it treats, makes sure she gets out to fly and hunt, asks her if she's ok, etc...and she too said, "I'll die first before I let her die!"

Funny story about that: The party got attacked by some were-rats, and her owl was sitting on her shoulder when it happened...and I rolled and her owl got hit. My 10 year old daughter teared up, made sure the owl was ok, "casted cure light" on her...then turned and went into "vengence" mode!!

The joke now in the part, "if you're losing the battle, pretend that her owl gets hurt, we'll win!!" Yeah, she basically wiped out the were-rats on her own!!

Good luck with your sessions...I'm interested in seeing how it continues.

Cam
You know, I am going to post to this just so that it gets imbedded in my subscription box and I can continue to follow the adventures of the "Druish Princess and her Mighty Penguin".

In all honesty, very well done, and very well written. Keep us informed.
Yeah, she basically wiped out the were-rats on her own!!

Yeah, druids are perhaps one of the most powerful classes (if not the most powerful), I had a druid take out a liche of the whole party's CR/EL by herself. Two disingrates didn't stop her, but she was glad to see the cleric before she shifted back.
.......This has to be one of the best posts, If not the best I've read on this board. You must be kidnapped and your brain picked over.
Dude your showing a fine example of DMing with a newb. Your GF is doing excellent roleplaying, she makes me jealous. Wish I could a group of people that say screw the stats and embrace the character. I might have to steal some of your ideas for campaign creations. Good Job to you and your GF. Keep them stories coming.
Dude your showing a fine example of DMing with a newb. Your GF is doing excellent roleplaying, she makes me jealous. Wish I could a group of people that say screw the stats and embrace the character. I might have to steal some of your ideas for campaign creations. Good Job to you and your GF. Keep them stories coming.
This is a thread that I've thoroughly enjoyed reading. It sounds like a fun game. I look forward to future installments.

CJ
You will probably be surprised by what your group picks. You will be amazed at how few players really want to play in that gritty low fantasy, low magic, low power campaign you have drawn up. After all, isn't that just another way to make your PCs more fragile, giving you more control to stroke your fragile ego with?

Right on. This cannot be stated enough times. If real life was statted most of your players are probably low level as well as noninfluential/rich. Chances are they don't want to regularly play a game that places the same limitations on them as real life.
I just thought of something else: how do you modify the CRs for the encounters? I'm assuming she's starting at level 1, and a seal is, what, CR 1/3? Are you using a particular formula? Having NPCs help in combat? Altering encounters per day?

I would assume that in a one-on-one adventure, combat would probably take a less important role than in a group anyway...but because it does have to be included at times, how do you do it?
Originally posted by Oakspar77777
DM Observation: There are more fun things to D&D than just combat and hacking stuff to get the phat loot. Raising a penguin, creating the perfect magic staff, building a castle, running a theives guild, playing a game of dice in the tavern, there are tons of "games within the game" other than combat. I once heard some decry a D&D game that became E&E (empires and economics), because the character's stronghold and lands became a game within the game that took up most of the play time, with only a little time put to the side for combat and adventureing. That is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE!!!! (So long as the entire playgroup is involved and having fun). In fact, I suggest you search out these little mini games as diversions to help keep your game interesting.

So true. My players have spent countless hours hanging out in taverns gambling on dice and arm-wrestling. A few of them love nothing more than sitting and BSing with locals. And haggling is a sport. (Yet for some reason, they won't trade insults with the BBEGs...).

This is a great post, Oakspar. You're inspiring me! Write more!
Urge to play 1 on 1 encounters rising! This is seriously awesome and a good reason as to why to try incorperate noobs and fresh players into games. Gives you a good perspective on play. PENGUIN ATTACK!
Gawds, Im a geek. I have a sudden urge to make a druid with a penguin animal companion, and name it 'Linux' or 'Unix' or something.....
First, the replies:

Thank you to every one who is reading these. I never exspected such a positive responce.

Today's gaming session:

Unfortunately, once again, busy lives trunkated our gaming time to 1:30. Of course, given proximity, that is a decent gaming sessions, since usually an hour at a time keeps it to one encounter per session. That helps keep things fresh. Unfortunately, we only really get a chance to play once a week, so I would perfer something more like 3 hours per session to keep things moving.

Today we finished stating out her character, which was much more time consuming than I thought it would be. Over the week, I took her jotted notes and put them on a formal character sheet for her, which I think helped her make more sense out of the blur of numbers from last week. I also ran a mock combat between her and a zombie to help her understand how attack bonuses and armor class worked.

Skills took forever, as I gave a quick explination of each one and how it is useful. She kept a list of the ones she liked, and spread her points amongst them. As we all know, it is better to max out a few skills in early levels, especially the opposed ones, and get the DC based ones where they need to be to auto win (and then move to other skills). Her spread, however, I hope will encourage her to feel some "ownership" over those skills and use them more.

Since that took so much time (and her eyes were starting to glaze), I just gave her a few choices for feats. She picked Scribe Scroll. This was actually not what I thought that she would go with (I figured on Point Black Shot, followed by Percise Shot, since she is planning to use archery as her primary weapon, and would never want to hit her penguin with a spell or arrow). Scribe Scroll, however, is a good choice, and it will encourage good down time. Once again, however, I am going to have to mod my encounters to up the GP count so that she can use her feat.

She named her character Kandi (which she thought sounded like a cute elf-name) and the Penguin (which she still has not gotten) named Pepper.

As far as the story went, we didn't get much past the description of the town and the "Good mornings" of the first day.


DM Lesson - There are a LOT of rules for new players. It is easy for them to get lost in the Skills, Feat Choices, and Spell descriptions. If you can, get them a prep list to summarize these for them (or loan the a PHB, or something like that). They take forever to get through.

Also, if your early players make bad choices, they definate deserve some "do overs." Changes of feats, moving skill points, etc. All of these are reasonable with a new player, but only for a little while (else you get a Red Mage from 8-bit Theater).


In conclusion, I recall a question about CRs for encounters. The normal is CR1 for a party of four LV1 characters, who are themselves each a CR1 encounter on their own. Thus, the ratio is 1:4. So, for a single LV1 character, it should take about 13 CR1/4 encounters to level.

Of course, the math at these lowest levels is the absolutely least reliable in the game. After all, a second level character has arround a 50% increase in power (no max HP, not quiet as many spells, no max skill points, etc), while a level three character is more like a 33% increase, a level four character is more like a 25% increase, etc... What this means is that the faster curve at lower levels makes them inheriently less stable.

So, since noone wants to fight 2 rats or one alley cat 13 times, when playing a one on one campaign, you need to find other creative ways to deal with CRs.

Consider using other challanges than just combat, which will usually seem anticlimactic at this level. Reward problem solving.

You can also add in an NPC, but at this level, it is hard for it not to overshine, since, any NPC will be better at something than the player. DMPCing is the worst idea ever. I am currently running into this, since she wants to make sure she adventures with "friends" and has espressed interest in having a romantic interest. I have a NPC in mind, but, I really don't want to introduce him much until she is a level or two up from him. There will NEVER be multiple NPCs with her, however, because once the DM is doing more in combat (not counting enemies, of course) than the player(s), then he is stealing fun from them.
Why wouldn't the replies be positive? Youare an excellente writer, and alot can be learned from you.

I hope you don't mind me stealing some of your ideas, but I have a two fresh players as well, and I'm having a little problem with them.
Right, you obviously have no idea of how to DM. Get out.

Good lord! I'm joking, I just felt I had to be different from those that came before ;) And I apologise for any offence cause by the line above.

Your campaign does sound interesting, and you appear to be a really good DM. As there's nothing you really are asking for help on, I can't say much more, but to wish you a great campaign. :D

PS - And, your posts are readable! Always a good thing around here.
If the penguin dies, she will cry.

Well, there's a neat little weakness right there. You could always kidnap the penguin, a player could threaten said penguin, the penguin could trigger some sort of nasty trap. That penguin's a walking target. I hope its name is Bullseye.
Well, there's a neat little weakness right there. You could always kidnap the penguin, a player could threaten said penguin, the penguin could trigger some sort of nasty trap. That penguin's a walking target. I hope its name is Bullseye.

Pepper Bullseye Kandi, nice name!
I always thought the firs rule of running a game with a significant other was. Dont.
After reading this thread, I thought of something: WTF is up with women and animal companions? When I play a druid, I just use mine to flank and to intimidate the townsfolk. Hell, my friend played a druid and frequently forgot about his wolf. Not me though, because those things can trip! But I don't bother to RP giving it treats or grooming it or checking for worms. I just say "Okay, Mupkin, go ahead and hunt now." and he runs off into the wilderness to go kill things. I don't play like they're expendable though. Depending on the animal, my emotional range goes from "Dammit, not another one! I'll catch up in 24 hours, guys." to "Dammit! There was only twelve of those fleshraker dinosaurs left on the continent! And mine had like 15 tricks! Dammit!"
WTF is up with women and animal companions?

Societal conditioning. Next. This question is overdone.

Though mine is a really good seek-and-mark machine. (I still named it Fluffy though. :evillaugh )

I always thought the firs rule of running a game with a significant other was. Dont.

You've got the wrong kind of significant other then. :P

Oaskspar, thanks, that's about what I figured. I decided to use my fiance to playtest my homebrew and make up some of the world's history on the fly. He seems real excited, and I'm happy to finally see this thing hit play. Also, it's a lot easier to DM when you've only got one player to worry about, and that player happens to be another experienced DM who can help you along the tight spots. ;)
I mostly just lurk these boards but I have to post on this thread if only to encourage the original poster to continue letting us in on this campaign.
I too must give kudos to Oakspar77777.

Otherwise, posting for the mark so I can find this thread for further reading
Sig to be rebuilt soon The Descendants-- the webserial that reads like a comic book! World of Ere-- A campaign setting that puts style to the fore.
Societal conditioning. Next. This question is overdone.

Though mine is a really good seek-and-mark machine. (I still named it Fluffy though. :evillaugh )

It was a genuine question, really. Of course, I name my companions after my IRL pets. "Okay, Shelby, rip his larynx out!"
Nice post, really enjoyed reading it.

Back in 2nd Edition, i used to play lots of 1 or 2 players games, but with 3rd, it didnt really happened to me. reading this, i really hope it will!

Thanks for that good read!
You can also add in an NPC, but at this level, it is hard for it not to overshine, since, any NPC will be better at something than the player. DMPCing is the worst idea ever. I am currently running into this, since she wants to make sure she adventures with "friends" and has espressed interest in having a romantic interest. I have a NPC in mind, but, I really don't want to introduce him much until she is a level or two up from him. There will NEVER be multiple NPCs with her, however, because once the DM is doing more in combat (not counting enemies, of course) than the player(s), then he is stealing fun from them.

The NPCs don't have to have character levels. Commoners and children sound like they would fit right in at this point. The children could be related to important people you plan to introduce later on, even if distantly related she could be asked to deliver a letter and already would have a reason to help someone she knows. Having to help a bunch of commoners escape the destruction of their village happens in literature/history and helps establish the character as a hero. Some could be experts for things she might need later on - say a tanner, an alchemist that mainly makes ink, or some fishermen/sailors (with a necessary boat). I know it sounds weird for commoners and other riff-raff to "adventure", but if no one else is around, who else could possibly go?

Oh, and never be afraid to let NPCs die, unless it would truly break her heart.

Please keep posting these. They're quite interesting.
First, let me say thank you to all the kind responces. With all of these self-esteem boosts, I canceled my appointment with Dr. Phil this week. Good thing too, as he was starting to creep me out.

Evil Duck - the larnyx comment almost made me wet myself. Thank goodness for depends ulta-slim boxer liners. I just couldn't get the image of a penguin diving beak first into a foe and impailing itself halfway through it and crying desperately as it tries to get out. That, and the penguin diving into some sort of giant ooze and swimming through to pop out the other side.

We have not yet had a chance to further the campaign, but, I thought that I would take a moment to talk about another issue that came up in character design and that bugged my GF enough that she is still asking me about it: spell choice.

Of course, spell choice is least important for Clerics and Druids, who, even on a bad pick for the day can redeem it for a useful spell (Good Clerics much more so than Druids or Evil Clerics). That makes these the best classes for new players.

Wizards are stuck with their choices for the entire day, but they get so many spells in their spellbooks at level one that they are unlikely to ruin themselves by not having any playable spells at all. They will just need a day or two of game time to realize that early on you just have to stack some spells.

Sorcerers are the hardest for new characters, but they are also the easiest. While they are very easy to play, since they don't require foresight, they do require some level of finesse in spell choices. I don't suggest Sorcerers for beginning players, unless the player is a young child who will be satisfied with you picking their spells for them (or from their prompting: "I want a spell to blow things up!!!"). Of course, so long as you feel confident that they will pick Magic Missile as one of their spells, you can let them have the class, since the new 3.5 Sorcerer is more forgiving (allowing spells to be switched out at every even level from LV4 up).

Of course, that brings up the issue of "which spells are good?" There are several kinds of spells:

1) Spells that are good throughout your entire career.
2) Spells that are good at lower levels, but get phased out later on.
3) Spells that are lower level, but are not good until later on.
4) Spells that are conditionally good.

Spells in catagory (1) are some of the most famous. They include things like Cure Light Wounds and Magic Missile. Cure Light Wounds maxes out at 6-13 (avg 9.5) hp healed, which means it will be replaced in combat for more powerful healing spells, but, when it comes to magic items and non-combat "recharging" between encounters, CLW is the most cost effective healing out there. Even a 20th level Cleric or Druid finds himself casting CLW most every day of adventuring.

Magic Missile maxes out at 10-25 (avg 17.5) dmg. There are a host of reasons why this spell is superior: its range is good, it never misses, there is no save, and it hits incorporeals. It also becomes a superior metamagic target for Maximize Spell and Quicken Spell, both of which use up 4th level slots, which is a spell level light on really good spells (unlike, say, 3rd). A Quickened MM is a superior counterspelling (disruption) option.

2) Some spells are good at lower levels, but find themselves less useful as time goes on. Calm Animals, Color Spray, and Sleep are good examples. Calm Animals does grow with level (2-8+LV, avg 4.5 + LV), but it still quickly become ineffectual, since animals are not very powerferful for their HD, any animal of a reasonable CR for even a mid level Druid or Ranger will have many more HD than CR, putting it beyond the range of this spell). Calm Animals does keep some conditional use for quieting guard animals, but is usually outdone by a simple Wild Empathy check.

Color Spray and Sleep both have encounter ending effects at low levels, and are generally underrated. Even a level one wizard can often defeat a CR 2 or even 3 encounter by casting Sleep, then performing a Coup de Grace. (Even a ST 10 Wizard makes an average CdG for 7 damage and a DC 17 Fort save with a staff). In a mixed party, the CdGs get even more extreme. However, once you start reaching higher levels, you just won't run into that many creatures with less than 5 HD. Moreover, when you do, you will have better ways of dealing with them.

3) Some spells are not very good early on, but get better with time. The most famous of these are summoning spells. Due to their very short durations (1R per level) and long casting time (making them easier to disrupt without back-up spells like Invisiability or Sancturay), they just do not pack a punch at low levels. At higher levels, however, even a Summon Monster or Nature's Ally 1 spell can be very useful to flush enemies, fetch objects, set off traps, set up flanks, grapple or threaten enemy spellcasters, etc.
Another set of spells that are good later on are those auxillary spells that are almost always useful for adventuring, but are not combat oriented enough to warrant taking up precious spell slots at lower levels. It is not until there are level one slots to spare that these spells get the chance to shine: Detect Animals or Plants, Jump, Lonstrider, Speak with Animals, Mount, Tenser's Floating Disk, Expeditious Retreat, etc.

4) Some spells are just conditionally good. Hide from Undead, Calm Animals, Ventriloquism, Create Water, Erase. Some, like Create Water, are critical in some areas (deserts, ships at sea) but useless elsewhere. Others, like Erase or Arcane Mark, rarely come up spontaneously, and can usually wait 24 hours or are used seldom enough to just warrant a single scroll in the back of the case. Some require a specific enemy type, and thus are only worthwhile if you know that you are likely to face that kind of foe. Finnally, some, like Ventriloquism and many other illusions require complex set-ups and story-line situations in order to be effictive and worthwhile. Some, like Detect Snares and Pits, are just so limited that they are almost never worthhwhile.

Of course, you might just put something like Detect Snares into a 5th catagory of worthless spells, but most spells have something going for them.

Not sure how much this had to do with the campaign, just an observation I made about spell evaluation I made to my GF to help her pick good spells.
Evil Duck - the larnyx comment almost made me wet myself. Thank goodness for depends ulta-slim boxer liners. I just couldn't get the image of a penguin diving beak first into a foe and impailing itself halfway through it and crying desperately as it tries to get out. That, and the penguin diving into some sort of giant ooze and swimming through to pop out the other side.

I named my dinosaur after my small lazy cat. The penguin's job is to work the groin.
It was a genuine question, really.

Mine was a genuine response, really. Of course, my opinions are really nothing more than my opinions. It's not like I have a degree in popular psychology or gender roles or anything. But it's been my general observation that different genders tend to, initially at least, approach D&D in different ways. (That changes once they find their playstyle.) Part of societal conditioning for women is "fuzzy things = cute = mothering instinct = feminine", and a lot seem to latch onto the "let's pretend" part of D&D before they latch onto the crunchy rules -- which, let's face it, are still not very streamlined or easy to learn or remember at times.

Of course, I name my companions after my IRL pets. "Okay, Shelby, rip his larynx out!"

Heh. I was deprived as a child; I had no pets. So instead I name mine random things...Fluffy the wolf (A.C.) and Fergus the weasel (familiar), etc.
Sorry I havn't added anything to this in awhile, but I went (am still am on) an out of state vacation, which has kept me from being able to play with my GF any (and thus add to the story-line).

I did take advantage of some of this time to chart out some possible future encounters. Since she has an established home(base), the early, less exciting encounters can be spread out over time as she raises and trains Pepper. Then, when she has exhausted the adventures a small sheltered area like that can contain, rather than raise the CRs of encounters (and leave her wondering why the same walk in the woods keeps getting MORE dangereous every time she removes a threat), I can just make the homebase go away (there are lots of ways to do this, from PCs desciding it is time to leave, a massive army attacks, etc, but I am going to bury the town in a massive blizzard).

She really has only given me two things to work with as far as goal go. One was the Penguin companion. She loves the idea of it (and will love it), so that, of course, set that into motion. She exspressed also, in her wonderfully childlike enthusiam, that she would later like a second penguin (a Female named Paprika). I will likely let her spend a Feat to get a second animal companion (though at -3LV, that way it never twins or surpases Pepper). That probably won't happen, however, for some time, as she is already going to have to deal with combat with her and Pepper first.

DM Advice: Always date a girl half you age. She will think you are cool and wise, and have way more enthusiasm and energy than a girl your own age. (She's really in her 20's and I'm only 5 years older, but to hear her exclaim over raising a Penguin or how cute a stuffed animal is, you would never know it).

Her other goal is to have a "friend." Between that and the pair of Penguins, I think she is hinting at something relational, but I am much too smart of a guy not to intentionally be utterly oblivious of it.

I have the NPC made out, and a few "meeting" encounters to start them off as friends (they won't be traveling companions until after the storm).

Without long term character goals, the DM (me) is left filling up the creative space where continuity takes place. I plan to do this with mysteries. The first one (and primary) will be "where did I come from", as she will hear stories of how she was found and raised, but not how or why she was abandoned.

The second, will be a red herring, (not the fish), just a mystery with no answer. At one point while on the shelf ice where Pepper is swimming, I will have Pepper jump out of the water (at some distance from her) and start waddling to her (slowly, of course, the thing is not a racehorse). Then she will see two shadows move under her on the ice (Know: Nature check lets her know that they are more seals, like the one that Killed Pepper's father when he was still an egg (if you didn't know, Emporer Penguin males are the ones that watch the egg until it hatches). That will frighten her, as she will be worried about something attacking Pepper, then I will have an immense shadow pass under the ice beneath her, whose passage will actually shake the ice she is standing on. That should really scare her. Of course, her check will fail, but, she will wonder what it was until she starts facing things that size, and even then, she will never know for sure.

I have a third and forth one in mind, but I havn't figured out the full impact of those story lines yet (ie, I havn't finished them yet).

By giving her lots of "cliffhanger" type mysteries, I add to the mystic of the world she is in, as well as add continuity as the campaign continues.

I also plan to give her "clues" in the forms of visions at various points in the story. I'll write more on visions and special rewards tommorrow, as well as how much your PCs should be affecting your world choices as DM.
Kudos to you, Oakspar77777, this is most entertaining. Please do keep us posted about Kandi's and Pepper's progress!
I am getting ideas for starting my (soon to be) step-son. He has shown interest but I have nver introduced somone tothe game. Please allow me to continue to "pick-your-brain"
As promised, visions, special rewards, and world (environment) choices.

Visions: Visions are one of the best, and most often neglected, way to add depth to a game (and an old favorite trick of mine). If you have ever played the "Baldur's Gate" series for PC, you have seen visions used to great effect (though the first time I ever used them was back in early 2nd edition).

A vision lets you add mystery and direction to a party, depth to that character, and, most importantly, makes the character feel "set apart". Even a level two character who gets visions has a player who feels that there character is "set apart" for all the other level twos in the world, who statistaically are the same.

Also, visions are not power-gameable. You can cause them, increase them, or even validate them to others for prestige (since they happen in your head, only you know that they were not just another dream).

If you have a party, you need to descide who will get the visions. If everyone gets visions, they do not seem as special, so I would suggest that either only one character gets visions, visions be very scarce so that noone really gets many, or everyone in the party gets the same vision (essentially setting the party up as special).

Is I only have one character in a party get visions, it is usually a Psion, Sorcerer, Diviner, Cleric, or Paladin. If I have a party, however, I often go with the "everyone gets the same vision" route, as it both keeps the information open to everyone AND keeps the party coheirent (people sharing visions have a reason not to part ways).

So, what should visions entail? First, you should not put minor hooks in visions. Getting a vision of the Princess being kidnaped does nothing that a simple herald's call for help does not do.

Second, you need to know where the visions are comming from. In Kandi's case, they will come from her own observations from the crib before she was abandoned. That way, they will give her clues about who she is, where she came from, and why she was abandoned. For example, when she gets her first longsword, she will see two elf men (one of which will be her father, though she won't know that yet) dancing arround tree roots the size of houses practicing with the longsword. In another campaign I ran, the Psion got visions, followed them for some time, but eventually found out that their source was really a powerful Mindflayer Psion grooming human psions (since a developed psions brain is not only extra tasty, but fueled his incredible powers). Once they found out the source, the visions really became more like nightmares until the source was hunted down (unfortunately that campaign never made it to the epic battle).

Third, you need to know how the visions will come about. Kandi's are memory based, so will flash in a certian points (when she picks up her first longsword). Others only come during sleep (a Cleric recieving directions for their deity in dreams is a common one).

Once you know that, all you need to do is come up with the content of the visions. I find that they run best if you don't let the player(s) ask questions of what they see (since visions are not usually interactive, though some might be, if for example Pelor allows Jozan to ask one question about his instructions). Simply tell the vision acording to what they see, then let them interperate it how they will.

A final trick with group visions, is to let each person see the exact same vision, but from slightly different perspectives or focusing on different things. If for example, the vision is of Morradin forging some artifact on his forge, the Rogue might see that the sparks that fly off turn into diamonds that stick into the walls of the underground smithy, the Cleric might see the artifact itself, the fighter might see Morradin's mighty hammer, and the Wizard might see the river of lava that powers the mighty furnaces. (Also note the Final Fantasy 8 example, where each character sees things from a different character in the dream's perspective).

Next time (after dinner): Special Rewards and Campaign World choices
Every campaign has two kinds of rewards. Treasure and experience. Treasure comes in two types: Items of value and coinage. All allow the same thing: power leaps. I say leaps, rather than growth, because they are not steady indicators, but resources that are saved up until expended for an increase in power. Thus, the first 1 to 1999gp do not mark any growth until the 2000th one allows the Fighter to pay for his MW sword to be enchanted. XP doesn't grant any benefits until there is enough to qualify for the next level, only then does HP, BAB, Saves, Spells, Skills, Feats, and Abilities increase.

Coinage is a PC favorite, since it allows for complete customization. You can spend it on any kind of gear or enhancement your character has access to. In large amounts, however, it can be rather heavy (especially that hoard of 150,000 copper pieces, that is still worth too much to leave behind, but takes 8 trips to carry back, a favorite level one hoard of mine).

Items of Value depend on what they are. When directly useful (a magic sword, for example), they are extra valuable, since a +1 sword is easier than hauling and saving up arround 2300gp to buy one. When it is a +1 Singham, however, it tends to be a little disapointing, because even though it is still worth over 1000gp, it feels like wasted gp, since the treasure was worth more than you are getting from it. In other words, what had the potential to be the same worth as the very useful sword is only half as useful, at best. Others, like gems, tapestries, and jewelry, have no "use value" to the party, potential or otherwise (though some gems are key spell components). Thus, while they are only worth what you get for them, the platers don't feel as cheated as they do with the +1 Singham.

Large Hoardes use all to good effect. Coins are always welcome, and keep the players on their toes about having good storage items and reasonable encumberance. Useable items directly increase their power (the end result of all of the above), and so they are like winning the lotto. Of course, the "lotto" effect of the good items only happens when the bad items are there as well (and they are still usually compact ways of carrying large amounts of wealth). Gems and art also pack lots of wealth into small packages, and often will be how characters will "save up" for big purchases.
XP, of course, leads to levels, which increases power. Some spells burn it, for added power in the short run. Some feats let you "turn" it into money, by enchanting your own items (which can add alot of power to the party in the long run).

There are other kinds of "special rewards" which many players are familiar with. Prestige is a good one, as it recognizes the character as special, which makes the player feel pround (a good thing, always build up, never berate your players). Others are "items of value" in a broader sence of the word, such as legal exemptions from certian laws or takes, lands or strongholds, the right to tax the revenue of a certian area (title), etc. Another commonly used one, that goes along with prestige are names. Blathor the Dragon Slayer of Cormwalth, the Savior of Princess Cladicorn, the Hero of Calamazoo Vale, Banisher of Kzlatkithet.... sounds alot better than Blathor, Sword for Hire (which he likely was at level one).

While those "special rewards" are very important to the game, and do add depth, they are not the Special Rewards I had in mind when I started this article. What do characters use weath, experence, and prestige for? Increased power. They use them to gain Levels, Skills, Feats, HP, AC, Speed, ATT, Saves, and more wealth. This gives DMs another venue for reward: powers.

I am not talking major powers here, I am talking, however, about the kind of power that a PC cannot (or will not) gain through expenditure of wealth or aquisition of levels.

A group of PCs enter an elvish village to rest and heal up. They are welcomed joyeously, for it is festivle time in just a week, and the more, the merrier. In the meant time, Rogue and Fighter train their archery skills with the local weapon master. At the end of the week, the players ask "Why don't we get experience for all that training." After all, Wizard researched a spell in their library while we were here. (Poor Cleric, however, did not do anything than debate theology over at the local shrine).

Of course, the PCs don't deserve XP for their training. They did not overcome any challanges, combat or otherwise. Mundane treasure also seems out of place. Sure, the weapon master could be impressed with their "progress" and give them some MW arrows, but that hardly seems in flavor. If anything, the PCs should be paying the weapon master, not the other way arround.

In this case, you need to come up with special rewards. The Wizard got his reward, which is a new spell in his book (which actually cost him some). Fighter and Rogue should earn a chance to compete at archery in the upcomming festivle (after all, competitive shooting is a challenge and worthy of XP based on how far in the competition they get).
Cleric, however, needs his own reward. Since he spent that time debating theology, if he role played it well, you might consider given him a free rank in Diplomacy if he does not have it maxed out. If he did an exceptional job, you might consider a greater reward, like the Diplomat feat (+2/+2 Dip & SM) or Skill Focus: Diplomacy.

Giving feats (perferably "weak" ones, notice how the archers did NOT get Wpn Focus: Longbow or Point Blank Shot) and skill ranks (but never past max ranks in a skill) increase the character's power, while at the same time adding depth. Many players will never take "character" feats, because they cannot bear to not have the power feats. If you do get a character who takes those feats, reward them with the power feats.

Note, that a Feat is roughly equal to a Wish, and is thus worth over 25000gp OR 5000xp. Of course, that is why you usually only give them "character" feats that do not tip the balance of the game, but broaden the character. A skill rank is worth roughly 5000gp or 1000xp (1/5th of a feat, since feats grant +3 or +2/+2 to skills, but also increase beyond the max ranks). This, by the way, is also a great way to adjudicate Wish/Miracle/PRA (psion version). If the effic would mimic a feat comparable level of power, it is ok (wishes should be able to grant feats). If what it would mimic would be an epic feat level of power, it is too strong. Note that ability improvement is epic as a feat, thus the limitations to +5 (which the feat does not have) AND the limitation that they must all be done at the same time (which removes the gradual build factor, to get the +5 you must either save up for it, or else you loose whatever work you already did on that stat).

In general, I try to save feats for at least level 5, when they theoretically could pay the XP price for them. Don't go overboarding handing out feats, however. Having a Rogue that studied stealth with the halflings and lockpicking from the dwarves might deserve the Stealthy and Skill Focus: Open Locks feats for their labors. They DO NOT, however, deserve Skill Focus: Search or SF: Disable Device, just because the party went through some Kobald caves and the Rogue worked himself ragged dealing with all of the traps. He got XP for those (and likely treasure as well).

Skill points are a little easier, since you are less likely to go overboard. Don't, however, go overboard. You want for your players to feel like they are choosing their skills. Also, just because they are using a skill alot does not mean that they deserve a free rank (which is really a free skill point limited by their not getting to pick where it goes). Remember that ranks in cross class skills are doubly generous. NEVER give a first rank in a skill that requires ranks to use, but some skills might be worth giving, even if there are no previous ranks.

For example, a Dwarven Fighter has no ranks in Swim. After being pushed off a dock chasing a thief, he almost drowns, and the thief gets away while the party fishes him out. Moreover, the theif gets ANOTHER day's lead on them while they fish out his armor from under the dock. So, the thief gets a clean getaway thanks to the Dwarf's inability to swim. The halfling rogue, however, swims like a fish (no armor check penalties, several ranks). Therefore, while the party has some down time, the Dwarf, more embarassed at his faliure than at asking for help, inquires if the Halfling will teach him to swim. They spend several days practicing swimming, while Wizard buffs Cleric's Shield to +2. Afterwards, the Dwarf AND the Halfling both gain a rank in Swim. The Dwarf is a little better in the water, as he has learned to dogpaddle a little (at least once the armor is off), and the Halfling is a better swimmer from teaching and swimming arround while Dwarf learns.

There are other reasons that training for this type of reward. For example, if a Wizard has a Hawk familiar, and that familiar is killed, he takes an XP hit. Rather than foregoing a familiar, however, he carefully buries his old familiar and then summons a new Hawk (because it fits his character). Since the Hawk adds +3 to Spot checks, a rank in Spot would be appropriate as the spirit of the old Hawk stays with him (and would help offset the XP and GP loss). Moreover, for example, he has this Hawk from level 1 to 14 before it dies, and he treats it like the best friend it likely was (dies of old age or some other cause that make ressurection magic impossible), it would not be absurd to give the Skill Focus: Spot feat. Thus, even while the new hawk would give +3 to Spot, the old hawk would always be there as well, still adding his bonus in spirit.

There is a final catagory I wish to mention. Spells. Not extra spells for spontaneous casters. That is a BAD idea 90% of the time. If you do go that route, remember that it is a feat level power gift to gain a spell known of any level other than your highest level known. Highest level known would be epic. Spells that would not be out of the question are non-combat spells (where the added versitility only helps in day to day adventuring) such as Identify, Illusary Script, or Continual Flame. These spells have long casting times and exspensive material components. While a Sorcerer who knows these are slightly better off than one without the free spells, they are not gamebreaking. Also, make sure your player knows that they cannot shift those spells at even levels like other spells.

No, the spells I mean are splatbook spells. While they are not an issue for Arcane casters (where the DM just says ok, or no way when they try to pick or research it), Divine casters are a whole different ballgame.

Divine spellcasters are supposed to already know all the spells that they are capable of casting. The last thing you want to do, however, is include the splatbooks in that. Some splat spells are broken, especially in conjunction with other splat spells from different splats.

Your Divine casters are better off with only the PHB spells. What I personally do is use splat spells as special rewards.

I'll give you an example of how it might go in the current campaign.

Kandi will be out on the ice playing with Pepper while he slides arround and swims. Pepper will start chasing a particularly fast Smelt (the fish, not the town). Thus, Kandi will have to chase after him out on the ice, which will be my way of exsposing her to Balance checks (which she took a rank in when she heard my description include slick surfaces, like wet floors or ice). She will have to run to keep up, which means 4 balance checks per round at DC 10. (An ironic change from Pepper always trying to keep up with her, since in water his speed doubles hers, but on land, hers is double his, meaning he is normally the one who is always running). If she misses by 4 or less, it knocks 30' off of her 120' movement that round (double move, run). If she misses by 5 or more, she slips and falls (no more movement that round, prone). Quickly a frustrating situation when you are trying to stay near your precious penguin, no?

When she looks like she is about to break down in frustration, I'll say something like this.

"Disheartened and exhausted by Pepper's unabaited pace, you grab your knees and gasp for air. Your backside is throbbing from all of the less-than-gentle contacts with the ice. By tommorrow you will likely be covered in bruises. Through the puffs of condensation from your breath, you see your boots beneath you on the ice. You feel a calm overtake you (my cue for all Druid spell descriptions), and slowly, you begin to feel at one (another catch phrase). At one with your feet. At one with your socks. At one with your boots. At one with the ice itself. You feel stable, as if it was not your feet you were standing on, but as if the entire ice sheet itself were your feet, and yet, you can still lift your feet, but the feeling returns each time you put them back down. Oh!, your boots can still slide."

Then, we she starts to move again, she will be at Speed 90', meaning she will soon catch up with Pepper (and continue the adventure). Afterwards, I will show her the Ice Skate spell in Frostburn, and let her put that spell on her list. From then on, it will be one of her memorization options. So, she gets a new spell AND a free casting of it.

Doing it this way makes the spell a cool bit of treasure in its own way, and lets me control the amount of splat material I let in. Otherwise, I would likely get several Sandstorm spells (from more experienced players) in a northern campaign that would be unbalanced with all of the fire suceptable creatures up there. Also, the list to choose from would be MUCH to daunting for any new player (the options that are there make up a huge list to the complete newbie). She may never cast Ice Skate again (it is rather situational, and would do better on a scroll or two, until higher levels when there are slots to spare), but she will never forget when she got it.
if you recall from the questions I asked in the introduction, I already made sure I knew something about what kind of world my player(s) wanted to play in.

My GF was interested in a mid magic, mid fantasy, PG 13 rated, light toned, high power campaign. That already told me several things, but most of them did not affect my overall world once.

Like all DMs, I have a crafted world with sections in every imagionable racial, political, and environmental biosphere imagionable. My "homebrew" world has plains, deserts, swamps, frozen waste, feudal castles, haunted hills, barren wilderness, and undead wastelands. Most of the changes she chooses from do not affect the geography. She did choose a light mood, which ruled out Shadowspire (that area in my world controled by necromancers and plagued with undead). After all, it is hard to take an area like that and make it "light."

So, another good question to ask your players is "what kind of environment would you like to start out in?" After all, your players may not have just read Sunburn or Frostburn or Windburn or whichever book has you Jonesing for a specific campaign world.

On a side note, I tend to perfer a world that has several biospheres to choose from, because as a DM, that makes my job easier. If the party wants a change of pace, they can just go somewhere else.

One of the first things my GF told me was that she wanted a Penguin Familiar, and thus, the campaigns starting point flipped from Castille (your basic medieval feudal country covered with, you guessed it, Castles), and moved it to the Northlands (Barbarians, Fish-trade, Vikings, etc). The harsher environment also required a more protected starting point (house, family, community, etc). A campaign starting in Shalazar (desert), would require a similar "safe" starting point, or in the Oki (swamp).

So, I start a Northern Campaign. Problem is, that Penguin, even stated up a size catagory, still has a speed of 15'. There goes deep ventures south into the mountains. In fact, the 60' water speed pretty much means that she is going to need to stay pretty close to the water all the way. So, while the campaign started North, it could move anywhere, except for the binding factor of the water. Therefore, her decisions have already pretty much descided the campaign world, which will be an aquatic campaign as much (if not much more) than a Frozen campaign.

What's the point? Well, first, it is just an observation on how one-on-one gaming can actually be easier than multiplayer gaming. There are not conflicting character cues. If the party consisted of a Cleric of Pelor, who threw his feats into making his turning ability kick-tail, a Warmage who loves fire spells, Kandi, and a dual-kukri wielding fighter (let's call him Super-crit), I would have a much harder time. Cleric of Pelor will want to be arround undead (Shadowspire), but would likely start out in Castille or the Franklands. A Warmage pyro would certianly start out in Castille, but would be interested in the orc-human wars on the Castillian boarder. Super-crit would be terrible out of place if not in Shalazar. Kandi would have to start out up north. 4 characters, 3 starting places. Suddenly Kandi's first 3-4 levels worth of stuff would just become level-less backstory, and she would have to make up a reason for coming south. Two would already be in Castille, so Super-Crit would have to come up with some out of character reason to be not one, like Kandi, but 4 countries away (without gaining experience). Moreover, they would need a reason to be together, stay near the water, fight undead, blow things up with fire, and fight things that take crits. (Quickly becomes pirate hunting, heavy on the undead pirates). And that is assuming all good alignments.

Thus, one on one gaming can also be easier on the DM.

Of course, once you know where in the world you will be, it pays to know that world. It would KILL game play if I had to stop the game to look up the DC for running on the ice (which is actually much lower than I thought it would be). DC 10, with her 1 rank and +3 DX means that she will only fall on a 1, and have a 20% chance of even loosing a movement. One more rank, and she can't fall running on ice. Of course, that is flat ice, it gets much worse on a slant.

If you are going to be campaigning in hot or cold environments, be sure to read up on the s-dmg that those environments do. If flight or underwater are coming up, look over those rules before the game. Knowing the common rules early saves much page flipping. In fact, if you don't know the rule, it is often better to just make up something appropriate than waste time.

Above all, when choosing game environments, try to figure out the best compromise of all of your character's desires, and if one is much different that the others, do not neglect it, but give it just time. (After all, one player out of four is still worth 25% of the game time, thus, if one character, say the Cleric of Pelor, is tricked out against undead, make sure that they come up often enough, that along with his other stuff, he feel like the star 25% of the time. Do not put the party somewhere where they will not see undead for several levels).

I guess this is a temperance of my railing against DMs who create these elaborate worlds and then subject their players to them. A clever DM does have a world in mind, but he makes sure it is varied enough to meet whatever kind of area the party wants or is best fitted to adventure in, and flexable enough to bend to their whims.
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