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!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Technilogical Advances in Modern DM-ing

The birth of 4th Edition was one of the biggest things that ever happened to make the life of a typical (or not-so-typical) DM easier. And everyday more people make it easier and easier. Podcasters and bloggers such as myself bring you advice to bring to your gaming table to get the most out of your gaming; but its the programmers that bring some of the biggest things to the table. The majority of the table-top gamers out there are unaware of this.

On Saturday I was playing in a one-shot delve with one of the local Meetup groups. The DM had his laptop, which to me isn't that uncommon anymore, but when I found out what he was using it for it blew my mind. He was using Fantasy Grounds to keep track of initiative. It didn't seem that great to me until he showed me what else it did. The program kept track of conditions, HP, defenses, attacks, recharges for the enemies, saving throws, you name it, the program made sure it was taken care of before it would move on to the next creature in initiative.

Now, I'm sure most of you have already heard of Fantasy Grounds, so I decided to see what else I could find. At http://www.asmor.com/programs/digitalsquire/index.php I found Digital Squire, a program designed for players to use so that the table doesn't get cluttered up with a bunch of papers and books. Its designed to be used in conjunction with D&D Insider's Character Builder and D&D Compendium, but if you're not a subscriber you can still use the program just fine, but you'll have more work to do. If you're a non-subscriber, you can still download the Character Builder, but you'll only be able to use that to build a PC up to 3rd level. Digital Squire works like Fantasy Grounds, but for the player to keep track of his PC. It will track most conditions, and I think they're working on an update to cover what's missing. This is also a free program, but it is more designed to be used with an internet connection. If you don't have a connection where you're playing, don't worry; you can download a stand-alone version as well.

I also discovered DMs Tracker, an app for your i-Phone or i-Pod Touch! It costs about $4 and is used as an initiative/combat tracker. You have to enter all the information before starting your game session, so its a little lengthy of a process, and it too is missing one or two conditions, but it'll track your combat similar, but not equal to, Fantasy Grounds. But for $4 compared to $40, if you don't have the money DMs Tracker is the way to go.

When I dicover some more good ones I'll let you all know! If anybody else knows of any other good programs/applications post it in the comments! Tomorrow, back to our regularly scheduled programming on 1d4+5!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Coming Up on 1d4+5

No new post yesterday and today's will be rather short. Have a LOT of D&D going on at the moment, and next week will be a lot less hectic. My Thursday group is going to be disbanded, due to one of the players becoming a father last weekend, so that'll open up more time for me to ramble on to you guys, fun! Had a Meetup last night, campaign tonight (will be closing out tonight, I should say), campaign tomorrow night, and finally, another Meetup on Saturday! Four days in a row of sweet, sweet D&D activity!

Anyway, here's a glimpse of what to expect after the weekend:
  • My "Religion in Roleplaying" article
  • Why you want to play the Seeker
  • Using Flashbacks and other Vignettes
  • much, much more!

Stay tuned to 1d4+5 and check back often, I'll see what I can get up in the midst of all this gaming! Until the weekend's over, keep rolling those 20's!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Does anybody hear an Echo???

echo said: You have way more experience then me on this front, and therefor I'm willing to bet the know how and skill to pull it off... But is there ever a way to guarantee that the PC's(designated or no) will make it to the epic stages you've set for them? I know that's what got me to throw in the towel when DMing, was that I had no idea how to steer the PC's back on course without railroading. So how open is too open? Where to draw the line and draw them in?

An excellent question, or rather, questions. If you want the simple, short answer, check out the comments for the Over-imagination post I put up a few days ago. The long answer is as follows:

The best way to guarantee your PC's make it to the epic stages you have set for them, without railroading, is to first make sure that your epic stages jive with the PC's. Meaning, base your epic stages directly off of the PC's and their backrounds. Of course, this still doesn't guarantee anything, though it makes things a lot easier to keep on course (assuming your players are properly roleplaying their PC's). If you create a story arc that your PC's have a personal interest in, reaching your planned stages shouldn't be a problem. However, no matter how perfect you have things set up, you would be a fool to think it'll work out just how you have planned. The plan I have in store should hold up pretty good, though there are lots of ways that the players will probably force me to alter things as time goes on. I doubt they'll get too far away from what I have in store, but if they do, it won't really matter.

Of course, the above only works if the PC's are already created (and ideally, all created together at the same time at the same place so that there is some sort of dynamic in the party). If you come up with a great story arc before PC's are made, it would be best to tell your players what kind of a game you want to run (without giving out too many chunky details). Then you can only hope that they'll make PC's to work with the game you want to run, but then they may spark a creative idea in you that'll make you want to drop whatever it is you had originally come up with, and do something else that compliments the PC's backrounds, mannerisms, whatever.

How open is too open? That is purely a matter of your comfort level as a DM/GM. For example, I know how the first adventure is supposed to begin this Friday. But, I'm giving my players a BIG opportunity to change what I have in store. They do read this, so I can't say too much right now, but I'm going to ask them some questions and basically, their answers will become law. They will also add an element to the game that I do not yet have prepared, but that's sort of the idea. I can talk more about this Friday night/Saturday morning.

Really, at low levels you don't want to give your PC's an entire world, continent, or even country (depending on how big it is) to start. If they have a small area to work with, as long as they can still do whatever they want, they'll be alright with that. I'm running an Eberron campaign and right now, my PC's are in Sharn. That's it. But there is so much to do there that even if they ignore my big hook, I can still keep them entertained and will be able to...

Draw them back in using hooks that you make off of the PC backrounds! If the PC's are satisfied doing odd-jobs for Herman, the strange old man with a lisp, you need to give them something that will generate interest in what you've got planned out. If the PC's are all unreligious fighter types, they're not going to have much interest in finding out about Namon's plot to overthrow the temple. However, if the high priest is one of the PC's cousins... Proper use of PC backrounds, personalities, their families even, can all be strong motivators if the PC's get off course. But don't bring in Uncle Jev everytime the PC's get off course, that'll get old real quick.

Also, like I mentioned in the short answer, if they get off track but everyone's having fun (and if you have enough random stuff prepared) why not just roll with it? It may take your campaign in a direction you never even thought of that may be 10 times more entertaining than your original plot.

So yes, I'm just going to say it. When done properly, the "open world" really is little more than an illusion. But its how you present the world that determines if you're recycling material to use elsewhere differently, or stringing the PC's along on the DM railroad.

Next time on 1d4+5...
Perhaps you've noticed that I did not discuss the Seeker today. Got it on the Character Builder, but the article wasn't up on the WotC site yet. I can tell you that the seeker is a primal controller, so I am interested in why I wouldn't just make a druid if I wanted to fill that role. Hopefully, I'll have an answer tomorrow. Until then, keep rolling those 20's!

Monday, October 5, 2009

1d4+5 Update

Hey everyone, don't have a topic today (or rather, the time to discuss one today) because of the pile of work I have to do to run my campaigns this weekend. Don't worry, I'll have that done today or tomorrow afternoon, and I have a treat for you then: a mini-review of the new PH3 Debut of the Seeker! Don't know much about it yet, but I'm sure its a new divine class (duh!). Man, I'm going to look like such an ass tomorrow if I'm wrong. Anyway, lots to do tonight -- have big things in store for both of my campaigns this week!

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Ok, so I'm presented with an interesting situation with one of my groups. The PC's are good people but unwittingly follow some darker paths. This is a cool concept and it makes for some great roleplaying opportunities as well. After determining what the deal was with the PC's and their concepts, I went home and began to figure out ways to play that into the story. Then I stumbled upon this forum post that discussed using this dark force as a force of light instead (in a sense). Intrigued, I began to read more and that lead me to related-forum posts where I then hit the jackpot. Something so perfect, that it instantly began to write itself. That's usually a good thing. Unless you're like me, and then you get progressive, to the point where you're determining key roles for various PC's so far down the line that, crap, you might as well just write a novel because you've got it all figured out anyway.

Unless you're going to be a dick and string them along to tell this story, railroading (or in my case, lightning-railing) the entire way, you can't get too elaborate. I wasn't very specific above, my players do read this, but I was getting to the point of figuring how specific PC's would literally be used in telling this story, up to and including their epic deaths. It became a story and yes, the players want to be part of a story, but they want it to be a story they create as well, not just the DM.

To keep from doing this, don't get too elaborate. Stick to key themes and then let the players (unknowingly) create their own methods for getting involved in the plot-line. Even better, let the players' actions creat the plot line instead. You might lose out on running that perfect element, but everyone'll be having fun. Keep your notes though. Even though it may look early on that you won't get to play this big thing into your adventure, your players may just create the circumstances that will allow you to throw it in afterall!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Encounter Building

After running through several different encounters with several different PC's since 4E first came out, I began to notice a trend that I found kind of disturbing; the PC's would go through a few encounters, spend all of their daily powers within that timeframe, and then take an extended rest. To make matters worse, they would try to get away with multiple ER's in a single day. Worse than that, and this is the truly disturbing part, they would all still have around half or more of their Healing Surges remaining.

Some of this can be attributed to the players due to low die rolls and poor tactical decisions, but really this is mostly the DM's fault. 4E's combat system runs like no other that I'm aware of, and it certainly doesn't run like previous editions of D&D. Also, encounter design was totally different and standard encounters (1 monster per PC of same level) seemed too easy, even for low level PC's. Players would get through them almost too quickly without having to expend resources. Next logical step? Make the encounters harder. When we first toyed with that idea, we learned two things:
  1. Just because a standard 4th level encounter for 5 PC's is worth 875xp doesn't mean you can just throw in a Gray Slaad (level 13, xp 800) and a bunch of 1st level minions and call it a day. Sure, the minions are nothing; but the slaad is nigh-unhittable by 4th level PC's.
  2. Solo monsters of standard or higher level, when used singularly, do not make an appropriate encounter. The PC's burn all their daily powers and will usually die before losing all their healing surges (whether they ultimate get past the encounter or not). Solo's of lower encounter level and mixed with other monsters do make good encounters.

Not even going to extremes such as the 13th level skirmisher mentioned above, even using slightly higher level monsters was still having the same effects; Daily Powers would get spent, but PC's would either die or be near death once its over and still have a bunch of surges but want to take that ER anyway. The answer became blatantly obvious.

Easier encounters, but more of them was the key! The process of moving through easier encounters would stretch out the party's healing surges because they were taking more short rests and not losing their daily powers, but still getting hit enough to require some healing when all was said and done. Of course, you can't just have all lower level monsters either or then it isn't a challenge, its a given. Throw some tougher guys into your easier encounters once in awhile to make it more challenging. A tougher monster is harder to hit and has more hp, queing the pally to use his 4[w] damage daily power when he'd otherwise have no reason too. Liberal use of minions is good too for challenging encounters, and it forces your controllers to use their big area spells to extinguish several of them at a time.

So try using lower level monsters, lots of minions, and the occassional tough guy to present your players with challenging encounters that require the use of the majority of their resources. They'll be having fun because they'll be kicking butt and loving it, despite the fact that they're using up their surges and daily powers. Also, to make encounters even more fun and challenging, DMG2 has a lot of really cool things to say on that subject. Who says there's no roleplaying in 4E? I don't want to make this an explicit blog so I'll refrain from answering that.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A mini-update for my rabid readers...

I typically run campaigns on Thursdays and Fridays, so generally you will not see new posts on those days. I'm doing a mini today due to the traffic we received last night. To keep things quick and simple, I'll just make some bullet points.

  • Do not expect to see updates often on Thursdays or Fridays.
  • While this is still a new blog, there will be a lot of stuff being posted over the next few weeks on a pretty much daily basis. I am doing this to make sure that there is plenty of content to begin with so that I'll be able to slow down the posting pace and avoid burnout.
  • I realize that my format and pacing need work. Forgive me, I'm still new at this! I'll get it figured out soon enough, but any bloggers/podcasters with tips will not be denied!
  • Finally, what would you the reader like to see more of/what interests you? I was reading a good blog last night on the subject ( http://www.roleplayingpro.com/2009/01/24/what-do-gamers-want-from-gaming-blogs/ ) so I'm fully interested in anything anyone else has to say on the subject also (and if it comes down to it, I'll sell out and do a contest for publicity; no, I have no shame).

So I'll wrap that up here today. Questions or comments, you know where to put them!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Creative Skill Use (and other ways to overcome Skill Challenges)

Keeping on par with the discussion of Skill Challenges, it is important to know that even though any given SC would best be overcome with particular skills that are key to the challenge, you don't always have to stick to the norm. An SC dealing with the PC's trying to persuade a wealthy merchant to loan them some gold for whatever reason (ok, yeah -- as if the PC's really need anyone to loan them money... just work with me here) would typically best be solved with Bluff, Diplomacy, perhaps Insight, and Intimidate mostly. But what if you're the guy with 8 Charisma and training in Athletics?

This is when you need to start thinking of creative ways to use the skills that your PC is trained in. In the above example you could assume that the scene takes place in an office or maybe a private booth in an upper-class restaurant. Your PC is not a talker really, he was just supposed to be muscleman competitor who was forced to resign because he always made the rest of the competition look bad. He trained in Intimidate, but he's still not all that good at it. Let's just say that he is trained in Athletics also, and has a nice ability score bonus to go with it. Oh, whatever shall you do? Use Athletics to flip a table or desk (success grants a +2 bonus on the next Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check made by any PC).

Using one of the SC's presented in the DMG2, I'm going to only highlight on skills that are not mentioned in the text of any given challenge to try to give examples of ways to use skills differently. Of course, I won't be able to cover them all, some just won't work in certain situations, but I'll give you one or two for each example I use. I'm not going to detail the SC, I'll just give its title and you can follow along starting on p. 89 DMG2.

Closing the Portal
Athletics could be used as in physically smashing or kicking the portal to weaken a part of it to give a +2 bonus to the next Thievery check made on it (if the Athletics check fails, the PC should lose a Healing Surge from causing the portal to shoot him with necrotic energy or something).
Insight could be used as a secondary skill to Arcana, possible to notice a pattern or something similar in the energies (possibly after a Perception check as a minor action).

Aside from trying to figure out ways to make skills work that normally wouldn't, you have several other options you can use as well. If the SC occurs as a typical encounter or within a combat encounter (yes to my players who are reading; I do put SC's in some combat encounters. You have been warned) there are several utility powers, including the new Skill Powers that will be introduced to the general public in PHB3, that can be used during an encounter. Not to mention some racial traits as well (half-elves, I'm talking to you). For longer or extended SC's, the use of certain rituals can count for successes or in some cases even bypass the entire thing!

The point is, to get over the mechanical feel to SC's you have to look past just what's on the paper. Think of less-obvious ways to use your skills and powers (given a particular situation, even an appropriately-named attack power could be used if the player can come up with a reason for it) and don't overlook rituals either. Coming up with new actions and descriptions for what you do gets you past the dice rolling because you're able to create a picture depicted by the result of the roll. Failure isn't always the end. If you fail an SC, you'll still be able to find some other way; it'll just be more difficult.

Next time on 1d4+5...
I've got my campaigns to run tomorrow and the following night. I'm sure something interesting will come up. It usually does.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Skill Challenges

The question of roleplaying comes up often in those horrid edition wars, often under the assumption that there is no roleplaying in 4E. This is, of course a fallacy, one usually offered by the guy who is so against 4E that he hasn't even tried to play it. However, Skill Challenges appear to make this statement true. An organized method of using one's skills to overcome some obstacle would seem to imply that you just roll dice and move on to the next encounter. My friends, this couldn't be any further from the truth.

Running a successful Skill Challenge (SC) is a lot more involved than just rolling some dice. I mean, who wants to do that? Just sit, and roll, mechanical-like... Yeah, no-one. Of course, first and foremost it is the DM's duty to make sure that this isn't what the SC becomes. The first thing you do when you're about to spring an SC on your PC's is don't tell them they're about to begin an SC! The best way to begin an SC to let it evolve.

When an SC is about to begin, give the PC's an idea or reminder of their surroundings, and if they seem confused remind of what they had been planning to do. Example: DM - "...So, you're left in cramped townsquare with eight other individuals; witnesses perhaps. That assassin was after you but why? Maybe somebody saw where he came from..." It's even better if a player utters that last sentence.

You as DM know what skills the player needs to accomplish successes. To promote roleplaying, don't tell the PC's what skills they should use to get past this; ask them what they want to do. If any of them say something like, "I want to make an Insight check," you have permission to physically beat the player until he learns right! No, no you don't, please, do not do that. If one does say that, ask them what they want to accomplish by doing it, and how does the character go about performing the action. With Insight, I would think that some degree of interaction would be needed beforehand in most situations. You're not going to know if someone is being dishonest if you don't talk to them, nor would you be able to put the pieces together about clues you've found, determining how they link together per say. Using Insight in these ways requires other things, generally Diplomacy or Perception as per the two previous examples. Of course, you don't want the player saying, "I want to use Diplomacy," or, "I want to use Athletics," either! "I'm going to ask the old man about the dagger," is a good start, but, "Sir, what can you tell me about this dagger," is a better one.

On the other hand, telling them what skills are most useful might be alright because then it forces players to think of ways to use a skill. Just don't let them keep using it the same way every time, that's just as bad as just rolling the dice. Keep the players engaged and thinking like their characters, not like some guys staring at a sheet of numbers. Perhaps doing something your PC isn't good at is the best option. Or maybe you can come up with ways to use the skills your PC is good with in ways that they were not originally designed for.

Next time on 1d4+5...
I'll probably have to elaborate more on this topic, but at the moment I'm leaving you with the above. You should be able to smoothly start your next SC. Next time in this topic we'll discuss different ways to use those skills in an SC, and some creative ways of using them. Readers: feel free to offer up your ideas for creative skill use, either in comments or pm's! Later!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Role Play vs. Roll Play (and why this is a stupid concept)

On a recent episode of Kicked in the Dicebags, Jonathan's girlfriend, Kristin, had previously asked some listeners to provide the podcast with some questions, a typical Q&A session. One of the questions was something along the lines of, "What is your favorite RPG system and why?" Her answer is the reason for this post you are about to read.

It isn't because of her preference to one system over another -- it was her reasoning behind it. She said that she wasn't really into D&D because she's, "more of a r-o-l-e roleplayer than a r-o-l-l player." Despite her claim to having some experience with the system, it is obvious that she really doesn't. It probably isn't her fault, but instead the fault of the DM running those games for her. Or it could be something that she's missing entirely in a role-playing game.

Before I go on any further, there are some terms that need to established: roll, roll play, role, role play, and roleplaying game (RPG). Roll is, obviously, as in to roll a die to determine the result of any action you may take in any given RPG. Roll play refers to people more or less declaring the use of a given skill (say, Diplomacy), rolling a die, and then accepting the result and not following up with any actual speaking or interaction except for the rolling of that die/dice. Role is simply the role you play in a game, your character. To roleplay, is the act of playing that role, your character but not just a sheet full of numbers and stats. It means to speak as your character would (funny voice or not) and do the things he would do in the scope of the world provided for him (not go against his personality, despite what certain stat numbers might say). A roleplaying game is a game in which you the player take on the role of a character. However, because an RPG is in fact a game, to effectively roleplay within its boundaries requires the use of certain mechanics to be in order to decide how you succeed and fail at various things throughout your character's life.

My players all roleplay thier characters and they do it well. Its all in how you play the game. I run mainly 4E D&D campaigns and roleplaying is a must. Now, contrary to popular belief, a die roll is not required for all roleplaying situations; it is only required when a situation has a chance of failure having an adverse effect on the rest of the game. EXAMPLE: The PC's stumble into a small village in the middle of a swamp. Under normal circumstances, one PC could simply just walk up to a local and say (literally, in-character) "Pardon me, do you know where some weary travellers may find refuge for the night?" Of course, the NPC would just simply point the way and all is progressing. But, suppose that the locals resent and distrust outsiders and would prefer that they stay any place but this village, and then you have to work within the scope of the game's mechanics.

Take a look at your character sheet there, do you see all those numbers listed next to abbreviations like Str, Int, and Cha? That's not you, that's your character! Based on what a 17 Intelligence translates to in game terms, most regular people fall short of that, generally in the Average 10-11 range. You are not as smart or as charming as your character. Especially if you're playing a character who's world is defined by one of those stats. Sometimes, it works the opposite way. If your PC has a low Int score you most likely are smarter than your character. It can be really hard to play something you're not. I've seen several rogues and most of their players simply aren't charming enough to play them up to what their Cha score suggests. That is why dice come in when failure to do something can alter the course of the game. Suppose you need to convince a nation's beloved king to impart a secret of great importance upon you so that you may vanquish a foe quicker and easier -- without it, it will be a long, ardous battle that may see the very end of some of your beloved companions. Of course, the king isn't going to just tell anybody this secret... You get the idea.

You don't need dice for the menial things, but if a single word or phrase is all that hangs in the balance of begging to not be thrown in prison or getting a well-reputed freelancer to accompany your group on their next adventure, the dice define your character's abilities in the context of the game world.

There are certain caveats: If a player, in-character says or tries something that is so profound, or just plain creative (I'm thinking of the token one-liner that just makes the whole group start cracking up -- as long as its appropriate to the situation), they should either get a nice bonus for the roll (+2 to +5) or just an auto-success as warrented by the situation. If someone says something like what was said by Jim Darkmagic, a character in a recent D&D podcast, "Now that your wife's dead, let's dance," would totally earn something at my table -- for that it would probably be a +2 to the attack roll.

Basically, the dispute between roll-playing and roleplaying is a ridiculous concept when it is directed at RPG's. You are not your character, nor is the DM really that NPC. You are not as skilled as your PC's are at certain things, mechanics help you describe that better than simple play-acting ever could. Just because you roll dice to determine success or failure in any given task does not mean you shouldn't portray your character. Even a simple, "Please sir, I'd never survive in a prison," along with your Bluff roll is acceptable.

Next time on 1d4+5...
Perhaps this calls for a discussion on Skill Challenges? Or maybe I'll talk about religion in RPG's, something I had been planning on doing for awhile now and today found out that The Podgecast had a discussion about it on their last episode. It don't matter, I have other things on the subject that they failed to discuss upon. Until next time, keep rolling those 20's!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What am I doing here?

That really is a good question.

Alright, so as a long time DM who feels he can help others with their roleplaying needs by offering insight, advice, and wisdom. Granted, I know that there is a lot of this around already, and that mine is a singular voice doomed to be drowned out by other, louder voices that are already in place. Podcasts, for one.

See, I really wanted to do a podcast. There were a few things preventing this at the moment: First, the equipment is expensive and at the moment, there isn't room in my budget for it. Secondly, I don't have a reliable person to co-host such an endeavor with me, and despite the availability of Table Saw from The Podgecast, one-sided conversations of the audio variety can be kind of boring (no offense to The Tome Show, another great podcast). Lastly, there was the issue of "What can I talk about that hasn't been discussed directly already?" Most of the great RPG topics have been discussed at length and more often than not, discussed way further than they really need to be. That is not to say however, that there is no new information to be gleaned.

Anyhow, I decided that a blog was going to have to be the way to go so here is my first attempt. I plan to bring you the reader advice and tips that I learn (both as I play and part of the collective efforts of the many podcasts I listen to), cool or interesting products that I hear about (and probably use too!), and the possible review from time to time as well. My game of choice is Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, so most of my ramblings will apply specifically to D&D 4E -related items. Although, most of my advice should be applicable to whatever system you're running, so hopefully we'll get some readers from outside the scope of D&D as well (and yes, I'd love to hear your feedback, whether its D&D-related or not). Oh, and I may talk about my current campaigns as well -- examples of play are something that I've always found interesting, I'm sure others will agree.

Unfortunately, I don't really have a lot to discuss today. Both of my campaigns took the week off so I don't have any in-game stuff for you. Also, with this being my first blog, I don't want to go off in too many directions. I did attend World Wide D&D Gameday last week for the DMG2 and had a blast. That experience, along with some collective podcast knowledge, taught me something interesting, something that I've been hesitant of and used sparingly throughout my career as a DM. Breaking the rules is alright.

I've always been of the mindset that rules in roleplaying games are there for a reason. They create the structure needed for the players to interact with the environment in a (for lack of better word) controlled setting. I mean, its the rules that keep us from moving 10 squares across a battlemap when your speed is 6 and attacking with an Encounter power and an additional At-Will with an "Awesome" bonus of +20 to both rolls... and you can just make up the rest. Why even play a game at all if you can just do whatever you want.

Okay, yes I know. A gross overstatement and obviously very embellished. But that isn't the point. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, the point was not as obvious as I had assumed either. The point is found in the 4E PHB initially. I'm not making an exact quote or citation, but basically it says there is a basic structure for the rules but the various character races and classes all break those rules in many different ways. Every class feature, heck every paragon path feature, and every racial feature break the rules. For instance, you have 22 points to create your ability scores, no more and no less. However, your race gives you a special bonus to two different ability scores (determined by your race of course), which clearly breaks the rule about a point limit to setting up your ability scores. In theory, your two plusses could either fall in your two lowest ability score values, your two highest, or any combination inbetween, effectively changing the value of the +2 anywhere from 1 point to 6 or more! And this is just one example. Of course, not all the rulebreaking fun goes to the players, the DM's get quite a bit as well also (and I'm not talking about monsters that appear out of thin air, or how a monster's Reflex value suddenly changes from 16 to 22 on a whim... bad DM's, I'm talking to you)! Monsters and traps/hazards all break rules in small ways too. The goblins' ability to shift after being missed by a melee attack for instance is a great example of this. And also the most obvious because its spelt out in the Monster Manual or in the Dungeon Master's Guide. You don't actually realize the potential of this until you start looking at modules.

In a podcast (I don't remember which one so I'm not crediting anybody, sorry) I heard a discussion about how module authors are constantly breaking the rules. Then, at Gameday, when setting up the encounters with my group a few small rule-breakages were suggested. I of course was hesitant, but soon I was convinced that it would be all right. One of my collaborators was a man I had never met before, but he was the organizer of my local D&D Meetup groups. Knowing that he had vast experience in gaming as well, his presence inspired me to try it out. We made up a power that the underground stream possessed related to healing and death, and converted a group of standard soldiers into minions that die, get back up, die again, get up again, etc unless they were killed in the water (or fell four times, whichever happened first. Four was the magic number, by turning standards into minions, it was like adding nine more monsters for a total of 12 from 3, perfect math in D&D encounter building). Of course, we added clues and hints, there isn't any point if the players have no chance in figuring out your little mystery.

All in all, the group I DM-ed for loved the adventure. Afterward, one of the guys was close to joining one of my ongoing campaigns, though the drive was too much for him; another guy, a future DM, picked my brain for half an hour for tips, which is also part of my inspiration for this blog. I learned that breaking the rules in minor ways actually led to a more entertaining engagement. Little rule breaks are what keep the game together, despite what their name implies.

Next time on 1d4+5...
I haven't decided yet. Perhaps I'll continue with Breaking the Rules and explore when its too much or just not acceptable. Maybe I'll offer a mini-review of DMG2, the latest book every DM should have a copy of. Maybe I'll create a character, or a monster, or a trap. Maybe I'll talk about some of my upcoming game sessions, or tell anew about my previous ones. Maybe I'll share the story behind the name of this blog. Either way, it'll turn out much better than this first one, hopefully I'll get some sort of format in mind.