The Holy Trinity of Adventuring

Do your players understand the Holy Trinity?

You’ve done it, you have created the perfect adventure. It has villains, traps, treasures and a story so compelling that your friends are completely hooked and emotionally invested! Everything is going perfectly, and they reach their first battle.

… and one of them gets killed fighting a group of rats. Something that you intended to be an easy warm up ends up being a serious set back. Now you have to wait while your friends creates a new character and everyone else is demotivated. All because you forgot to consider one detail:

Your players suck at fighting.

I don’t understand what went wrong!

 

It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into your adventure, your players will never be able to swim with the big fish until they learn the core idea behind party dynamics, the ‘Holy Trinity.’

The ‘Holy Trinity’ refers to the three core responsibilities or jobs that a winning team has dedicated members for. Those responsibilities are healing, tanking and damage dealing, in that order of importance.

Imagine a soccer team: Some players are dedicated to offense, some players are dedicated to defense (or generally staying in a certain area of the field) and one players is dedicated to being the goalie. Imagine how unsuccessful the team would be if every player just ran around the field doing what they wanted. It would be chaos, and they would always loose against a team that used at least the basic strategy.

The three roles:

1. The Healer: This is the most important role, and an adventuring group should always have one person dedicated to this task (like a dnd 5e cleric). You can think of the healer like the goalie: Half of the time the goalie just stands around doing nothing, but when the time comes they are the most important player on the field. It can also be boring being the healer, just like it can be boring standing around while you watch the other players run around and score goals, or run around and decapitate orcs. But some problems can only be solved with healing magic, so somebody has to have it.

 

2. The Tank: The tank has a simple and all consuming focus, keep the bad guys away from your friends (like a dnd 5e paladin). The tank is built to have the highest amount of hit points possible and the highest AC possible. Just like a real tank, they are meant to roll into battle first and absorb all of the enemy fire with their thick armor so that the rest of the soldiers don’t have to. A real tank also has a big ass gun on it, but a tank character doesn’t have to deal out a lot of damage to do their job, they just have to absorb damage. By doing so, they give that opportunity to the damage dealer.

 

3. The Damage Dealer: who is the person that is built to do as much damage as possible. This person has the ‘fun’ job, which is to kill all the enemies as fast as possible (like a dnd 5e rogue). There isn’t really anything too complicated to this, everyone knows gets how to kill a bad guy, but you don’t really get the chance to decapitate someone if they decapitate you first. The tank makes sure to absorb all the enemy fire and the healer makes sure to keep the tank alive with healing magic, so the damage dealer is free to attack and kill bad guys every turn without having to worry about getting killed themselves.

… and that is the basics of party dynamics! If you have new players that haven’t heard of the holy trinity, their party usually ends up looking like one of two things:

  • Everyone has a character that doesn’t seem to have a particular focus

           OR

  • Everyone makes a damage dealing character (because they are the ‘coolest’ characters to play)If you notice this is how your group looks, here are some things to try before the adventure starts and they end up loosing in disappointingly easy battles:
  • Try to convince one person to be a healing cleric. If there is at least one person dedicated to keeping everyone alive, most of the time they can fumble through the rest.
  • Make sure that they start off with some healing potions, hopefully that will keep them alive long enough to gain some experience points and learn the value of healing.
  • Help them to think about basic adventuring strategies, like checking for traps and not letting enemies surround them
  • Help them to optimize their armor and weapon choices. New players can often just pick what they think looks cool, and they could get a little bit more armor or a little bit more damage by choosing the equipment that is right for their character build.

One Punch Nick

Whoa, was that Saitama?!

So at my last Taekwondo testing, I managed to do something that I’ve trained months for… a punch break! After two unsuccessful attempts, I finally managed to successfully punch through two boards!

The first time was when I tested for my 2nd Dan black belt. I had been practicing a bit on the bags, but my technique was way off for the break. So, right in front of Grand Master Sun Yi, managed to bloody the hell out of my knuckles.

Quickly figured out this wasn’t about to happen, so I switched technique. I rocked the shit out of a knife-hand strike break instead, and succeeded my testing.

I realized I hadn’t practiced it enough, and began training rigorously on the bags every time I went to class. I would practice at least 20 per hand after class. As a result, my technique improved a ton, and I felt confident as hell the next time around.

The next testing came back, and I got up, ready to rock. I went to demonstrate another punch break, but was only successful in breaking one board on the first punch, then got the second on the next. This wasn’t enough for me, though. Let me tell you a little something about Nick Baer. I live by one rule: talk sh*t, get hit. And those boards were talking up a storm.

So I pulled a Vegeta and started practicing like hell all the time. I practiced until I knew without a shadow of a doubt, I would break. Master Lewis, the head of my Taekwondo academy, had trained me to help me recognize what went wrong with the last break.

This time, I was ready.

As you can see, I broke that board like a kit-kat.

WHY HAS THE BOARD GOD BETRAYED ME

Now that I’ve actually done the damn break, I’m good with not doing it again. I succeeded in my goal and intend to practice other techniques (in particular ones that won’t mess up your hand if you mess up). My right hand can now rest easy.

Until next time, keep yourself busy… so you don’t get board.

How to play a better tank!

No, dumba**! Not that kind of tank!

 

Muuuuch better

Let’s talk party dynamics (this one’s more for the players).

In a previous letter, Travis explained the importance of party dynamics, and how coordinated play and a balanced party will make or break an encounter.

Today, we’re going to elaborate a little more on the tank department. Tanks are known for their beefy HP scores, high AC, and overall durability. Normally people envision something like above, a big-a** fighter or cleric wearing big-a** armor (sometimes with a big-a** weapon).

I’m guessing you get the theme here.

There’s a lot to consider when you feel like taking up the tank role. If you’re the type who wants to focus on crowd control, healing, or dishing out a lot of damage, this might not be for you. Tanks play a pivotal role in combat, keeping the enemies away from the squishier damage dealers (mages, rogues, etc.) so that they can dish out damage without the risk of dying. They can do this because they’re really good at not dying (see beefy HP/AC).

Now by all means, a tank can dish out some numbers too! But it all comes down to ensuring everything comes together. Let’s talk about three big tips for getting started:

1. The Build: Build is important. Build is everything. Want heavy armor and that big-a** weapon I mentioned? Throw points into Strength and Constitution. Consider the type of tank you want to play. A more hybrid-style damage/tank might consider Fighter or Barbarian for their high HP values and synergy with two-handed weapons for damage. If you’re feeling more defense or even support-oriented, a Cleric or Paladin can make great tanks, with high armor to keep from getting hit and support/healing spells to help the party (and make up for the Cleric’s less-than-stellar HP).

There’s a lot of great builds posted online for some bitchin’ tanks! My group’s former tank, Flint, used heavy armor on his fighter with a halberd and Polearm Mastery, so he got to provoke an attack of opportunity when an enemy entered his threatened squares. He also got to use his combat superiority dice from Battle Master to turn the battles around from time to time!

Look around, do a bit of research, and really think about your build. It’ll sure as hell pay off!

2. Play the Role: A good tank isn’t someone who’s gonna stand in the back and shoot arrows. They also don’t charge into a group of god darn enemies by themselves. Consider the battle, the map, the enemy, the positions. You control the flow. Is there a choke point? Hold enemies there so your ranged attackers can rain hell on ’em. Perhaps there’s a big baddie who can rip you apart. Keep your party safe from him. Position so they can’t reach your squishy damage dealers. Perhaps keep a formation so you’re breaking line of sight for the enemy’s ranged attackers, forcing them to move as you advance, to give your party a chance to shoot back.

Also consider your build in this. Do you have support spells? Use them, for god’s sake. I’m not saying spam everything until you’re out of spells. But it’s better to be out of spells than to be out of HP.

Another thing to consider is dodge. Say you’ve got a few guys pummeling the crap out of you. Instead of attacking and going tit-for-tat with those a**holes, you can hold them there and use Dodge to give the enemy Disadvantage on attack rolls against you (or you get Advantage on Dexterity-based saves!). This can save your a**, so remember it!

3. Communicate: If you’re looking at the map, surveying the battle, and a detail pops up in your head, go ahead and ask. You see that dragon, and you’re not sure if it’s tail and cleave your Rogue hiding in the corner? Ask! Your GM will probably be happy you’re thinking about things like that. Maybe if it’s a risk factor, you charge the scaly a**hole to draw its attention.

Now they may not tell you everything, but you may get a hint of some inkling as to what to do. Maybe you’ve got a mercenary band after you, and one of them is a mage, but you forget with token it is. The GM could clear that up so you can position accordingly.

If you character notices a mage is the one manipulating an iron golem that is mid-curb-stomp on you, have your character call it out! Draw that attention. Communicate with your party… after all, if you don’t work together you’re all probably going to die.

Remember these tips, do that research, and roll that unstoppable tank! Until next time, happy tanking!

Setting the Mood

“For the last time, Tim, we are not dropping the bass in the crypt.”

 

Sometimes setting the mood can be tricky.

Getting everybody “into the game” and creating immersion can be a pain in the a** sometimes. We live in the age of technology, where countless memes and cat videos are readily available, so the amount of distracted players has gone up 2-3 million percent.

So how do you keep them focused? It’s not a perfected science, and sometimes it depends on your players. I’ve had some games that were a complete disaster, but some games where I was really able to get some solid playing out of my groups.

Over time, I learned that little things like visual cues, music, and such can go a long way. I’m running a game on Roll20 at this time, and the visual cues I’ve been using have been well-received by my players and this has been the strongest game I’ve run to date.

So here are three tips to add drama to your fiction!

1. Ambiance: This is your world. If the players are out in a light thicket, with the sun shining on their backs, consider some music. Something light, cheerful, or just some ambient nature sounds. Are they within a dark crypt? Perhaps a slow, dreary tone, or some ambient sounds of scratching, growls, etc (D&D background music). Capitalize on available sounds to help really set the tone. As you give your description of the damp passages the party is traversing, having that creepy low melody playing quietly can really kick things up a notch. Kicking on something dramatic or blood-pumping during a fight can also help players feel amped for the battle! A really easy way to do this is to create a Youtube playlist for D&D battle music as I have, and use it at the table. You can also easily create a custom playlist if WiFi isn’t an option. But remember it can be easy to ruin this by playing techno or dubstep at the table… unless you’re into that.

2. Visuals: This is D&D people. We’re not playing for the highest-end visuals, and we’re not expecting the best maps ever (unless you got the cash to sprint for them, then do you). A traditional hand-drawn map more than suffices. But if you’re not making the kind of scratch to bust out high-end maps and tokens or build 3D maps then providing light visual aids can be a huge boon. I, for one, am fairly weak at describing a setting (I’m not Tolkien, people) so I’ll provide stock images of fantasy taverns, docks, castles, etc. to help engage the players’ imaginations to get a clearer idea of where they’re at. For Roll20, I ready several images, and upload them to the map we are on then hit Shift +Z to expand it, so this image pops into the forefront for all players. For a live game, you can always consider loading images onto a tablet to provide to players, or printing images.

3. House Rules and Breaks: One of my favorite pieces of advice that Travis gave me was to ban devices while playing D&D. Without our electronic devices, players tend to stay more engaged and invested at what’s happening at the table (and are listening when a god damn orc crits on them). It can be more difficult when playing an online game, as everybody is sitting with the entire internet at their fingertips. It can, and will, inevitably devolve from time to time, and that’s OK! One thing I like to do is take a 10-15 minute break an hour or two into the game, let people share funny videos (which I know they’ve been looking at when it’s not their f*ing turn) and memes. It also lets everyone decompress, chill for a bit, and hop back in when their heads are in the game.

 

This illustrates all 3 points: makes a great image to show, would necessitate creepy music, and would sure as hell get your players’ attention.

 
Consider some of the above tips, and feel free to craft your own! Let us know what you think of if you have any tools you use.

Until next time, happy gaming!

3 ways to be a better healer

How to stop your party from dying!

“What do you mean you have no spells left?”

 

Nick here again, to offer some advice to our new players! Last week, I talked about tanks and how to play them effectively. Today I’ll go over another important role in the party… the healer!

Ah, the healer. Playing that role is important–and tricky! You’re responsible for keeping the party alive, but there’s so much more to it than that! Spells do more than just increase/decrease HP values… you can control the flow of combat by casting support spells to make your party strong or enfeeble the hell out of the enemy! Or enfeeble the hell into them if you’re playing that kind of character. It’s your call, really.

Many people take up the mantle of a healer to play that divine, benevolent protector (or dastardly servant of some dark lord). Some people are a little familiar with the role from MMORPG’s like Final Fantasy XIV. However, it’s not always that simple. A few careless mistakes can have devastating results. As the healer, you’re the life force of the party. Cutting you down means the enemy gains a massive advantage, as the beefier tank can’t be healed, and the party lost access to all of your support magic. Which–especially when you’re against a smarter foe (not goblins) means there’s a pretty god damn good chance they’ll try to single you out.

In other words…

Expectation:

 

 

Frequent Reality:

He’s dead, Jim.

 

So how do you avoid the untimely death so that you survive long enough to get a sweet effing halo? Let’s discuss this!

1. Build: I talked about this last time with tanks, but I simply can’t reiterate this enough–research your builds! For example, feats are super important. I can’t stress enough how absurdly effing good War Caster is for any caster. (War caster feat 5e) Using your reaction to cast spells rather than an attack of opportunity, advantage on CON-based saves for spell interruption, and being able to cast somatic spells with weapon in-hand is stupid good. If you’re thinking about creating a Cleric, they’re a very versatile class with a lot of builds. Melee builds are very feasible (I’m looking at you, Cleric Tempest Domain), but pure casters are also incredibly powerful. With spells to eventually bring back the dead or call upon divine intervention, a Cleric is an incredible boon to the party… if played right.

Perhaps you’re not big on the idea of playing a Cleric? Well, other classes can offer some supplementary healing in a pinch. Bard, especially with the College of Lore, gets access to a good number of healing and support magic while still providing great aid through its proficiency bonuses and Bardic Inspiration. Druid gets a lot of the classics like Cure Wounds or Regenerate and later True Resurrection and has about as many spell slots as a Cleric. Paladin can play a healer in a pinch thanks to supplementary healing and its Lay on Hands ability, but a Cleric/Bard/Druid would be better suited.

2. Situation Awareness: Just as the tank must look over the battlefield to see where they should be to protect someone, you should be looking to see where you need to be to not be surrounded and murdered. Going through a narrow corridor in a sunken temple? You probably shouldn’t take point. Facing down a horrible roaring demon? Don’t stand out in the open and don’t rush the damn thing. Remember: everybody can contribute to the damage and help out during the fight, but if you get too caught up in dishing out sweet numbers you’re liable to get an axe through the head.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t attack. If your party has the upper hand or if you are going on an offensive, feel free to contribute! But just be careful not to let yourself get overwhelmed. Also bear in mind that a great way to help is to consider your support magic. Blinded, dazed, or sleeping creatures can’t attack. Shielding your tank to hold enemies at a choke point removes the need for immediate healing so you can focus on other things, or attack! Keeping aware of the battlefield and how the fight is going make the difference between a good healer and a great healer!

3. Use your Spells: A common trap that players fall into is holding onto their spells “just in case”. By all means, read the situation–there’s no use blowing Cure Mass Wounds when you’re fighting a pack of wolves. But if half your party is nearly dead while you’re staring down a Beholder… well, now might be a good time to use the best you’ve got. After all, you can’t cast those big spells if you’re dead, right?

Along with that, really take the time to research your spells and abilities. Become familiar with them, but also consider creative uses for them. One of my favorite moments of ever playing is when my wife Katie, on her Bard Philia, cast Polymorph on my dungeon boss. The boss failed the check and my epic fight I’d been planning became a game of the party escaping a tiny kitten (they abandoned it in the chambers of the dungeon, in case you were wondering). It thoroughly pissed me off, but it was also effing awesome.

That’s all the information I have for today. Read up, roll your awesome healer, and kick some ass! Or, ah… undo the ass kicking that’s been happening. Until next time, happy healing!

Nick, the Hardcore Healer