Tuesday, November 24, 2009


My gaming groups are typically smaller than what a typical 4E encounter usually calls for (3-4 PC's plus a DM). This in itself is not a problem, I find that I enjoy running games for smaller groups since things tend to happen at a much quicker pace. Scaling an encounter is not generally a problem either, since you can usually just drop a monster and everything will work out accordingly.

There is one thing that I do for my smaller groups, something completely non-standard, and that is award double-XP so that they may advance faster (I have yet to run a Paragon+ campaign in 4E, due to several unrelated events that will not have further mention on 1d4+5). That hasn't been a problem either; until now.

I'm running a module for my players, and at the rate they're going... well, let's just say that they're already of a high enough level for the rest of the adventure to not be a challenge. I have two basic options. One: I slash the XP awarded back to the standard 1x rating, which seems more like a punishment in some ways; or Two: build the encounters to match the PC's rate of advancement. I went with number Two.

I then had two general options for this plan. I could either simply add more monsters, or use the Monster Builder to level them up. I went with a combination of the two! For one up-coming encounter, I took the standard monster that is the threat and increased its level so that the PC's will have more of a challenge when they face it. Since I'm also designing encounters for a group of four rather than five, I have other math to figure in as well. 5 5th level monsters is a standard encounter for 5 5th level PC's, but for 4 5th level PC's its more of a challenge. Not exactly deadly, but certainly not any easier. In other words, just changing the levels to same isn't good enough, you have to make sure you keep things in scope. Especially when dealing with smaller or much larger parties. Remember, XP value alone isn't a good enough gauge when designing encounters. Despite the fact that a 5th level encounter for 10 5th level PC's is equal to 2,000 XP, that does not mean that an elite 14th level monster is a balanced encounter for those PC's.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ad-Hoc D&D

There isn't much that you can't do these days as long as you have the right gadgets. This became especially true last night, as I found myself in a situation where a couple of friends wanted to game but I didn't have any of the regular stuff one would need to run a small encounter (monsters, map, dice, DM books, etc...). That is when I pulled out a pair of devices that are rarely ever out of arm's reach: my iPod, and my phone.

There are 3 big iPod apps that I want to spotlight, though I only needed one of them last night. No DM with an iPod Touch (or iPhone) should be without these three apps. And any player who has either of those devices and is worth his salt will have at least two of them. The first is Dice Bag, which, as the name implies, is a simple dice rolling application. It has your d4 - d20, and also includes the percentile roll, and the standard 3d6 and 4d6 (drop the lowest) that one would typically use when creating PC's for a 3.X game (or perhaps Pathfinder; don't know, and honestly don't really care).

The next application, and I may have mentioned this in the past, is i4e. This app is a basic character sheet, with you always on your iPod. Its great for players to track their PC's in combat, but it does lack a few things that have stunted me in the past. First, it does not include Action Points. Secondly, it doesn't record gear. It records your weapons, but not armor or other items that you may have. The other thing that needs to be looked at by the designers is including power listings. I created a warden, I had to manually enter each and every power that my PC has. It didn't include my racials (which would've been useful had I remembered them myself - different topic, different day) and certainly didn't include any of my powers from PH2 or Primal Power. So designers, if you're reading this, FIX THESE THINGS!!! Otherwise, I love that app. "You want to hear about my character? Okay!" Of course, no one wants to hear about your PC, but again, different topic, different day.

The third app is DMs Tracker which is an initiative/combat tracking application. I haven't actually used this app yet, but from what I understand it works similar to Fantasy Grounds or Masterplan, but is really just a bare-bones approach. Because of my lack of usage of this app, I really don't have much to say about it at this time.

Those things are all on my iPod, and you can find them just as easily at the iTunes store. No jailbreak required!

Actually, the players had dice so I really didn't even need to use my iPod (but could have, that's the point). It was my phone that did most of the heavy lifting for me. Now, if I had an iPhone, or at least had been in a wi-fi zone, I wouldn't have needed the phone (I'm trying to say, would've only required one device -- overlooking the fact that the iPhone/iPod Touch will only allow you to have a single app open at any given time...). I didn't have any of my books or grids, but I did have my minis! So I needed an encounter.

Using my phone's Internet capabilities, and my D&D Insider Subscription, within minutes I had downloaded a module from Dungeon Magazine from WotC's website. Taking only another minute or two to find an encounter and get the basics in my head, we were able to play a quick session of D&D without any prep, or warning. The players grabbed up some PC's that were lying around, and we got to play some ad-hoc D&D. And it was good.

1d4+5 is an RPG blog with a heavy D&D (4E) flavor. It is updated once or twice a week without warning. Be sure to give me credit for any material that you use from my musings, and you can follow DM_Ron on Twitter. Keep rolling those 20's!!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Re-Flavoring your Flavor Text

There are those who say that there is not any role-playing in 4E. These same people are the ones who constantly make this other false argument; that all classes in 4E have 'spells,' mistaking Powers for general magic. I'm not trying to call anybody out or rekindle any old arguments (grognards, I'm talking to you), but I will give you a few more ways to make them choke on their fallacies.

Every power has its own name. The name will give you a general idea of what the power does, but the real details are found in the power's flavor text (that line or three of fluff you'll find directly under the power's name but before the crunchy, mechanical bits). The flavor text is designed to give you an idea of what a power may look like when you use it. You don't need to follow it, exactly or at all, its in there to help you role-play in combat (ZOMGS!!1!!! yes, they really actually do promote role-playing in 4E...).

Anyway, I want to give you a few examples of how you may re-flavor a power's flavor text, so that every time you use so-and-so power, it doesn't always have to look exactly the same.

  • Sudden Surge (Fighter, Lv 7): Instead of the bland text provided, perhaps you cleave right through your foe; maybe change it to "you roll" past your opponent? One thing to keep in mind, the mechanics don't change at all, nor do they have to. Sure, to "roll" would imply Acrobatics skill usage which I would use should someone actually try such a move (and that of course would be a move action); but with this power, its just flavor. If it isn't game-breaking, no reason not to include it.
  • Eldritch Rain (Warlock, Lv 3): Who says Eldritch energy has to be purple? Also, instead of 'rays' as implied by the original flavor text, why not 'rain' as implied by the power's name? Sure, its a Ranged power (implies that it's source originates from your square), but for the sake of the power, you could say that the 'rain' originates from a square above the target's square, it doesn't change the power at all (to an area or zone for example), its just flavor.
  • Sunbeam (Druid, Lv 9): This is pretty tame, flavor-wise. You could say that the clouds part, for example. Or if you're indoors, perhaps the sunbeams shoot out of your eyes! Again, change the color (from the typical yellow that is obviously already assumed...) if you wish, personalize your sunbeam! Also, coming from the eyes reinforces one of the crunchy bits of that power, on a hit your target is blinded!
  • Angelic Visage (Invoker, Lv 10): This one is begging for your input! You transform into a death angel -- give us some details! How do your wings appear? Are they full feathers or perhaps sinewy, leathery bat wings? How about a halo? Is it a simple platinum ring or maybe a wicked ring of dark blue flames? Maybe your foe shrieks as he flees -- maybe, he cries like sissy girl. See, there is so much you can decide to explain how this power may look when you use it!

I'm always open for suggestions. If you've got some great flavor you've created for your PC's powers please feel free to share it with me. DM's, you can use these same ideas to better flavor your monsters in combat as well! Let me know, I'm interested to hear what you all come up with!

1d4+5 is an RPG blog with a heavy D&D (4E) flavor. It is updated once or twice a week (with an occasional bonus post here or there) without warning and on my schedule. If you would like to use any of my content, be sure that I am given the proper credit for its use. You can follow DM_Ron on Twitter, and keep an eye out for a 1d4+5 fan page on Facebook in the near future. Keep rolling those 20's!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Holiday Gaming

Tis the season... or so they say. With the holidays fast approaching I was determined to be the first to get this out into internet land before other, more widely-read blogs, beat me to it. So let's get this party started!

In the past, several game makers would create little one-shot adventures in the spirit of the holiday season. That's great but its getting kinda cheesy, having to go save Santa every year. If you want to give your game a holiday feel, no need bringing in the props (Santa, reigndeer, baby Jesus...). If you want to run a memorable, one-shot, seasonal/holiday game, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. During the holidays, most people spend the majority of the time with family. Now, if most of your family are gamers, you've got it a lot better than most of us in gamer nation. The ugly truth is, most of them are not. If you're going to be gaming with family, most RPG's are not going to be your best bet.
  2. With that said, a lot of families will play games when they all get together for the holidays, but they're playing Uno, or Yahtzee, or maybe Monopoly which, yes, all three are "games" by definition, but when we talk about gaming, our definition is much more refined (to say the least). Point is, you may already be "gaming," that doesn't mean you can't suggest something a little more... involved (for lack of a better word). I wouldn't suggest an RPG, but there are a lot of excellent, little-known board games that would be great for your get-togethers.
  3. Of course, if you're able to game with your friends during Christmas and you're feeling a bit sentimental, you may want to "Christmas-it-up" a little bit. As I've mentioned above, the "go save Santa," or "help the kids get their toys," sort of thing can be done, but its really cheesy and I'd avoid it for the most part. (However, there are still some creative ways of doing this that work, but that's a bit more advanced -- try these ideas first!)

I'd say the best way to do a holiday game is to give the game the spirit of the holiday (weather, decorations, seasonal smells, or anything else you can think of to give it that feel), but without the cheese (an old elf who gives hand-made toys to the children of Yon Village every year has fallen ill -- what will we do??? is not going to work well). Let's take a page from one of the best Christmas movies of all time, Die Hard. Does the movie really have anything to do with Christmas at all? Yes, but only minimally. The reason that it worked so well is because they left the holiday as the backdrop; it was not the real focus of the story. To sum it up, give your game that holiday feel, but leave the Grinch for the kids. ;)

1d4+5 Bulletin: 1d4+5 is an RPG blog with a heavy D&D (4E) flavor. It is updated once or twice a week (with an occassional bonus post here or there) without warning and on my schedule. If you would like to use any of my content, be sure that I am given the proper credit for its use. You can follow DM_Ron on Twitter, and keep an eye out for a 1d4+5 fanpage on Facebook in the near future! Keep rolling those 20's!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tips for New DM's

Well into its second year, 4th Edition D&D has made an impact on the gamer community that even the 4E haters cannot deny; it attracts new people to the hobby. Using some of the best elements from other games and types of games, 4E grabs everybody's attention. As such, there have been several new players coming in to the hobby. That also means that we have received several new (or at least prospective) DM's.

Whether you're a brand new DM who has never played D&D before or a well-seasoned DM who is just new to 4th Edition, even if you are an already 4E-experienced DM you will find my following tips to be helpful.

  1. GET PLAYER FEEDBACK. This is probably the most important tip of them all, and really applies to any game that you may be playing.
  2. When giving backround/historical information to your players, summarize, summarize, summarize. You don't want to read the entire history section of a specific region to the players, whether their PC's would know all that info or not. Your players will not take in every bit of info, plus its more likely that they'll overlook some of the more important bits. You don't want to overwhelm your players with raw data. Instead, just give them three or four sentences summing up what their PC's know.
  3. Do whatever you can to expedite gameplay. Have your battle grids and Dungeon Tiles set aside in groups, each group representing a single encounter. Try and do the same for your miniatures. If you can keep initiative posted where players can see it during combat, that helps speed things up too.
  4. Keep track of what's going on. Take notes of anything that happens. If the group gets into a combat situation, don't just write down the XP earned from the fight. Who did the party fight and why? Any player casualties? Use of Daily Powers or Action Points? Gaining of a Milestone? Final outcome and spoils, if any? Do you know how you make this really easy? Get one of the players to take the notes for you!
  5. No slow starts. If your players make PC's at a character generation session before the first game session, you should have a good idea of what kind of campaign arc you give the PC's. If you as the DM do not know anything about these PC's prior to the first gaming session, you have to have something for the PC's. When starting a new campaign, the beginning doesn't have to be related to the PC's so much.

For #5, your best bet is to go generic. Use simple situations to get things started. Or you can throw them into a small delve-type adventure that doesn't have to be relevant to whatever sort of storyline you set up for the PC's. Just tell them "You're heading to the ruins of Buirv in search of an old relic belonging to the father of one Naioria Buirv-Estrangau, the mysterious eladrin woman who is paying you 250 gp for your effort should you return with it," it gives the players a clear goal from the begining and doesn't involve a tavern. This sounds railroady, but it really isn't. The players immediately have something to do. That doesn't mean they have to do it. If the PC's don't want to follow through with what you got, you can ad-lib, but at the same time the players should respect the DM enough for at least the first session of a new campaign to allow the DM to railroad a little. But only the first session. Okay, maybe two, but absolutely no more.

Anyway, chances are I've overlooked a few; I just use them so much they've become second nature and I don't realize that others may not be using them as well. Feel free to add your own to this list in the comment section. Take care and keep rolling those 20's!

Monday, October 19, 2009

You must know... yourself?

I was supposed to have a shiny new copy of Primal Power to review for you all (before it hits shelves), but my distributor fell through and I cannot begin to describe how upset I am with them right now. I'm sure you don't want to read a rant though, so I'll talk about something else.

This one is for the players! If you're like me, you don't have a lot of time to actually play your favorite RPG. You've got three or four hours, once a week (if you're lucky), and you have to make the most of it! How you rp is up to you, I'm not here to discuss that today. Today I want to talk about player preparedness in combat.

Combat in 4E D&D is supposed to run fast, smooth, and should be enjoyable for the players to partake in. This is true for seasoned veterans of the game, but if you're relatively new combats tend to slow things to a crawl. How can you avoid this?

  1. Make your own PC, and if you can't for whatever reason, at least take some time before sitting down at the table to familiarize yourself with your PC. This is probably the most important thing for a player to do during a game: Be familiar with your PC!

  2. After 1st level, familiarity becomes a slight afterthought because now you're adding more to the equation. New feats, powers, paragon paths and epic destinies make things even more confusing. Know how feats and traits affect your PC as your PC becomes more experienced!

  3. I probably don't have to say this, but making your PC properly helps out a lot too. You may want to have a guy that is equally good with melee as he is with ranged and be pretty even across the board with skills (a jack of all trades if you will), but really you don't. 4E is a team game, unlike other incarnations of D&D that shall remain nameless... The point is that you don't have to be good at everything, just one thing (or maybe... three things). Anyway, if your PC is built properly he will excel in only a handful of things. This allows you to have a general focus, but more importantly (back to 1.) it'll be easier to be familiar with your PC!

  4. Finally, when you are in combat, be ready for your turn! Know what you're going to do ahead of time. Yes, sometimes your plans will change from other person's turn to other person's turn, but if your PC is built properly you'll probably be able to do whatever it is you had planned originally. When you finish a turn, immediately begin to figure out what you want to do next round. Keep that in the back of your mind, because you may have to change that. If circumstances change, change as necessary. At the very least, know what you're going to do on the turn before your turn.

  5. I'm only adding this to be thorough, but some people will tell you to speed up combat make all of your rolls at the same time. I say this is horse poop. Not everyone is a math major. Even if you are skilled at math, you still need to take a moment to add everything correctly (especially when you've got different bonuses on different enemies due to effects that occur throughout the battle). You could be attacking 3 different enemies with an area attack for example, but one of them gives you a +2 bonus to hit because of your friend warlord. Another gives you a +2 to damage, and he's also vulnerable to the fire damage you're dealing. The last one is insubstantial but prone plus he's subject to the two fore-mentioned bonuses. See? No point, just make each roll as you need to. Plus, as DM I prefer to see what my players are rolling (I've been playing without the screen -- they can see all of my rolls, why shouldn't I see all of theirs?) as they roll, rather than roll ahead of time and tell you what they got. Plus, that takes a lot away from the game for me. I always like watching that roll and cheering when a 20 comes up or groaning when I see that 1. The dice rolling can be one of the most exciting parts of the game; imagine making that important roll and everybody stands around you, staring at the die in sheer anticipation of what result it will yield in the end! Gives you a little tingle, doesn't it?

Well, that's it for this "episode" as I've been calling them. I guess I could call them articles but are they really? I mean, they're not really episodes either but... You know what, don't judge. I like it, and that's how I roll.

So next time on 1d4+5... No point in a Primal Power review from me, if I can't give it to you a day early I won't have anything to tell you that you won't get from other, more popular blogs and your favorite podcasts. I do have a few things I've been working on, and I'll be hitting you with that soon. Until then, keep rolling those 20's!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PH3 Spoiler: The Seeker!

The seeker is a new primal controller that will be released to the general public in Players Handbook 3 (along with psionics!). This class focuses on ranged weapon attacks -- much like my rough outline for a martial controller -- to make life hectic for his opponents. Seriously, every power (with the exclusion of utility powers) requires a ranged weapon. That's not a bad thing, and actually a rather unique approach.

Like other controller classes, the seeker uses some sort of magical (in this case, primal) energy to exact the controlling effects of their powers and affect the battlefield and its participants; unlike other controller classes, this energy is delivered by the missiles the seeker fires all over the fray rather than through an implement. This is not to imply that you can only use missile weapons; you can use thrown weapons just as well.

There are two hitches that I immediately foresee for the player of this class. First, your weapon selection decides whether your attacks are short range (thrown weapons) or long range (fired weapons). That isn't as bad as this: At low levels, your seeker PC will either have to carry around a bunch thrown weapons and/or a bunch of missiles. I could see a player rolling poorly for his 1st level PC and throw all of his (non-magical) daggers and not have anything else to use until he can pick them up again. Of course, as soon as he gets a +1 throwing weapon that won't be an issue anymore, but then he is limited to short range unless he feels like switching up to a bow, but then he'll have to be constantly stocking up on ammunition. Until he gets an Endless Quiver. Either way, I see low levels to be a bit more difficult for seekers than for any other PC class, but once they get the right magic items they'll be right back on par with the rest of the PC's, balancing out nicely.

If you're a D&D Insider subscriber, you've already had a chance to check this out. Give me your feedback on the seeker -- I'm interested to hear what the rest of you think about the seeker!