The stock standard D&D game can run dry after awhile, even if you allow your players to tap into the darker side of things. Some people will be driven to play other games, but I say that you can spice up your old tried and true and make something so original that even playing your old character again will be original.
Let Out The Beast!
One of the best games in my life started when the DM said, “Man, if you could play anything what would it be?” I came back with, “Man, I want to play a vampire.” He laughed like it was a joke, but I kept on until we were talking specifics. It was impossible for me to have a power that could kill anyone in one hit, and it was also impossible for me to journey with the group if I had to disappear every day after sunrise so we made compromises. I had to give up negative energy slam, and the ability to turn people, but the DM let me ditch a lot of the drawbacks like sunlight sensitivity and can’t cross running water. Really, the only advantages that I had were that I could regenerate and shape change along with the physical attacks and undead hp.
I was never more excited to play a game in my life thinking that I was a monster in pc’s clothing and that I had an edge over all the other players. That is until I first walked up to meet the rest of the PC group and I saw Chuck, a friend of mine not known for his tact, playing a stone giant. Right next to him was Ray, my best friend and greatest rival, who was playing two characters who seemed to be something human like me, but I knew better. In our first encounter Ray threw a fireball which was a level 5 wizard spell! Obviously whatever he was playing was more powerful than a vampire and he made fewer concessions than I did. We were keeping everything top secret about our characters, but I definitely demanded to have the power to turn people if he had the power to flick fireballs, which turned out to work in my favor in the long run, just like I knew it would.
As monsters we all felt like we had raw energy flowing through our veins and nothing could stop us. I especially felt like I was the baddest thing that haunted the dark. I felt like a living weapon with razor sharp claws and steely fangs, but I had to use a sword while I was keeping my secret from the group. I found out that Ray was playing a silver and bronze dragon, right as he found out I was a vampire, so I had to flee the group or face certain death. There were certain parts of the game where we had to team up to fight and they were pretty brutal battles. As the group was banged up I flew away and grabbed a quick snack. The entire group approached me as I was feeding, but they were keeping their distance. I realized it was because they knew, or feared I was already knocking it at full power. The group even feared me and they were ready to run as they heard my fellow creatures of the night scurrying just beyond eyesight. I wasn’t technically anywhere near as powerful as Ray, but I had the one thing I really wanted, the fear factor and near immortality which was what really made me the monster I wanted to play.
Not everyone wants to play evil, or even a monster, but allowing your players to play something they’ve always wanted that they don’t get from the average game can really add something to your gaming experience. In second edition there weren’t as many books and especially not on as many subjects as there are in third edition. In 3rd ed. they have figured out exactly how to compensate for a monster’s special powers and put them on par, usually, with character’s who are more average, but there can always be a way to make a compromise. It’s just another way for all of us to have more fun, and that’s what D&D is all about.
- They will have more fun.
- The games energy levels will be much higher.
- Your players will have much more power and do much greater things.
- The synergy of your games energy will spawn legends.
- It will put much more pressure on the DM.
- Fights maybe harder to plan.
- Scenarios will have to account for player ability, but resist the urge to negate them.
- They may have draw backs that make them impossible to fit in the game, sometimes literally.
- The very natures of the creatures they choose can facture the group.
The first thing you have to consider is the hp situation. Some monster races come with a significant hp bonus. Any undead character is going to get d12 no matter what their class and they can’t be critted on which will skew the game greatly, as well as playing constructs, plant based creatures or anything else that doesn’t have a Constitution score. The hp flip side is that some races that come with high level adjustments will have several levels of hp less than the group. I know when everyone started out at level 3 one unfortunate guy played a drow who only had 1 level of hp and he moaned how it was unfair that he got dropped so much and that he would never live long enough to get more power. I was okay with that because I absolutely hate drow.
The second thing to consider is the traveling abilities of characters and gaming logistics. A character who can fly will present many obstacles for their penchant to get over them. Walls, moats, mountains or any other land obstacle will present no challenge to anyone who can fly. If you have a castle with many insidious levels you may be dismayed when your flyer carries everyone to the top any bypass all your great ideas. You could compensate occasionally by negating their type of flying. High winds could stop a winged flyer while dispel or anti-magic field will stop someone with magical flying, but throwing this out all the time will frustrate your player. A more organic way to thwart your flyer is to have an underground structure or cave. They can’t physically bypass the obstacles, and if you make the area large enough they could still fly within the area so they can still use their ability.
There are a couple more special issues in this area you have to think about as well. Teleporting, phasing through physical barriers (like Kitty Pride from the X-Men) or ethereal jaunt can cause an even more problems than flight. While you can hide behind thick walls, or underground to thwart a flyer it takes ever more ingenuity to stop someone who can walk through walls. Depending on their type of power they could play peek-a-boo with your sentry characters by just coming in the room enough to see what’s what or even have them chase him down the hall until he jumps through a barrier that they can’t and doubles back. This can be complicated, but there ways to make it just as complicated for them. You could have special materials that keep the character from passing through them like lead, or magically enhanced materials. It would be economically prohibitive to make large structures out of this material, but it would be possible to encase objects in a specially made container, or even a room, or a select wall that separates an area or at least inhibits the player from moving about so freely. Anti-magic fields and the sanctuary spell are other good ways of stopping a “phaser” cold, especially if the player continually abuses and advertises their ability and more powerful opponents make an effort to stop them.
Your players could also make a choice that greatly impedes their ability to travel with the group. If they choose something that is large or bigger they may not fit in castles or caves, and they may not be able to make use of mounts like horses, or griffons. They could even be too big for teleporting circles as they are expensive and you make them for the average user. Your player may also choose someone who needs to live in an aquatic environment, or something else similar. I suggest that you talk them into reconsidering, but you can make compensations. For aquatic guys I suggest that you use an apparatus akin to what Abraham uses in the Hell Boy movies though I would make it battle worthy. There are many more issues that can arise in this area, but it just takes some quick thinking and experience to circumnavigate them. One screw up once in a while won’t tank everything and you can just poof it right in the end anyway, cuz like you’re the DM.
The third thing in your trifecta of issues when a player picks a monster to play is the possible special abilities of the race your player picks. You have to consider what advantages their power gives them and how many times a day they can use it. A doppelganger’s ability to read minds and shape change flawlessly at-will can cause quite a problem. Those who rely too much on magical shape changing can find themselves in big trouble when faced with true seeing, dispel or anti-magic field when someone wearing a physical disguise would slip through. There are also situations where a prolonged study of a character yields more information than just a skim scan with the read thoughts ability. Another situation would be if the creature could cast wish. Remember that they need to have the material component to use the spell so you can make sure they have a hard time finding a big enough gem for the spell, or limit them to just duplicating the effects of other spells instead of letting them completely alter reality, even if it’s only once a day. There are a number of other powers that can cause serious problems, too, and if you can’t figure out a way to circumvent their power at least some of the time then you must negotiate with your player somehow to limit the power, change/ exchange it, or be forced to ban it.
The flip side of having special abilities is that you can often be saddled with super draw backs. If someone plays a vampire, for instance, they can really hold the group back when it’s time to hide from the daylight. It’s a good chance to negotiate with them to give up a power you don’t like (energy drain) so they can give up a drawback that would hurt them and hinder the group. This is an even grayer area than figuring out which special powers will hurt the game and will take more negotiation with your players than anything else. Remember they want to play something with flare and you want everyone to have fun. Oh, and if some smart alec wants to play a belor for his super vorpal sword I’d suggest stopping that all together.
So, besides telling you that this takes lots of effort on the DM’s part I hope I’ve enlightened you some and given you something that will really help your game take off. It’s the most fun I ever had and the one game I’ve remembered for more than a decade afterwards.
Game on playa’s, game on.