“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!
No, dumba**! Not that kind of tank!
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!
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.
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
- 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.
“No, Tim. You can’t cleave through six enemies.”
Ahhh, combat. The bread and butter of the experience.
Encounters make up a large part of D&D, and can be a hell of a lot of fun when done right. Cutting a path through a horde of orcs or downing a dragon can feel fucking epic, but it’s also really easy to fall into traps with encounters like I have in the past. Finding the right balance of difficulty takes practice, because almost nobody likes hitting a shit-ton of HP sponges and even fewer like getting curb-stomped.
I’ve had plenty of games where I thought a large group of enemies would be a challenge, only to watch a veritable army of corrupted beings fall prey to Fireball volleys. Yet other times, I’ve set up a fairly straightforward fight that ended up being a hot mess that nearly killed two players. Sure, the dice will always decide what’s going to happen, but you can pretty easily tell when a fight isn’t correctly balanced.
I’ve played in campaigns where the GM put us up against horrific beasts at level 1 that nearly took out the entire party, and half of us had to re-roll. I’ve had other games where it’s a glorified game of “move and attack”.
You can quickly generate an encounter with a nice EXP budget using the Dungeon Master’s Guide or any online tools, but that isn’t a 100% guarantee that it will be exciting. Combat can quickly become a tedious slog that everybody dreads if it isn’t done right. Here’s some tips that have served me in preventing this.
Here are some quick D&D DM Tips!
1. Learn Your Party’s Abilities. This sounds easy and obvious, but take a look… really take a look at your party’s skill sets, abilities. Consider the party composition and balance. By really considering their skills, you can figure out how to push them to their limits. Obviously, if your party doesn’t have access to a lot of healing magic you have to take that into consideration. No tank? Consider lighter-hitting enemies or using more small ones in tandem. Light on damage? Make sure to use enemies with lower HP values, or change them yourself (after all, it’s your rules).
2. Use the Environment! This applies in so many instances. Perhaps it’s basic as hell, and the party encounter some thugs in a smuggler’s hideout. Are there crates and barrels? Use them as cover for some of them! Perhaps knock some over to force the party to move around. Consider placing ranged enemies at various heights so that they’re difficult to reach, possibly with beefy melee guarding them. Another fun thing I liked to do is have the party deal with a party of enemies in a valley and just as they think they won, an ambush appears on each side! That’ll teach you to wreck my plot.
3. Capitalize on your Party. This works in tandem with 1 and 2. You have a badass Fighter with heavy armor and a shield? Consider building an encounter with a choke point so they can feel awesome. A divine-slinging Cleric with a penchant for turning undead? Throw in some skeletons to let them use their tool sets. A Rogue who wants to stab shit? Perhaps throw in a 3-sided battle, as their target only needs an “enemy” within 5 feet! Taking time to capitalize on these moments will make players feel really special, and give them that heroic moment.
“Whoa, Ted just punked all of those skeletons! Nice, bro!”
4. Keep Flexible. Say you run a game with 5 players normally. One player can’t show today and–oh fuck–it’s the healer. If you planned a bigass boss fight meant to push them to the limit, perhaps reconsider the stats of the boss. It isn’t fair to the party to pit them against something meant for 5 when there’s only 4, and nobody can sling any healing magic. I always keep a handful of “oh shit” encounters just in case, and these work wonderfully for situations like this. Another thing I’ll do is adjust stats on the fly. Again, as mentioned in 1, it’s your rules.
5. Break up the Pace. A typical approach to dungeons are rooms with encounters leading up to a boss fight. This is great and works well with players; hell, I use this setup all the time. It’s familiar and people like it. But every now and again you need to break up the pace and keep the players on their toes. Maybe 1-2 small encounters, some traps… then further into the depths, throw a continuous string of encounters, it just doesn’t stop. Bam, bam, bam–one onto the next. Don’t give them the chance to stop and breathe. The last one doesn’t even need to be the boss, it could be the first or even the second. Break up the pacing every now and again to keep ’em on their toes!
Hopefully some of this will work for you. Remember… at the end of the day, the most important thing is that everyone has fun! If your players love carving a bloody path with little or no resistance, then cash in on it! If they like being challenged by one massive wrecking crew then do what works. But if things start getting sluggish, consider some of these tips.
Travis and Nick
Sometimes you land your new spaceship right in the middle of the Feywild. (You know, like the Neverwinter Feywild) That is where my new D&D group found themselves at the end of our last session, and considering the lack of direction everything seemed to have last time, I have been scheming to find a way to point the group in the right direction.
Enter Ensign Gustav, a new character who is conveniently from this universe’s Space Federation and knows how to work the ship! Miraculously he got separated from his group of space explorers and got lost int he Feywild. Good thing he ran across this spaceship that came out of nowhere, huh?
Gustav is played by my good friend Nick, fellow newsletter contributor and GM extraordinaire. He helped my GM the last session, and now he is hungry to play. He is like me in the regard that he is always GMing, never playing. I have actually had the privilege of PLAYING D&D less than ten times in my entire life, although I have run hundreds of games. Nick has similar stats, but we figured he knows the game so well that he is going to dominate as a player, while simultaneously helping to bring along the new players in our group to teach them the ropes of being an adventurer.
What could go wrong?
The session starts with Gustav knocking on the airlock, and having a introductory conversation in which he explains that he is a follower of the way of Adama, the legendary god of taking action (and destroying cylons.)
We figured Adama would be a good role model for this party, since he an iconic figure from science fiction who is know for making tough calls and taking action. Hopefully this new character can keep the group from griding to a halt with indecision the first time the encounter an obstacle.
Gustav showed them around their new ship, and they got familiar with all their cool new space toys… including what they found in the armory. Pistols, an assault riffle and a shotgun. Sometimes you just need to give level 1 nobodys some guns. There was conveniently a shiny new firearm for every party member. Everyone was freakin’ stoked, except for Ulfric. He just stood there for some reason.
In reality the person who played Ulfric was late. Like, really late. He texted and promised he would be there soon, so everyone just decided he would stay behind and guard the ship for now. He will catch up with them soon enough, probably just in time to help them out of a jam!
They ventured forth into the mysterious Feywild in search of dilithium crystals. To be used to fuel the ship, as Gustav had explained. I could tell Nick was very excited, he couldn’t wait to show off his D&D skills against whatever evil monsters they came across. This was finally his chance to play and discover, not just watch others go though an adventure he already knew everything about.
To bad for him he got ambushed by an evil tree monster. I didn’t single him out on purpose, he just happened to be the character that was standing closest to where it was hiding. Before he had a chance to do anything, it picked him up with evil vine tentacles, paralyzed him and knocked him out. So for his very fist battle he spent the whole time making death saving throws while everyone else busted caps in some evil monster brains.
Especially Tealeaf, she was especially trigger happy. Maybe it was a bad idea to give a ranged weapon to a character with sneak attack…
I felt bad for Nick, but at least the party saved his character and nursed him back to consciousness. He would get his chance to shine in battles to come. Ulfric texted that he was now only 15 minutes away, so things were looking up. He had a little bad luck, but that has to over now, right?
They wound up finding a friendly Eladrin village. (That’s a Dungeons and Dragons race by the way, just like elves but snootier.) Nick and company used their sick roleplaying skills to discover that this part of the Feywild is plagued with evil plant monsters coming from the local dungeon, which also just happens to have dilithium crystals in it. What are the odds! They gathered up some supplies and set out for the dungeon.
It may not be quite as simple as that, however. You see, this dungeon has cold iron traps. Those of you super nerds who are familiar with the Feywild know that cold iron is a special magical substance to paralyzes and immobilizes creatures that are native to the Feywild. It’s kind of like kryptonite for elves… elves like Jackie, one of my players.
Maybe it was too much of a dick move for me to give them such an overpowered obstacle, but I also gave them freaking guns, they can handle it. Besides, Ulfric just texted again and he is only 5 minutes away now, so he will be here any minute to help.
They reached the entrance to the dungeon, to find it guarded by evil plant monsters. They slowed down. They hesitated. They stopped. They started talking about how to approach the situation, they started to argue. Then, I saw the sparkle in Nick’s eye.
This was his moment, the moment his character was made for! He was there to take decisive action and move the plot forward. Sometimes you just have to make the tough call and get things done, it’s exactly what Adama would do. He readied his great club (oh yeah, he has a great club by the way) and charged in! It may not have been the best idea, but a man of action like Gustav has the guts to take risks and get things done.
He rolled a 1.
A miss! But at least now the battle had started, I have everyone role initiative. The monster that Gustav attacked had the luck to go first, and decided to attack Gustav right back! Aaaaand critical hit, Gustav is down and dying again. (That reminds me, I should make a new crit fail table for 5th edition)
What terrible luck, but at least he still has his teammates to help him. Jackie had the fortune to go next, so he charged in to help his fallen comrade…. right into my cold iron trap. He fell to ground, immobilized next to his dying comrade, surrounded by monsters. It was three turns into the fight and two people out of a four person party were down. How could it get worse?
A text from Ulfric! He says he is super hungry and he stopped for lunch, it will still be a while before he can get there.
Luckily Sarek and Tealeaf weren’t gona take that shit. “I don’t know about cold iron,” Tealeaf remarked “but how about hot lead!” A couple rounds from Sarek’s assault rifle and Tealeaf’s sneak attack pistol saw the battle end with all the players still alive. Gustav briefly questioned his faith in Adama. I understand the way he must have felt, he finally gets a chance to play after all this time, gets (almost) killed twice, and rolls a 1 on the only thing he tried to do.
It is a good time to stop, so we wrap up the session and I start adding up everyones experience points, when Ulfric shows up. He is ready to play, but he is also 4 hours late to a 4.5 hour game session.
“Sorry bro, you don’t get any experience points this time. But, we saved you a shotgun.”
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It’s a nerve racking but fun experience when you join a new adventuring group This was several years ago, I had been running my own games of 4th edition but I didn’t yet consider myself an experienced GM. I was joining a group of new friends for something I had never played before: 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons.
I had heard a lot about 3rd edition. Everyone who had played it for years sword by it, and they were genuinely disgusted with any other roleplaying system, especially 4th edition. At this point in my life all I had ever played was 4th edition, but I had a ton of fun with it. Was I about to experience the perfect joy of 3rd edition? All this time, had I been eating hamburger helper while everyone else had been dining on filet mignon? I was about to find out.
They helped me make a character, which was more or less the same as making a character in 4th, but i noticed there were several more skill and defenses to calculate. I was advised against picking several skills in favor of others, because “they sucked.” I will get into this more later, but having options that aren’t worth getting is one fair criticism of 3rd edition.
I ended up with a monk that specialized in catching arrows, which was bad ass. I was joined in my noble quest by a handful of other heroes, including an interestingly min-maxed paladin bearing a shield in each hand.
Our adventure began and after some story and plot that I don’t remember we found ourselves in a field across from a bunch of archers trying to kill us. It was my moment to shine!
I confidently ran at them, daring them to shoot me. They did. I imagined that kick-ass episode of Samurai Jack where he blindfolds himself and runs through a wall of arrows. You know, that one where he like meditated under that waterfall until he would hear the arrows flying through the air? Never mind. I rolled my dice.
It rolled a 1.
An arrow hit my right in the face and I was briefly down for the count. What a mockery of justice. My shield clad friend ran past me, arrows bouncing off of his armor as harmlessly as raindrops. He reached one of the evil archers and landed a hit… by bashing him with his shields, I guess. The Dungeon Master asked him to roll him damage, to which he replied:
“It doesn’t matter, my damage bonus is +24.”
The bad guy died in one hit.
What the hell? +24!? I looked at my own character’s damage bonus… +2. Now true, that is pretty mediocre, I didn’t take the time to min/max my character. I just wanted to get into the action and play the game, and since I had never played before I didn’t know what character options were good. But still! That isn’t even close to fair for a level one character.
My shielded friend proceeded to decimate the archers, and then every other monster in the entire adventure. The rest of us participated, sure, but nothing we did really mattered as far as battles were concerned. Our invincible comrade bulldozed over every challenge.
After the adventure was over, I asked the group why they preferred the old editions to the (then new) 4th edition. I got various answers, but there was a common theme. “4th edition is too much like an MMO.” I’ve found there are two reasons people say this:
* All the characters tend to be ‘the same’
* The story and roleplaying elements are minimized, to focus primarily on combat
From my own experience, I definitely understand the whole “all characters being the same” thing. In 4th edition, every character gets the same amount of powers and a lot of classes played the same. I also noticed that you would have a seemingly huge health pool, regardless of what kind of character you choose to play. In all the games I ran, I always gave the monsters bonus damage by increasing their weapon die one size.
And yet still I never had a player character die in 4th edition. It is disappointing when characters are so unbalanced it’s possible to have a meaningless character, (like my 3rd edition monk) but your characters are just as bland when they are all the same.
Another interesting thing I noticed abut 4th edition was the artwork. Now when I say this keep in mind, I am a roleplaying fiend and I but a lot of D&D books. I )almost) own every 4th edition book ever published.
… and the thing about 4th edition is, every piece of artwork prominently displays every character with a huge weapon, as if to suggest the weapon makes the character.
When you get familiar with 4th edition you find that indeed most of the rules are about the combat, and there is little attention given to world building or roleplaying. Combat is essential to an adventure, but we want more out of table top roleplaying than to play a ‘hack and slash’ like Diablo.
I am a huge fan of 5th addition because it addresses these problems by finding a balance in the middle. It hits the ‘sweet spot’ between 3rd and 4th editions. The classes have major differences, so they don’t all play the same anymore. You could make a fiar argument that some classes are better in a fight than others (specifically the classes with magic.) But, they aren’t so much better that the other classes become meaningless.
The game has also returned to it’s traditional roots of storytelling and the vas world it is set in, while also fixing notorious rules problems. I could go on at great length, as could any GM or opinionated gamer. I think my feelings are best summarized in this chart:
It had the majestic streamlined body of a dragon, the commanding roar of a king and the best name in the universe. The Sea Lion. The SEA Lion! A lion, king of the jungle and alpha predator, that comes from the SEA. If a shark had a brain or class, it would be a Sea Lion.
This tiny plastic figurine with a silly name hanging from a hook in the hobby game store had lit my fire. I was going to host my very own Dungeons and Dragons adventure, and the Sea Lion would have a part to play in my legendary tale.
So I gathered my friends, something much easier said than done. For weeks I battled the holidays, trips out of town, weekends with children and just plain not wanting to get up early on a Saturday. But finally the stars aligned and I was able to gather a group of my friends together in the same place for a couple hours to create characters. Later, we would actually play the game.
Out of five characters, two of them actually had something to their backstory. Ulfric, a sorcerer with wild and uncontrollable magic, as well as a name shared with the main character from Skyrim, has a son named Jasper to support.
… No, you’re thinking of the friendly ghost, Casper. Ulfric’s fictional son isn’t a ghost, at least not yet.
Then there is Sarek. A brave Paladin who shares his name with Spock’s father, from Star Trek. I started to get a Sci-Fi vibe from this group immediately. Living his life by the tenets of Xena, the legendary warrior princess, Sarek was a man of action. I was excited! Timid adventurers are boring, I was grateful to know that at least one member of the team seemed to be certain to take decisive action. Hopefully he will keep the story from getting stale.
My other friends needed help filling out their character sheets, so we left their backstories a little bland for the moment. But that’s OK, their character’s personalities will grow as they adventure. As things were wrapping up and my friends were leaving, a short parting conversation hit me in the head like a hammer of inspiration.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if there was, like, a Star Trek D&D?” one of my friend’s said. “Yeah! I would love to beam down to new planets and shoot people with ray guns.” (You know…) I thought. (It would be pretty fun to mix up science fiction technology and magic.)
That’s when I decided, I was going to give them a spaceship! It’s interesting, they can use it to travel to different worlds, it will remind them of their favorite Sci-Fi show! It’s perfect. There is also that often overlooked page of the DM guide that provides stats for things like handguns and anti-matter rifles. What better loot could they ask for?
So I went to work. I made the floor plan for a bad-ass spaceship, filled it with guns and other game breaking toys, and I made a dungeon. Nothing fancy, very basic really. A few rats to fight, some gold coins to find and some simple traps. Not to deadly or to challenging, the perfect warm up for our first game.
Yeah, I basically copied that spaceship from FTL. (Ssssssh, don’t tell anybody)
Now to tie it all together with a story. “Uhg!” I can hear them saying. Looking back, I’ve learned that this is a group that could actually care less… but I love world building! So tough. This is what I came up with:
The kingdom of Baeron is growing in military might and has drafted the majority of it’s citizens into it’s army, including the players. The kingdom owes it’s strengthened forces to recent technological breakthroughs by studying “ancient knowledge” that they have recently unearthed… (That means they found Sci-Fi stuff on a crashed spaceship they dug up! Did you catch that?) However they have learned all they can and must find a new source of kick-ass alien technology.
They turn their eyes to the neighboring Cook kingdom. Over in Cook they are celebrating their annual “starfall” festival. Their legends claim that the church in the middle of their town was built on a fallen star, and every year they party… because that’s just so damn cool.
So there you go! That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now they have motivation to do something. The kingdom of Baeron is going to send a secret mission into the basement of the church to steal and Sci-Fi goodies that may be there, so Bareon has them instead of Cook kingdom.
Everybody got that? Are we on the same page now? … Good. So here is where I made my fatal mistake… I added more story.
Damnit Travis! It was fine! It made sense, why did you keep going? Now it’s to much! I can’t keep track of any more details! Waaaaaah!
You have a point, crazy emotional me. But this next part is so cool! You will love it, give it a chance. You see, the kingdom of Baeron is going to betray the players! That way they will be motivated to keep the spaceship when they find it! I mean, that makes sense, right? Surely if I drop enough hints they will catch that… right?
Enter General Duke, the leader of Baeron’s military, and quest NPC. He tells the players that they have an important task: assassinating Prince Cook! He also hints that the players are just a distraction, the real mission will be to find the spaceship, a job which will be carried out by elite Baeron NPC’s who aren’t level one newbies, like the players.
Nobody picked up on the hints.
Oh well, I guess I will have to be more direct in the future. At least the story part is over and we can get to the adventure! Naturally they will have to go through my dungeon on the way to kill the prince. They will sneak through the sewers and then ambush him! Killing some easy monsters and picking up small bits of assorted treasure will get them into the flow of things.
They reach the entrance to the sewers, and I describe it to them. “The path ramps downward steeply for about 15 feet. It looks a little slippery.”
Their eyes widen. “It looks a little slippery.”
A little slippery.
The suspicion in their eyes is unmistakable, and their distrust grows. Only in Dungeons and Dragons can a simple adjective stop an entire group of warriors in their tracks. Why did he specifically mention that the ramp was slippery? Surely we will slide down to our demise. The floor must give way to spikes that are covered in acid! The ramp will eat our very souls if we are fool enough to proceed.
Here stands a group of fighters, sorcerers and rangers, equipped with halberds, fire breath and poison arrows. One of them worships Xena for goodness sake! If Xena were here, she would backflip down the ramp while doing that cool yell she does. She would even kill two or three bad guys by bouncing her chackram of the walls at the same time. What adventurer worth their salt is paralyzed with indecision over an obstacle equivalent to the tall slide on the playground?
Dear God No!
A couple of minutes pass, they discuss the carious lengths of rope they have and who may have climbing pitons in their starter packs. I can stand it no longer and I give them a nudge. “You could probably just slide down…?”
A quick acrobatics check later and everyone makes it to the bottom, and we all breathe a sigh of relief. For them the evils of the slide are behind them. For me the excitement of the rest of the dungeon awaits!
They come upon another room, and wisely take a peek inside before they enter. They see rats. D&D rats sure, bigger and meaner than real rats, but just… rats. I rub my hands together in anticipation, this is just what they need. An easy victory to build their confidence, and they will be happy to discover the few gold coins that I hid in the rat’s nests. Because, you know, that’s where rats put their gold coins.
“Let’s go another way.” They turn around and walk back.
What!? Are you kidding me? Can this really be happening? Would you like to just forget about the adventure, go home and have some tea? Well I’m not going to make it that easy on you! You are going to win a battle, and you are going to like it! I force them to fight some rats, they are guarding a key they need to open a locked door… conveniently. The fight goes well for them, but I am troubled that they keep forgetting what dice to roll. Like, over and over again, How many times before you remember which is which?
I glance at the clock, then at my dungeon map. We have already been playing for some times, this is taking to long and I want to make sure we get to the spaceship. With some disappointment I take out all the traps (they are to paranoid anyway) and the last floor of the dungeon.
I kept the Sea-Lion though, nobody is going to take that away from me! About 30 minutes later they reach the end of the dungeon, and emerge from the sewers at a carefully chosen spot, to ambush and kill the prince during his inaugural parade. Did I mention the prince was in a parade? It doesn’t matter I guess, they shot him with a poison arrow and he died. His guards were pissed about it, but they died too. So there they stood. In the streets next to a dead prince, mission accomplished. What’s next? It was my hope that they would get curious about the “ancient knowledge” and go looking for it, perhaps realizing that they were just the decoys.
No such luck of course, time for the hand of God to step it. They were swept up in the fleeing crowd of people and ended up at the church. You know, the same one from the story, the one they built on top of the fallen ‘star.’ The church that has a spaceship in the basement.
After some snooping around they find their way into said basement to find a room filled with dead people. There had just been a battle between the forces of Baeron and the forces of Cook, and both sides killed eachother! There is also a stairway to the next room. There is a stairway to the next room. I’m sorry to repeat myself, but I’ve found if you don’t specifically repeat important details, like the fact that there is a stairway to the next room, the players will miss it.
“I loot the bodies!” They excitedly go to work going through everyone’s pockets and weapons. That’s not really the point of this scene, but fine. I give them some spears and chain mail, maybe a shield. Whatever kind of stuff soldiers would have on them. “No gold?” they ask. “No gold.” I reply. They don’t give up. “Do they have any purses or pouches? Are any of them hiding anything?”
What, are you going to dig through their stomachs to find out what they had for breakfast? If you find an apple core, will you add it to your inventory? These are your fallen countrymen! Aren’t you going to ask any basic questions about what happened here? Aren’t you at least going to go into the next room to see what they were fighting for? They don’t. They ask if this is a good place to end the session, they are getting tired. Come on! Do you know how long I spent making this story? Aren’t you curious at all? You wanted some loot so bad, the freaking cave of wonders is in the next room!
I promise them that it’s almost over,I really want to get them to the end. Surely having their own spaceship will keep them excited to play next time. “So where do we go?” My heart sinks. Where do you go? Did I mention the staircase that leads to the next room? You literally have one option, have tried nothing and are asking for help.
I tell them where to go.
They find the spaceship and I am excited to describe it. This session has probably gone on for too long and they are too tired to investigate everything as much as I hoped they would. Before they explore the exciting rooms, they find their way into the cockpit and ‘jump’ the ship to a new planet. I end the session there, I figure that is a good cliffhanger ending. They didn’t even find any of the cool stuff yet.
I think I worked to hard on this.
I hope your holiday season has been freaking awesome! I had an excellent Xmas and satisfying new year. I am excited to tell you all about my fat Xmas loot and share my business goals for the new year…
1. My instructor, business coach and bro Corey Lewis gave me the awesome book Circle of Profit.
After reading it Nick and I have decided to give affiliate marketing a go and become online gurus of table top gaming! (What else? lol)
Starting February 1st we will be publishing a semi-daily newsletter (5 per week.) We will be giving advice, writing articles, responding to people who email us and promoting/reviewing products. You can be one of the first people to sign up:
Emails will come from the address firstname.lastname@example.org, so make sure you have us ‘whitelisted’ in your email! (Make sure to check your ‘spam’ or ‘promotions’ folder.)
2. I got a kick-ass vacuum robot for Xmas! It’s name is Rogue, and it drives around the floor looking for dirt and hair with laser beam eyes!
It seriously picks up more hair than you ever even thought could possibly be on your floor. We have hard wood floors, so we foolishly thought we could see all the dirt on the floor. Rogue picks up and entire cat worth of hair each day, I am so grateful for it.
3. My other Xmas gift was some bad ass aluminum dice!
After doing some research for affiliate marketing, I learned it is fair to say plastic dice are fairly unfair! (That sentence made me happy.) Turns out plastic dice are disturbingly often unbalanced, and favor a certain side! If you float your dice in a glass of salt water, you can gently spin it several times with your finger to see if it keeps coming up on the same side.
After some research, (long story short) plastic dice aren’t really that great because of the way they are made. That’s why metal dice are so awesome! Since they are cast in a mold they are ‘born the way they are’ which means they are homogeneous (they same throughout, without and areas of less density or air pockets, like some plastic dice) and they don’t have any uneven corners (plastic dice go through a rock tumbler to smooth out their edges, wearing them unevenly.)
I hope your 2018 is full of burning desire my friends! Let’s bring a flaming sense of furious justice to the new year!
I am excited to bring you news about the comic! About X weeks ago I announced that we were having a guest artist, the ‘Mysterious Mungo’ to draw the weekly comic! Today I have got a preview of his work, which will explore the origins of Gabriel and his powers.
You can visit his website and see some of his work by clicking this button!
We also had an inspirational time meeting with him this week, we talked about the scripting process for creating comics, drawing techniques and inking techniques. Up until this point Bearman and I have been less formal with the comic, as we both have full time jobs and just kinda like to ‘wing it’.
However from now on we will be making a script each week to make the comic more fun and to make our storytelling better. Here is a sneak peek at the script for next week’s comic, just for you dear reader.
Script for September 25th – Propane Hat Jacking
Billy peeks around the corner of a stone pillar and sees a propane grill among Trucker Mage’s random bullshit. The panel is split to show a closeup of the propane tank, which is labeled ‘propane’ so stupid readers can tell what it is.
Billy (thinking to himself): That’s it!
From the perspective of looking down Trucker Mage’s gun barrel, Billy peeks his head around the corner of the pilar to speak. [Perhaps a little bit of detail in the background]
Billy: “Soo… uh… Is that a propane girl?”
Trucker Mage has a confused but excited look on his face as he slightly lowers his gun.
Trucker Mage: “Well shoot son, you should taste the meat, not the heat!”
Billy: “Uh… I mean… I know right!?”
Billy steps out from behind the pillar and takes a step towards Trucker Mage.
Billy: “The kids at my school like to Netflix and chill, but I like to propane and grill! …How do you like your steak?”
Trucker Mage: “Nice! Well son I actually like mine medium rare, firm but with just a little give.”
Billy walks closer to Trucker Mage, who is still riding Terry. As they talk, Billy references Terry and the panel is split to show Terry’s facial expression, looking up at Truck mage with eyes filled with loathing and a desire for revenge.
Billy: “Terry there always asks for his steaks well done.”
Trucker Mage: “Maybe we should firmly ask him to leave!”
Billy is stands next to Trucker Mage, who now has his gun unthreateningly slung over his shoulder. He slaps Billy on the back while they both laugh heartily. Terry looks angry and confused.
Billy swipes Trucker Mage’s hat off of his head. Trucker mage gasps in surprise.
Billy: “GOTCHA BITCH!”
Cool, right?! I was excited to write it, I hope you were excited to read it.
On a random note, I would like to show you how many zombies it takes to repeatedly lag out your connection to a minecraft server. It’s this many:
I don’t know how they all got down there, but it took me like five minutes to kill them all by hitting them in the head, one at a time.
Have an excellent weekend!