Thursday, March 29, 2012

Quotes to DM By

Frank Mentzer (Creator of 1983 Basic D&D, posting on a message board in 2010):
Well, 'judging events' is not the same as playing a role. And I'm not 'impartial'; I'm extremely biased. As the DM/authority at the gaming table I'm actively working to make sure everyone has Fun. I am utterly opposed to 'impartiality' if and when it causes a game to become Not-Fun. This is why I do not obey dice, for example. If you disagree, and think that bad die rolls that ruin a game session are unavoidable due to some sort of 'rule' or mandate for impartiality... then we'll have to simply disagree in the strongest possible terms.

Tom Moldvay (From the 1981 Basic D&D's DM Instructions section):
The players will often surprise the DM by doing the unexpected. Don't panic. When this happens, the DM should just make sure that everything is done in the order given by the outline or sequence of events being used. Minor details may be made up as needed to keep the game moving. All DMs learn how to handle both new ideas and unusual actions quickly and with imagination.
The DM should make the adventure seem as "real" to the players as possible. All should avoid getting stuck in long discussions about rules or procedures. The game should move along with humor, as well as excitement.

Monte Cook (From 3e Dungeon Master's Guide and reprinted in 3.5's DMG)
While all the players are responsible for contributing to the game, the onus must ultimately fall upon the DM to keep the game moving, maintain player interest, and keep things fun. Remember that keeping things moving is always more important than searching through rulebooks to find the exact details on some point or spending time in long debates over rules decisions.

And of course, everyone's favorite(yes, it's ACTUALLY in all caps):

Gary Gygax (From the 1978 AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide's Afterword)

Sadly, while I enjoy 4th edition at times, it's written in "legalese" so the book says that you can run a game where you gloss over the rules and only care about immersion, but if your group prefers to instead debate rules for an hour, that's okay too. The whole book is unfortunately written in that sort of double-speak!

Maybe I've just failed to attend a game session where players ENJOYED long, drawn-out rules discussions, but in my experience, players and DMs don't tend to consider those sessions very fruitful.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Player Character Telepathy

I'm backing a kickstarter that looks awesome for a random dungeon generator poster thingy and I decided to read a little bit about the guy who made it. Apparently he's a 4e player who's had the opportunity to play original D&D with Mike Mornard a few times and posted about it. It's a great series, but one thing from his post here stood out to me:

Lesson two was this: when Mike Mornard is DMing, assume that you're speaking in character. We entered the dungeon with a lot of hirelings: we had hired a dozen bandits last session, and this session we hired half a dozen heavy footmen. At three people per rank, our expedition filled about twenty feet of 10-foot-wide corridor.

Our party was so unwieldy that the wizard joked about letting the dangers of the dungeon doing our downsizing for us. The hirelings heard him, and they were not happy. A few bad reaction rolls later, and my bandit followers abandoned us in the dungeon.

We should have foreseen this, because Mike's NPCs tended to join into our out-of-character strategy conversations. When we lost a heavy footman, and we were discussing whether it was worth it to get him resurrected, the other heavy footmen weighed in strongly on the "pro" column.

This isn't the way I'm used to playing. Our 4e characters must have instantaneous telepathy, because we routinely spend minutes deliberating about each six-second combat round. And we often reach an out-of-character group consensus before we talk in-character to any NPCs.

I've played in a couple of games where DMs told enforced the "everything's in-character" rule, and can see the advantages and disadvantages! When it's too frequent, and the player is taking back more actions and words than they're actually saying in-game, then it can be a nuisance. At the same time, I wouldn't want to shut down all the humor of the game by forcing players to never talk out of character during a session! I think I might work towards some sort of in-between here, where if you CAN do or say it in-character, then you do. If a player says "This reminds me of that movie we all saw last week." that's clearly not in-character dialogue, but if they say "Should we keep talking to these guys or just kill them?" that's in-character. What do you guys think? I figure we all agree that the instantaneous telepathy that goes on for several minutes during a 6 second(or 10 second or 1 minute) combat round isn't a good thing, because it slows down the action!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fleeing - Part 2

From D&D Holmes Basic Set(1977):


If the party decides to flee they may be able to delay pursuit by discarding some of their possessions. Unintelligent monsters will stop to pick up food half the time (roll 1 – 3 on a 6-sided die) and intelligent monsters will stop for treasure half the time (roll 1 – 3). Burning oil will deter monsters (referee’s discretion).

Awesome! An actual example of written rules about "what happens when a party attempts to flee" is quite rare in RPG systems, I must admit, leaving a lot of us scrambling to patch the hole up with movement speeds and/or skill systems.

I probably wouldn't run this strictly as-is, because it's so random(50% chance after all!) but I was still very glad to see it in print. You can tell players a million times that they can "do anything," but having something like this written in a book makes it more real, and also gives people some ideas about how the game is expected to be played!

Friday, March 16, 2012


The way I see it, there's three ways to handle combat in games.

1) All monsters exist where they do based on the game world. The players hear about Storm Giants in the mountains near their home. These Giants will be 10HD monsters whether the players encounter them at level 1 or level 15.

2) All monsters CAN be killed/defeated, but the players might have to work for it.(expend magic items, outsmart the foes, etc) Ideally, there will be more than one possible solution!

3) All monsters can be killed in a straight fight.(also known as the 4th edition)

Please chime in with your preference! It helps me a ton to know these things so I can run better games, as well as not accidentally invite someone to something he or she wouldn't enjoy. I've run all three and had fun with 'em!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

On Players Running From Battles

The longer the combat takes, and the more prep work that goes into setting it up (including battlemats, miniatures, custom statblocks, etc) the more players will tend to believe they are expected to engage in combat when presented with an encounter.

I've personally encountered this one before! Trevor once told me that if he saw that I'd set up a battle grid or had the miniatures close-at-hand, then he'd be more determined to fight than normally. Also, multiple players have told me that seeing a pre-drawn battle environment was very distracting, so I got into the habit of either not drawing it beforehand or drawing it and then hiding it inside my coffee table, haha!

Don't roll dice behind the screen. Or rather, don't roll them behind the screen for numbers/results you're immediately going to give to the players. Attack rolls, damage, saving throws, morale checks - do this all on the table. If you want your players to make choices about fighting or fleeing they need to be able to base that on consistent information: the statistics and probabilities of the game and dice.

This is easily the most convincing argument I've ever read for always playing the dice as they fall. To do otherwise truly IS to deny the players the ability to make decisions based on probabilities of their dice rolls. While I generally prefer that the players make decisions that are in-character before making decisions based on the numbers, if we're playing a game that calls for dice rolls, then by removing those dice rolls from the equation, I'm just putting the players off-balance!

When the players understand all the risks and STILL choose not to back down it's much more dramatic, and while it may end in their defeat it won't feel as much like a random TPK but rather an epic battle they chose on their own.

Again, a good point. Players have the right to make these decisions for their characters, and I shouldn't try to stop them, but it's definitely important that the players KNOW when the encounter is ACTUALLY risky and not just described as risky from the perspective of the setting.(e.g. The farmer is terrified of hobgoblins, but the PCs know that they killed 50 last week.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Basic D&D Spellcasting Ideas

I gave clerics some love, so now I want to follow it up with some Wizard-love, haha!

First Idea:

Magic Users memorize spells the same as usual, but can spontaneously swap out an already memorized spell for anything in their spellbook up to once per point of Intelligence modifier. (e.g. If you have an Intelligence of 16, you have a +2 modifier so you could "freecast" 2 spells per day.)

Since intelligence represents "memory", I think this might be a great way to encourage situations where Magic Users can use a wider variety of spells in situations. The normal memorization system tends to encourage MUs to only select spells with really "wide" utility, like Invisibility/Sleep/Grease/Web/etc, so we end up seeing a lot of repetition!

Second Idea:

Magic Users memorize spells the same as usual, but can choose an amount of spells equal to their intelligence modifier to be swapped spontaneously as needed. Every time the Magic User attained a new level, he/she could change out a single spell in the Spontaneous Pool.(I totally ripped this off from a feat in some 3.5 splat book)

If the same applied to Clerics too, a Cleric with 13-15 Int(+1) could choose Cure Light Wounds as his/her spell-of-choice and function similarly to a 3.X D&D Cleric.

Any thoughts? If I demo'd one of these ideas with the AD&D game, which one would be preferable? I think Iris has a pretty solid intelligence, so both her and Esraminh could take advantage of this. I could possibly even try one for wizards and one for clerics, but the more complicated I make the systems, the harder it is to remember it all.

Yet at the same time, Wizard and Cleric are both so iconic and important to the game that giving them their own modifications would be totally reasonable!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Turning Undead

Damnit Mike Mearls, now you've got me thinking about Turn Undead, a mechanic that I usually ignore!

Okay, Turning Undead is handled differently by every edition of D&D, so let's break it down.

4th edition - It's a Channel Divinity power, once per encounter, hits all the Undead with damage and shoves them away(or maybe they ran away? 4th edition doesn't care about flavor, or maybe the DM/player is supposed to supply it.)

3rd edition - It can be used multiple times per day(based on Charisma), Undead run away or are destroyed, and will come back shortly. Roll once on a byzantine table and add level, then roll 2d6 and add charisma(I could be misremembering this because there were feats to modify it.) for number of HD affected.

OD&D/Basic D&D/AD&D 1 & 2 - It can be used unlimited times per day. Against intelligent undead, the cleric is locked down holding up his symbol and roleplaying the act of Turning. When the cleric ceases to hold the effect, the intelligent undead stop being turned(unless they were destroyed, of course.) Against unintelligent undead, they are turned for an ambiguous amount of time that might be permanent. Roll on a byzantine table, then roll 2d6 to see how many undead are affected.

FIRST QUEST AUDIO CD GAME - It can be used once per hour, and the Turn effect lasts for one hour. Roll on a byzantine table to see which undead in the encounter are affected, but all results happen to all the undead in the encounter.(Turn/Destroyed/Nothing)

I think I might favor the last one, because it's so SIMPLE. The ability to affect an entire encounter is offset by the fact that it's only useable once per hour, so you probably won't be using it on very many encounters during a standard dungeon crawl. Undead encountered during travel are likely to be made a nonentity, but that seems like a desirable result of having a cleric in the party. Undead encountered while resting might require that the cleric maintain a vigil the entire night to keep them from coming back, which could lead to some interesting RP!

I'm posting this here for discussion, however. I'm especially curious what my players who play Clerics think!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Guess at Preferred Styles

These are liberally stolen from this enormous post! These are just complete guesses, and not perfectly accurate. If anyone reads the post and thinks something else is more accurate, or just wants to further discuss these guesses, then we shall discuss in the comments!

What Derek has admitted his preferred GMing style is:

The resources are so limited that it effectively actually limits the solutions to any problems to a few things the GM's obviously already thought up and provided for (as in a video game) and is waiting for the PCs to figure out.

Examples: there's only one suspect that actually knows anything and only one way of approaching him/her that'll work or there's a puzzle door with only one or two solutions, and this suspect or puzzle door in turn points to one specific room with only one specific clue which in turn points to one specific device that can be used in only one way to take the PCs to...and on and on for the length of a whole session.

Contrary to what you might believe from hearing discussions about railroading, players do a lot of things during an RPG besides sit around and try to find a plot. A party that does a lot of inter-party dialogue and role-playing, or really enjoys combat, or is enjoying the snacks, etc., can probably handle a day of UniPuzzle without bucking, but it will probably begin to feel like a railroad if it goes on much longer than that. If the UniPuzzle also manages to prevent the players from doing the non-plot-problem solving things they like to do (talk in-character, hit monsters, etc.) then their patience will be even more limited, since, in effect, there really will be nothing to do but jump through hoops.

Personally, I think as long as the DM avoids preventing the players from talking in-character and fighting monsters that they want to fight, then you can run entire games in this style with no problem or dissatisfaction amongst your players!

What I assume Bret prefers from the games I've been in:

The Gauntlet
There's a fight. Winning automatically leads to a clue, the clue points unambiguously to a new encounter, which means you fight. If you survive, you'll automatically find another unambiguous clue, which leads ineluctably to another encounter, etc.

The only meaningful choices you have are what tactics to use in the fight, what to talk about between fights, and whether to keep playing or not. You either have no access to the outside world or the fight is concocted in such a way that nothing from the outside world could possibly help you. Again, a party that enjoys just being a party (dialogue, rolling dice, etc.) can probably tolerate this for a session before it feels like a railroad.

I'm not the best person to comment on this style, but I've heard great defenses from Trevor, Bret, Dustin and Skye about how it allows everyone at the table to be in the spotlight equally due to initiative order and players can build characters with skills that they don't personally have, such as fighting with swords, without having to perfectly replicate those with the player's own skills.(In other words, you don't have to describe your exact martial maneuvers to hit the enemy, but in some games, you might be required to lie convincingly/act charming or get penalties to a social roll!)

What I run but need to learn how to either not run or run in a way that's better:
The Raymond Chandler
This is a typical noir or Cthulhu set-up. Another example is The Big Lebowski. Lots of unanticipatable events., basically. The PCs are trying to do something, and then someone interferes pretty much out of the blue (as far as the PCs know at the time) and creates a new problem, and then while the PCs are trying to solve that problem (or the original one still) there's another and another and another until the PCs basically realize that Unexpected External Events which they have no capacity to prepare for are pretty much a feature of the landscape around here.
The suggestion to improve this is to make certain that the player's decisions are still noticeably altering the "unanticipatable events" and that's good advice, but I'd also do well to just involve a lot less of these kinda events. I would love to run games where the players are all making really well-informed decisions, because those would lead to more of the moments that I cherish when DMing, the moments where I'm completely surprised by a player's decision and have to deal with the unexpected. DMing is, at times, like watching a movie, and when the players are discussing things amongst each other, I'm the one who gets to sit on the edge of my seat with anticipation!