Jun 22, 2003
Well, after a very pleasant trip home (place of origen) to visit family, I'm back home (place where I live). Of course, during that trip, there was no gaming, so the plotline was still stuck where it was after the second session: she had gotten up and had breakfast.
Today, however, we got to play again, so on with the story!!!
So, first things first, I'm trying to scale encounters in such a way as to teach her the basics bit by bit, so as not to bury her.
First, roleplaying. There is always a certian amout of "what next" ness to new players. D&D, unlike a book, movie, or video game does not naturally "funnel" the character. Unless you have a hook just sitting there, the player often does what my GF did: stare blankly and ask you, "What next?" The hardest part of the game to learn is getting over your inhibitions and get into playing the character.
Anyways, whenever she balked, I would just describe the city, the surroundings, the weather, the economy, etc. In otherwords, I just filled in backstory. I think it was me describing the Smelt (she is not fond of fish) economy when she got the hit that I was not going to shut up until she started doing stuff.
For those of you to care what all I shared about the city:
SMELT - both the name of the city and the name of the small fish upon which the villages economy is based. The village consist of about twenty small two story wood-log houses. They have steep roofs that go down almost to the gound (A-frame houses) to shed snow. The second stories also have doors that open to nothing, with heavy rings next to them (during winter, the town is often covered in snow many feet deep, the second story doors offer access to the top of the snow, and the heavy rings are for stringing lines between the houses for guidance in blinding snows as well as protection against breaking through and getting trapped in the deep snow). All the houses also have deep basements under the house for food storage for winter, as well as a place to sit out blizzards (the basements have stoves, as do the first floor kitchen/living rooms, the upstairs area is sometimes partitioned into rooms, with sand-box fire pits with closable flumes for heating the room (usually the upstares are abandoned during the coldest parts of winter). The entire town is surrounded by a wooden pallisade about 20 feet tall, with outlook platforms with stares built at regular intervals. The town watch is a rotation between all townsfolk capable of the duty (except for the Smith and Smelter, who are exempt). The town watch runs froms the first spring thaws to the first fall storm, as during the other 4 months of the year, it is too to stay outside for any length of time (and during the hardest freezes, even a few minutes can kill without the warmest of clothes).
The town makes its living fishing for smelt during the spring thaws and summers, then sell it to merchant ships that come before the first fall freezes. The people stay through the harsh winter because half of the Smelt season is over before any ships can get in from the larger, warmer cities to the west. About half the town are Smelt fishers. There is also a Smith (Garth), a Seamstress/Leatherworker (Pricilla), and the Smelter (Garry). The rest of the town consist about equally of trappers, who catch animals for fur and meat (man shall not live by Smelt alone), and wood cutters who collect the ridiculous amounts of wood that it takes to keep houses warm all year long (only about 4 months of the year are consistantly above freezing) and make repairs to houses and boats.
Smelt, of course, is a 4 to 8 inch long fish about the thickness of your thumb. Smelt is short for Silver Melter, which is due to its silver coloration (the schools are absolutely beautiful when they reflect the sunlight). The melt comes from their rather particular breeding habits. Smelt eat microscopic creatures in the water, as well as krill, thus their food is all throughout the water. They are, however, the bases for most of the food chain of the region, however, as they are both nutritious and delicious. During the fall freezes, their numbers are greatly depleated, and the krill and other organisms thrive. The remaining Smelt approach the ever expanding ice, and allow themselves to be frozen in it. Some unknown internal source of heat keeps them from "cell-freezing" as they stay in a state of suspended animation. Once the weather starts to thaw, the Smelts slightly higher body temperature begins to melt the ice arround them. Before long, each Smelt has a globe of water arround them deep in the ice. As the ice melts and their globe expands, more and more food is released. Soon globes intersect, the Smelt can spawn and die in total issolation. The baby smelts are left in the globes to feed from the krill, organisms, and their parant's bodies. These globes continue to expand as the baby Smelt grow, and often intersect with other globes, creating colonies of thousands to even hunderds of thousands. Eventually, the globes open up to the open water, and the Smelt pour out in silver streams (to the delight of early fishermen who are waiting for these Smelt rushes for the largest and easiest catches).
Smelts are not cleaned, but each fisherman's haul is weighed, and his catch is recorded in the Smelter's log. The Smelt are then kept in large piles under a large covered pavilion. The Smelter then lets the Smelt drain and dry, then they are pulvarised whole, and either pressed and dried into Smelt jerky logs, or put into clay pots (imported with the merchants). Smelt, due to the properties that keep them from freezing solid, have a spicey pepperoni type taste that gets spicier with time (in the southern lands, it is used as a seasoning rather than foodstuff because of the age of it by the time it gets down there makes it much too spicey to eat in quantity).
OK, so, as you can imagine, after hearing all that, my GF was as bored as you likely are, and got over some of her inhibitions about playing her character. Of course, the first person she went to see was the Smith Garry, as his is the only house that stands out (being stone, with an open smithy in the front and a four corner roof). He was meant to be the first encounter for the purposes of introducing the next part of play (after the intial shock of not being funneled): conversation. This took her a few tries to get right. The first time she broke out giggling at talking to an imaginary person. The second time, she was being very air-headed sounding (peppy). She assured me that that was how she wanted Kandi to act. That will definately make Kandi the most outgoing and happy acting character in any of my campaigns (and will definately serve to keep the tone light, lighter than I am used to running, actually). So, the third time the conversation worked, and I think she started to get the feel for it. The point of the conversation was that some traders had come by the previous season and one of them had ordered a shortspear. They did not return that season, nor was the fellow with the ship when it returned this spring, therefore, he is stuck with a shortspear, which is really too small of a weapon for anyone in town to want, so he gives it to her.
Garth also hints that if she is looking for something to do (remember, everyone in town already knows her, since she has been there her entire life), that the Smelter Garry might have something for her to do with that little bow of hers (she has a shortbow as part of her starting gear, as well as leather armor (the standard work-clothing fair of this region)). [Introduction of the Hook]
She decides to go (the only way in or out of the town anyway is the Smelter's pavilion). Garry, a squinting older guy who spits, tells her that something is digging holes in the smelt piles in the pavilion and she can check it out. [Introduction of the Quest]
Of course, my GF thinks it is going to be her penguin, since she is near fanaticle about getting her penguin this session (I was afraid to continue with the encounter, since I knew there were no penguins in it, and I thought that might lead to violence). So, she is in the pavilion, surrounded by piles of dead smelt. Of course, the next thing she needed to learn, was the bases of skill checks and how to go from d20 rolls to her actual results. She had amazing luck with most of her rolls throughout the day.
Her first skill check was a Search check for the holes. Finding those, she descided to shoot an arrow down one (which only goes in to the first turn in the tunnel). Then she has a Spot check to notice the white shape run accross the corner of her vision. She makes it, and follows it arround on of the piles of Smelt. She misses the next Spot check, but, she does make the Listen check to here it scamber up the corner support pole (actually four logs fastened together). At this point, I also review what the three observation skills are, how to use them, and what they are for.
She then has to use Climb to get up the pole and only the support beam (which takes several tries, but no damage risk). She then has to use Balance, to move or fight up there (2' wide surface).
From there, it transitions from Skill use (which is really also d20 practice) to combat. I explained Initiative, and she got that down. The combat, of course, is with an Ice Rat (white rat with blue eyes and the cold subtype). I have her make an "Open Knowledge check for Identification." Since she has 2 ranks in Know: Nature, I let her know how to tell me her "base" Knowledge check and then her results in Knowledge skills with ranks (that way I don't give things away by saying what kind of Knowledge check it is). She passes (it was a Know: Nature), so she identifies it, but nothing else as she hit baseline minimium to ID it.
She kills it with her first arrow. She then circles the middle of the pavilion (still up on the rafter), where the rat was nesting. As she circles it, she illicites two AoO from two other Ice Rats, and one lands a bite for 1 damage (1d4-3, means always 1 dmg). At this point, she really hates the nasty rats (no doubt because they are not penguins). The rats are not interested in combat, of course, so they run in two different directions (both away from her).
Of course, she is making Balance checks every turn if she wants to move, but the DC is easy, and she has a high DX (and one rank). She moves closer to one rat, and downs it with one shot. The next round the last rat is scurring down to the floor. She moves and takes her next shot (getting the hang of combat quickly), this shot misses (and would, even without the cover that the rafter she is standing on offers). The rat makes it to the ground and is running away, then she makes a Critical Threat (20) on her next shot roll. I could not have planned the learning curve any better. She makes the conformation shot, and does 3d6 dmg to a 2hp ice rat.
She gets down, makes some more search and listen checks to see if there are any more rats. She doesn't find any, so she returns to report to Garry. He gives her a few silvers (her first money reward, so she is excited about that).
She then moves on down to the water, where a fisherman, Theodore, waves her over to help his two sons load some nets onto the boat. He then offers to let her tag along on their run. She agrees (still meta-gaming for her penguin). The boat is pretty much an oversized rowboat, with the two sons rowing and Theodore at the tiller. On her trip, she obviously finally gets to the enounter with the Penguins.
The boat is 40' from a piece of the icey shore that has broken off from the shore, but is still frozen to the bottom and stable. On it are 5 penguin males with thier eggs balance on their feet in penguin fashion (since the eggs die if left on the ice, and this also keep them from retreating to the water, since they won't leave their eggs) and 1 Leopard Seal. The seal starts to slaughter the penguins, and my GF is terrified. She wants to kill the Seal, but can't think of how. She doesn't think of using her bow for some reason. She tries to get Theodore to take the boat over, but fails the Diplomacy check (and the Bluff check, which comes with penalties for failing the Diplomacy). After all, what does a fisherman care about Penguins? Not worth eating, no fur, and competes for Smelt. She decides that she wants to swim over, but I mention before she goes in that the water is near freezing. Then she remembers Endure Elements (remember, I made her have that for the first day).
She cast the spell, then dives in and starts making swim checks to get to the ice. During the rounds it takes her to get there, the seal downs 3 of the 5 penguins. She Climbs onto the ice, and THEN decides to shoot an arrow at the seal. I mention that if she wants to make sure she does not hit the Penguins there would be a penalty to the shot (the -4 for shooting into melee). She says, ok, and shoots anyways (and misses, since she would need to roll a 16 to hit: AC 15 vs Bow +3, -4).
She rolled an 8, but gets discouraged with the bow, and moves over to stab it with her spear. She makes her Balance check for moving on the ice, then makes her attack (note that the seal has made 5 attacks in the encounter and missed twice). She hits, and deals max dmg (1d6+2 for 8 out of the seal's 13). The seal then tries to flee, like any animal would, and she gets an AoO. She hits again and deals 7, so the seal starts to die.
Her concern imediatly turns to the downed penguins, so I keep it in rounds to keep up with how long until those penguins die. She goes for the closest one first, and after two heal checks, stabalizes it (even though she is sitting on a Cure Minor Wounds to use). She moves to the next one, but it has already stabalized naturally. The third one (the first to fall), is already dead. I have her make a Spot check, and she does, and makes it, and notices the three downed penguin's eggs. Once is frozen already, one was smashed by the seal, but one (the dead penguin's, though she doesn' know it), is ok, but will quickly freeze.
She goes to wrap it in her cloak, but I mention that it is soaking wet and cold. She blanks out, so I have her make a Survival check. (She scores a 23). I remind her that in survival situations, often the only way to keep warm is to share body heat. Since she is under EE, she will stay warm, so she tucks the egg next to her skin. She gathers up the two unconscious penguins, and has no trouble getting the boat turned arround and going home, since she is soaked (and she is the only spellcaster in town, so Theodore and his sons have no idea why she isn't freezing to death).
She gets home, and spends the next two days getting the 2 Penguins back to health. She does Speak with Animals, and learns that the two she saved both lost their eggs, and want to go home. She won't let them go, however. They said they would not take care of someone else's egg, and I have them chirp "home, home!!" as pathetically as I can, but she is still holding them hostage. I think she is trying to keep them for the eggs sake, but I'm not sure why yet.
At that point, we hit the two hour mark, and she was tired of playing (attention span is not my GFs strength, and she is still new to it all). I did not get arround to giving her experience, but that will come at the beginning of the next session. Of course, Pepper is in the egg, but it will also be next time (once she frees her captive penguings) that she will make the Handle Animal check to see if she can raise it (get it to hatch).
Hope you enjoyed the story. Been awhile since I have got to do narrative. Next time: making XP more than a kill count.
Jun 22, 2003
Many thanks to all of you who are putting up with my ridiculously long postings. I hope you are all getting enough out of them to be worth the time scrolling through them.
Oh, and to the fellow who mentioned that I am so much more entertaining than his teachers? Drathri? I am (among other things) a high school English teacher (a mix of British Lit and American Lit). So, you are listening to a teacher that well. To the people who fall asleep on Sunday mornings, I'm also a Minister. Of course, I'm also a Starbucks barrista (What else am I going to do on Saturdays?), but I don't think I've ever put anyone to sleep with that job.
On to the point of this post: adjudicating XP.
XP is something that does not get the attention it deserves. XP is the one reward that you cannot mess up. Give less, and the game moves slower. Give more, and the game moves faster. So long as the treasure stays matched up with level, you cannot unbalance a game with XP.
As such, it is often ignored.
Of course, some people ignore it because it is math (though it comes with helpful charts in the back). The basic math is this: 300XP per CR means that if the characters only face challenges at CR or their level, they will level about every 13 encounters (CR X 300 X 13 / 4 = 975xp per LV where LV = CR).
So, if you want, you can honestly just give each player 77xp per level for each encounter. That comes out rather clinical, however, and, after all, not every encounter is the same.
The XP rules, with the chart in the DMG also works great. Just remember, they are based on 4 players. It does not work as well when you have very few or very many characters. After all, most every level one character can take out two Zombies, just by keeping their distance (especially if they are fighter types with good ranged attacks). You would hardly want to give a character 300xp (a third of a level) for a fighter running cirlces and shooting quivers of arrows into walking corpses until they fall apart.
It works the opposite with bigger parties. In a party with 6 players, you need 50% more foe for the same XP. At low levels, that means 50% more damage going in per round, when damage threasholds are very low. Thus, if I have a party of level twos, four of them might face 4 orc warriors. If I have six, however, that means 6 orc warriors. So, on round one, that means 6 javelins going at one character, rather than 4. That can take out a LV 2 Wizard dead cold, when 4 would give the Cleric some time to heal him. Thus, bigger parties tend to grow slower or face challanges so great that party members are more likely to die.
Of course, however you descide to measure and divide experience is up to you. Be sure and take note of how much your players talk about abilities they want, PrCs they want, or things of that nature. Those players usually enjoy growning faster. If your players talk about that "really cool critical" where some beasty was dropped cold with a single arrow, or things of that nature (event in the story world, etc), then your players would probably enjoy the normal pace (which is slower than most people play).
Flat XP is nice, but XP is also your greatest weapon as a DM. It is a way of modifying behavior in your players using ONLY positive reinforcement. Giving flat awards for good roleplaying (such as taking a sacrifice of some sort to stick to the character's motivations) is the most common. It is also worth rewarding cool behavior or good use of abilities. Thus, if, say a Sorcerer does something cool and unusual with their spells, say, targeting a bridges supports with a Lightning Bolt to hold off some Goblin Worg Hunters coming after the party rather than just using it to fry some more, is worth XP. It added fun to the game, and showed outside the box thinking from your player.
So, how and how much ad hoc should be rewarded? It depends somewhat on your DMing style and there is no right or wrong answer. Rather than hold on to it like normal XP, however, until the players rest, I perfer to throw it out there in the midst of the action to imediately reward players. I use 10XP per LV. Thus, any one reward is 1% of the way to the next level.
The reason I use such small rewards and use them spontaniously is manyfold. First, if you don't use ad hoc rewards, characters only vary in XP if they loose XP due to spells (or miss gaming session, etc). That is not as fun as having a little stagger. When you have a party of four spread out, each encounter has about a 25% chance of someone getting a level, which keeps the party more consistantly seeing growth, rather than just having leaps of power all together. (This also keeps player from wondering why all of the sudden they stop seeing orcs and start seeing gnolls).
Also, if you just pop it out (much like throwing out Jolly Ranchers in class), it peps up your players and keeps them more involved in the game. Also, at 1%, you will never outbalance a party within itself, even with mild favoritism (which we all have, even if it is favoritism for the better role player).
Also, if you average 2.5 ad hocs per player per level, you will come out perfectly at 13 encounters per level.
Some things that DON'T deserve rewards:
Making a critical hit or max damage roll.
Using standard abilities.
Some things that DO deserve rewards:
Giving up treasure to your church, the poor, etc because of alignment/class.
Finding a new use for a skill, ability, or spell.
Figuring out a riddle or puzzle.
Thus, in my last session, she really did not earn any. Her use of Endure Elements came after too much thought, and was not the best use. She would have got one for taking care of the injured penguins, but she forgot her healing spell, and also, once she got the egg, I had to remind her not to leave them stabalized on the ice to die anyways. Holding the penguins captive also is not helping. However, she still have 11 more encounters for 1st level to go, and I only need to hand out 2 or 3.
A final note on XP is to make sure you players know where and why ad hoc comes from. If you give it on the fly, they will know, but if you save it up, don't just say, "good roleplaying." Make sure they know the specific actions that earned it (as those will be the actions they will repeat in the future).