Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dr. Planlove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Improv

I had a major epiphany during my last gaming session. Starting my first two weeks of teaching high school left me strapped for time and motivation. I was able to cobble together my Star Wars: Saga Edition group for a quick game in my classroom on Friday night, and the results were amazing! I’m getting ahead of myself, though, and some background information would show the magnitude of my epiphany.

I’m a planner. When my 4e group was at level 3 I had adventures planned out all the way to level 12. I start with the 5x5 overview of the adventures, then I flesh out the grid with specific creatures and maps. It takes a little time, but it made me feel better about being ready for my players. It seemed that the players enjoyed the games enough, but I always felt that they were less-than-stellar in their roleplaying experiences. The players that are in my SWSE game are also in the 4e game, and that attitude carried over. I didn’t figure out why until our game on Friday.

I had started planning my SWSE game the same way as my 4e game, but with my time constraints I only had enough time to come up with “Sith compound, trapped in cells, one has to make a choice between light side and dark.” I scanned Scum and Villainy (SWSE’s Monster Manual) and was ready for the worst game ever.

The game started with a simple statement: You wake up shackled to a cavern wall. There is a bird-cage style prison around you. To your left is your colleague, who is in a traditional cage-style prison with a 10-foot gap between the cavern ceiling and the top of the bars. What do you do? I then had parallel storylines going between the two players that lasted about 3 minutes each, enough time for some RP and a roll, but not enough to make the other player zone out.

The plan in my head was that one player would try to talk the other one out of falling to the dark side though RP discussion in their respective cells. Instead, the players took it in a different direction (as players are want to do). They began a Great Escape narrative, which made me completely shoot from the hip.

We played for an hour and a half before we had our one battle of the night (something that would have been impossible in my 4e game) and both of the players said it was the best session they’ve ever had. I couldn’t figure out what it was that made them enjoy the session so much. It had only one battle that lasted 3 turns, and one of the players during that battle said she fainted and just listened to the rest of the battle. In 4e the players always want to get to the battles early and often. The only thing that was really different on my side was the amount of planning I did for the game.

That’s when it hit me. The planning I had been doing, even though it was setting up the campaign to be a sandbox-style, still made me tilt the characters towards the way I wanted the adventure to go. My players are path-of-least-resistance kind of people, and my guidance during my super-planned adventures made the players go down that path, and feel stale.

The lesson I had learned from the game on Friday was that what I thought was helping my players was actually hurting them. If you notice things are getting stale at your table, think about what you’re doing in your game that you could easily change. It could be that once you change that thing your game and your players would have a much more enjoyable experience. Even if it doesn’t help your game, limiting yourself or changing how you manage your game will be a growth experience for you as a GM. Who knows, maybe you’ll stop worrying and learn to love your bom

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Feats of Fun

Hi All, I am B. Lynn. I hang out on Twitter under and met Jeremy through there under I have met other gamers there and the one who got me started with this blog post is Adam Page from who started a thread called #FridayFeat. This thread was started because a number of us do not do the Follow Friday (#FF) stuff this was a nice alternative way to get conversation going. It has been a lot of fun, and hopefully you will enjoy reading these and tearing them apart, if you disagree, and putting them back together to share how you think they would work best in all game worlds or just in your game world.

This first post will include all the my FridayFeat(s) that I have already released through Twitter then Adam posted on his D&D group's web-site ( ). There are others who also posted on Twitter, but because those ideas are not mine they will stay on the Leeds D&D web-site and not be posted here.

Mistletoe's Friend
once per encounter
Hit:treat melee weapon damage as silvered

Threaten Reach
For the rest of the encounter if using a reach weapon attacks you make have threatening reach but cannot threaten adjacent squares.

Unbound Mind
When using an augmented power once per day you can augment up to augment 2 without spending power points.

Stalwart Mind
your Defended Mind bonus is +6 instead of +2

Warrior's Goring Charge
add 1[W] damage per tier to your Goring Charge damage on a successful hit.

Slicing Shard Swarm
when you use your racial power those affected also take 1d4 damage.

Improved Blurred Step
You may teleport to any square adjacent to the target as a shift.

Reaching Mind Spike
range on your Mind Spike power becomes Close burst 2

Bloodied Resistance
Use your Battle Resistance power on either the first attack or on the first attack after being bloodied in an encounter

Blink Thought
your Speed of Thought power can be a teleport instead of a move

More Demanding
You may spend a power point to add one more target to your Battlemind's Demand as a minor action

Broad Mind
you may use any of the four psion power features but only two per encounter

Inevitable Power
any single target Seeker ranged power you have can benefit from Inevitable Shot power

Ensnaring Spirits
You may pull instead of push targets of your Encaging Spirits class feature, the area on the power becomes close burst 2

Personal Alacrity
target on your Ardent Alacrity includes you.

Fearful Presence
(keyword added:fear) Ardent Outrage moving towards the Ardent is treated as moving through difficult terrain

The Right Demeanor
Prerequisites:Ardent:Mantle of Elation
Bonus to Intimidate and Diplomacy includes all CHA based skills

Prerequisites:Ardent:Mantle of Clarlty
Bonus to Insight and Perception applies to all WIS based skills.

Basilisk's Teeth
Spirit companion is an ancient stoned-eyed basilisk target of Spirit's Fangs is slowed until end of next turn

Boar's Tusk
Spirit companion is an ancient boar which inflicts blinding sickness(dmg49) w/ Spirit's Fangs damage

Viper's Fangs
Spirit companion is ancient snake who deals additional on-going poison 5 damage (save ends)

Wolf's Fangs
Spirit companion is an ancient wolf who knocks the target prone when hitting with Spirit's Fangs

Focused Elemental Spirits
All summoned spirits with an elemental keyword are changed to a single one chosen at feat selection

One With The Earth
Prerequisites:Dwarf or Gnome or Goliath
You gain Tremorsense 5

Intimidating Athlete
Others find your size and build intimidating, Powerful Athlete also adds to Intimidate

Child Of Onyx
You gain a +2 to stealth checks

Combat Sport
You may use a light shield on your off hand with a -2 to attacks, while wielding a 2-handed weapon.

Granite Endurance
Until the end of you next turn, Stone's Endurance racial power also grants 5 temp hit points.

Long Strider
+1 to speed

Trojan Horse
Spend healing surge target gets your healing surge value but takes on-going 5 damage on subsequent rounds (save ends)

Play it again, Sam.
Spend an action point take no action, deal extra melee basic attack damage to the same targets as previous melee basic attack

Holy Hand Grenade
Once per day you may change an at-will or encounter divine power from melee to area burst 1 with in 5 squares

Cadean Victory
Steal a healing surge from an adjacent ally to re-roll missed attack plus the enemy grants Combat Advantage until end of next turn

Achilles' child
The first attack against you in an encounter causes only 1 point of damage, no effect on on-going damage beyond the first round

Free Ride
When adjacent to a creature who teleports you may teleport with them as long as there is an available adjacent space to arrive in

Tailor's Might
You may drop one die of melee damage to attack up to seven creatures adjacent to you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm Bored With My Treasure Parcels...

After the first few sessions of my current D&D campaign, I was unhappy with how the loot was turning out. I was following the information in the Dungeon Master's Guide on setting up the parcels, but it felt too generic and was easy on the players. On my next visit to my Friendly Local Game Store, I came across something that changed all that: GameMastery Cards.

These cards are great! I still give out the parcels but do not include all the gold or artworks that are expected. I replace those items by dealing out one treasure card per PC. Once the party starts checking out the goods and rolling Arcana checks, I roll a d20 to see if the item in question has magical properties (DC 15). Sometimes, depending on the actual item, I may "take a 20" if I come up with a good idea for it, but most of the time the magical properties are determined on the fly.

The party loves these cards and have even worked some of them into their back stories. Our Ranger has been looking for his father who had went away to war but never returned. One of the item cards was a military medal and upon seeing it, the player exclaimed "Hey! That's my dad's medal!"

Even though I have given these treasure card items values worth what should have been in the parcels, the players were not just happy to sell the loot and move on. The campaign is based around the merchant town of Everlund and like all good adventurers, the party wants the maximum payout for the stuff they bring back to town. So, instead of selling the loot, they've setup a shop in the market square and left the Dragonborn behind to run the shop (read: the player of the Dragonborn PC's work schedule changed and can't play but we didn't want to kill off the character). They check-in on the shop periodically to restock it with strange things found while adventuring, pickup their cut of what has sold since the last visit, and gather any new information the Dragonborn may have procured in their absence.

If you're ever in Everlund, be sure to stop by Thunderheart's Oddities and Antiquities in the market square. There's always something interesting to find and the old Dragonborn Paladin has some great stories to tell anyone willing to listen.

  • Are you content with the way the treasure parcels are setup in 4E?

  • What have you done to spice up your treasure parcels?

  • Have you used other decks or cards for anything in your games?

Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

You got Role-Play in my Hack and Slash!

My players consist exclusively of theatre majors. It's strange, though, that it is incredibly difficult to get them to role play. Any time I try to get them in a situation where they don't need to use their powers or skills they scratch their heads and wonder why they aren't killing anything. There are three techniques that can be used to engage those players that can't quite get into the role play portion of a role-playing game.

1. "Is this what your character would do?"
I ask this question when the player is using too much metagame thinking. Sure, Patrick knows that there's an enemy around the corner, but does Rune, his warforged warden? This also comes in handy when players are doing morally dubious things.

"The shopkeeper isn't being receptive to your haggling; you'll pay full price"
"Then I kill the shopkeeper"
"Really? Is your character so morally corrupt and socially inept to kill someone for such a trivial reason?"
"I pay full price..."

Situations like this happen when players think too much along the lines of "this is a game" and less about the role their character plays in a larger world.

2. "What does that look like?"
Another easy way to get your players thinking as their characters is by asking them to describe their actions. This is a great way to get players started in roleplaying. Model the behavior by describing enemy actions, then tell the player to elaborate their action. "I use Magic Missile" doesn't sound as good as "Green jets of energy shoot from Thuul's wand. They arc through the air as they seek Thuul's target. When they strike, a light green plume leaves the Wraith's body." Small steps like this, and during skill checks and skill challenges, creates an environment where you can continue to push their role-playing.

3. Mouseguard up the place a little bit.
I just started a SWSE game with a couple of people from my DnD4e group. As we did our cooperative character creation (ala DM Samuel), I asked my role-play light players what their character's instinct and belief were. Then, right before their mission, I had them create a goal. I rewarded the players with role-play xp. These Mouseguard-esque elements really show players that their characters are not super-versions of themselves; they are different people with different thoughts, beliefs, and skills than their players.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these three ways have really upped the amount of role play in my sessions. If you have any other suggestions, or plain 'ol questions or comments, feel free to drop them off in the comments section!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Happy Labor Day!

We here at Wastex Games want to wish you all a Happy Labor Day!

We'll continue our normal posting schedule after this holiday weekend!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Celebrity D&D at Gen Con!

Sadly, I've never had the chance to travel to Indiana for Gen Con. I am trying to schedule things for next year, we'll see what happens, but in the mean time I try to soak up everything I can via various blogs, twitter, and other sites featuring information about the goings on at Gen Con. I recently came across an amazing find! There was a celebrity D&D game run one evening at Gen Con featuring Author Ed Greenwood, Artist Larry Elmore, and Author R.A. Salvatore with WoTC's Senior Producer of D&D RPGs Chris Perkins as the Dungeon Master. Below is the 7 part series as posted on YouTube. One of the players from the crowd is Matt James from one of my favorites D&D websites:

That was pretty thrilling for me to watch and makes me more interested in the new Red Box. Originally I didn't want to purchase it or anything from the Essentials line because I've spent several hundreds of dollars on source books for 4th edition, but the Red Box does seems to be a nice way to easily introduce new people to that game we all love: Dungeons & Dragons.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How to Make a Pair beat a Full House

It happens all the time: you spent 2 hours setting up a game, meticulously matched schedules as if you were tracking a conspiracy theory, and what happens? You only have two or three players show up. What do you do in this situation? This week we focus on what to do with those three hours that aren’t as full as you’d want them to be.

1. Run some filler!

This option is done very frequently in Anime. The plot vets extremely interesting, then BAM two months of meaningless side story. With an incomplete party you have the opportunity to have a role-playing intensive session, where everyone learns a little more about their characters. Stuck in the desert and want to use some ice creatures? This is a great time to put some in front of the few that showed up. You could also do a flashback adventure, where players relive a moment in the past that was just fluff. This is especially fun for players because they get to act out a moment of story where they know the ending (it also makes DMing easier since the players railroad themselves).

2. Try a swap

As I mentioned in last week’s article, I mentioned that having fewer players makes a great time to have another person DM a game. If it’s their first time, it gives them a chance to try being on the other side of the screen without as many judging eyes. It also gives the game a fresh face, keeping players from thinking that the game is going to be a watered-down version of their normal game because there are fewer players. A DM swap can also introduce a one-shot or even a new campaign. This is done best when you frequently have fewer players than you would ideally. This way, when there are fewer players, there isn’t a nervous “Are we going to cancel” feeling, it’s just “Oh, we’ll do Campaign B now.”

Fewer players also should flag as a chance to play that Mouseguard game you’ve been hiding away for four months. Most players come to a game to play that game, but with fewer players, it shifts their thinking to where they’d be much more available to play a different game. It also gives you as a DM a chance to take a deep breath and step back from the current campaign, even if it’s only for one session.

3. Chillax

Our lives are hectic mishmashes of deadlines and responsibilities. Having a three hour space in time to game is a huge luxury that we don’t normally afford ourselves. Having fewer players can make us feel angry and frustrated because this is the only time they have in their week to slow down and play. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Having three hours to spend relaxing with your friends, even in a non-gaming situation, is an incredible thing that we take for granted when we aren’t able to play. Honestly, odds are there is more than one player who are at that table that aren’t really feeling gaming that night, and would really just like a couple of hours to decompress. Having fewer players makes a great chance for you to reconnect with your players beyond what their new ideas for retraining are. Sometimes we forget that the people we stare at for three hours and try to kill are our friends, and we don’t have to be rolling dice to have a good time. Watch a crappy movie, a crappy reality show, or just sit back and enjoy each other’s company. You’d be amazed at how awesome your next game will be after sharing a relaxing evening with your friends.

The last thing you want to do after a busy week of preparing and scheduling to have fewer people than you’d like. Fortunately, there are plenty of things to do when you’re a little short. The most important thing to do is to have fun with the people you have. People may want to leave because there aren’t enough to run that game, but remind them they’d be spending that time here anyway, and there’s still fun to be had.