Monthly Archives: February 2015

Surprise Running

I honestly didn’t expect to be running my campaign tonight, but Alek’s player felt well enough after his surgery this morning that we gave it a go.  It turns out that the dire rats the party faced last time were fighting over a human arm they had dug up.  The arm belonged to a body that was buried in a shallow grave, a fresh body, with neither pouch nor papers, the only identifying thing on him besides his clothes was a snuff box with a two-headed eagle carved into the lid tucked between the man’s doublet and shirt.

They dilly-dallied around for about an hour with exhuming, examining, and excavating a new grave for the body that a gnome came up the road behind them, also from Canterbury. He introduced himself as Morelli Grimsbane, and Freyja (who is the defacto group leader) agreed to allow him to travel with them at least as far as Calais.

They reached Dover without further incident, arranged passage on the ferry for late the next morning, and had dinner at the White Horse Inn.  After dinner, Freyja snuck out of her room while Hildegaard played for the patrons in the tavern.  She wandered down to the docks, found some taverns, bought some drinks, and came away with some interesting information about the German eagle, the Hanseatic League, and trade relations across the North Sea.

They sailed the next day, a few of them losing coin to Klaus in cards and dice while on the boat, and hit shore just after 1:00 (the winds were extremely favourable).  The last thing that was settled was negotiating passage on a ship bound for Hamburg setting sail three days hence.  I rolled the random encounter dice, and there will be opportunity for more XP for the group the next time we meet.  Oh, that was just Freyja and Morelli at the shipping office, Alek, Hilde, and Klaus went to find lunch.  I’ll have to come up with something interesting for them as well.

It’s always a bit touchy for me to introduce a new player to a campaign, especially one with whom I’ve not played before.  The rest of the group is pretty tightly knit from running together for some time, I am always aware of the possibility that the new person isn’t going to mesh well or quickly.  But I’ve got a good group who are very welcoming, so I’m sure if tonight didn’t scare him off, he will integrate very well into the group.

Next session will provide some opportunity for building some cohesiveness within the group, along with inter-party trust.  Personally, I would prefer if my players would just accept new party members without the need for them to “gain the trust” of the rest of the group.  This is a game, after all, and we are all here to play it. I suppose it stems from half of the group being actors and well-read, and desiring good writing for the whole world, not just everything that comes after character creation.  Mainly, I guess I’m just insecure about starting up a game and having people abandon it.  Though I’ve talked to him this morning and he is planning on coming to the next game, so I guess it’s not as bad as my paranoid self imagines.

But enough of that, I’ve got other things to worry about.  Alek, the cost of a pair bone dice is 2 silvers.  Everybody: the market list for Calais is linked on the Obsidian Portal wiki.  If I missed something leave a comment and I’ll wedge it in here.

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Tension and Investment

I had a blast Sunday night.  My wife is currently running a series of adventures for our Sunday night sliders game, set in the world of Redwall (Brian Jacques’ animal-scaled fantasy world).  Last night there were three of us attempting to rescue the “dibbins” from a band of pirate/slaver/bandits.  Thom, a barbarian/ranger Goliath-turned-badger; Rosie, a wizard (illusionist) half-elf-turned-squirrel; and my own character Stev, a cleric of Tyr, human-turned-hedgehog.  We set off from the Abbey towards the sea past Salamandastron (the mountain home of the badger-lords), hoping to catch the pirates before they sailed off with all the children from around the Abbey for their nefarious schemes.

All of this was after we had rescued most of the adults from the mountains to the north, where they had been taken to be sold to the giant spiders that live there.  Along with us was a small girl-mouse named Violet, who is also the current wielder of Martin’s Sword.

Anyway, we were camped along the river for the night when a gargantuan crocodile leapt out of said river and attempted to swallow Stev (it was only a natural 20 on the escape roll that he didn’t end up inside the croc).  It did manage to swallow the barbarian, but Rosie and Stev managed to kill it before it could escape. Through all of that spellcasting and shouting, Violet didn’t wake up.

When the morning came and still she wouldn’t wake, we all three of us became gravely concerned (especially so given the badger’s disturbing dream) and burned half a day attempting everything possible to revive the girl.  Even with Stev communing with Tyr (he’s 10th level), we had no clear idea how to wake her, though we were assured it wasn’t immediately deadly.  Then we headed toward the mountain, hoping there might be some badgers about who would be able to help.  So far, there aren’t.  Though we did capture a hare on the beach who was tending a signal fire for his lord Oric (?).

This session was, in my opinion, an exceptionally good one, for a couple of reasons (see the title).  We’ve spent a few sessions getting attached to many of the characters that have been featured in this adventure, especially Violet.  Which means that when she gets threatened by something we have no idea about, it make us (the players, mind) very anxious.  Our characters, naturally, are concerned as well, but it is our human emotions that are being stoked and played with.  We are invested in the story, in the characters of the story.  It was a stressful evening, but one that kept me awake for two hours after we had stopped running, so I didn’t get to sleep until midnight.  The adrenaline was flowing that night.  It wasn’t a fun game, necessarily, but it was a damn good one.

That’s what I want in a D&D game.  Investment, adrenaline, stress, tension.  These things are what adventures are about.  Tense, unsure situations.  Risk, threats, and eventually (hopefully) victory.  Introducing elements to your game to make the characters react is step one.  Getting your players to react emotionally is the next level.  I am an armchair adrenaline junkie.  D&D is how I get my fix.  I want my players to be as hooked as I am, and I want to be their adrenaline dealer.  Find players who will invest, give them a fix, and they’ll be at your table every single week. This is my task, and it is yours also.

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On the Cosmological and Theological Aspects of Divinely Sourced Magic in an “Alternate Earth” D&D World

One of the issues with running in the “real world,” even one in which magic and elves and dwarves and orcs exist, is the question of the origin of divine magics.  Hand-waving on this point is not an option, especially because a majority of the group (myself included) are staunch Christians.  The idea of clerics wandering around casting spells in the name of Jesus is just a bit, well, too much, even in the context of a game.

Thus, I will here attempt to present the cosmology of the universe that my campaign world exists in such that clerics of any religion will be believable both in their faith, and in the source of their power.

We must start with the fact that there are extant powerful beings who enable the casting of a kind of magic that is separate from that which the arcane schools wrench from the fabric of the universe.  This is not a difficult point to render believable.  The Roman Catholic church has a traditionally held belief that each person is watched over by a guardian angel.  I will utilize this precedent, and declare that each cleric has a particularly powerful “guardian angel” who has in itself the power to manifest the power required to energize the spells of the clerics.

My world exists because it is created.  There is one ultimate source of power in the universe, the God of gods, the Penultimate Creator.  From this being comes all power, energy, light, reason, and order.  To lesser “spiritual entities” he assigns greater or lesser amounts of power and in some cases agendas.  Below those middle managers are other less authoritative spirit beings that humans have recognized in various forms, some humans call them spirits, some call them angels, some call them oni.  These spirits then, being recognized, are the “face” of the Penultimate Creator.  The middle managers might be interpreted as various lesser gods, while the Penultimate Creator is greater in authority even than these.  This being because he created all of them, and allows them power according to his own agenda.

Thus, the power which clerics wield is the power of the Penultimate Creator, filtered through several intermediaries into a standard form that is recognized as the cleric’s spell list.  Humans, of course, can only be allowed to wield so much power at once, and as they prove themselves worthy of that power, their allotment is increased at the rate which is most beneficial to the development of the individual’s responsibility and morality at the discretion of the guardian angel and the overseeing spirit.

As for the planes, there is of course the Prime Material Plane wherein the world exists.  There are also the four Elemental Planes, Fire, Earth, Water, and Air.  Below is the Plane of Punishment, and above the Plane of Reward.  Suffusing all of these to a greater or lesser extent is the Astral Plane and Shadow Plane, allowing travel to spiritual aspects of the residents of each plane.  Outside of the Astral Plane is the Realm of the Creator, where the primary expression of said Creator resides and holds court, issuing directives and controlling the cosmos.  While the basic, physical portion of creatures residing on the Prime Material Plane remains on the Material Plane, it is possible for the spiritual portion of sentient creatures to travel on the Astral or Shadow Plane to visit other planes, excepting the Realm of the Creator, which is inaccessible to all, except those spiritual beings who have been assigned the most power.

Oh, a note about Arcane magics:  The multiverse was created according to rules and logic, and through research, experimentation, and the right kind of insights, certain individuals are able to manipulate aspects of the physical world to leverage these elemental laws in predictable ways that manifest in a way that humans call magic.  So, instead of physics, my world has magic.  It has physics too, but no one is going to devote much time to the study of it when things like fireballs and planar travel are available.

Is that about it?  I think I’ve covered everything.  If anyone has any questions about any of this, I will be happy to answer them.  Comments welcome, as well.

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Building a Foundation

This is not an article about pouring concrete or laying block in the ground.

First night of adventuring!  Could have been worse, I suppose.  We added a new player at the last minute, so most of the evening was occupied creating that character and purchasing gear.  (As you may have guessed, I’ve stolen Mr. Smolensk‘s trade organization largely wholesale, so it does take most of an evening to sort through 20 pages of shops and items) But after that all got sorted (mostly), the adventurers finally left the walls of Canterbury on their way to Oslo.

Our current cast of characters is led by Freya, a half-elf rogue, followed closely by her sister Hilde. The final PC is a half-orc barbarian, Aleksandr, a recent resident of the British Isles due to a rather personal argument with a ship’s captain. Also along for the ride is Klaus, a human mercenary and friend of Freya.

The party left the south gate of Canterbury at 9:00 am the morning of May 2. They took Watling Street south towards Dover. The weather being fine for traveling they made good time, crossed through Bridge, and a bit after ten bells heard a strange sound coming from the young wheat field that edged the road.

Alek moved to investigate, and discovered three huge rats fighting over a bit of something. This information he relayed to the rest of the party, alerting the rats to his presence. They promptly attacked, and brought the barbarian down to half health before being put down. Which is where we had to end.

Not bad for a half hour of actual running.  As for the rewards, we stopped immediately after the last rat was gloriously criticalled by Freya’s arrow.  Which is a shame, because it only had 4 HP left at the time.  All that to say I only assigned XP.

Now XP for this campaign is taking a bit of getting used to for my players.  They are used to the super-fast WotC XP table, so when I introduced the concept of different classes requiring different amounts of XP to level, based on the Pathfinder XP tables using Slow for Fighters, Paladins, and Barbarians, medium progression for every other class less Wizards and Sorcerers who use the fast tables (which are themselves a bit slower than the default PHB table).  This combines nicely with Mr. Smolensk’s XP scheme of basing XP awarded based on damage dealt and received.   If after playing with the PF based tables it’s still taking too long to level, I will consider upping the number of XP awarded per point of damage.  XP for loot doesn’t apply here since the rats don’t have any, but I think it will make my players happy when they do get some later.

For the record, according to the standard 3.5 rules, this encounter would be worth 75 XP for each character.  Freya received 88, Hilde received 20, Alek received 176 and Klaus received 50.  Alek received the most because he was the only one bitten by the rats, and did the most damage to them.  Freya took second for her accomplished bow-work, Klaus also managed to deal some damage, while Hilde played her lute and inspired the then-stunned barbarian on to greater deeds.  Her XP is solely from watching Alek have his calves shredded.

Something that I will introduce next session officially (since I didn’t have time to write it up and send it out before we started) is the concept of armor as damage reduction.  I’ve written about that before, but I’m simplifying it majorly to actually be workable in a combat.  Basically it boils down to using the AC rating of the armor as DR instead.  Shields will still add to AC.  This means that enemies will be hit more reliably (along with the PCs), but the damage done will be less.  Working hand-in-hand with this concept will be a mechanic for equipment fatigue/damage that occurs in combat.  It is based on this proposition, but modified according to my own tastes.

It will run thusly:  For each attack against an armed and/or armored opponent, 2d6 are rolled by the attacker and the defender.  If the attack hits, the defender’s roll applies to his armor, as indicated on the second table on the second link posted above.  If the attack misses by (10 minus the defender’s base attack bonus) or less, the defender’s roll applies to his weapon, because he is considered to have parried the blow.  If the attack misses by more than (10 – D’s BAB), the roll is discarded, because the attack missed so widely.  The attacker’s 2d6 are applied to his weapon (as per the same table referenced above) if he misses by 10-defender’s BAB, or hits by less than or equal to the DR score of the armor the defender is wearing.  If the attack succeeds spectacularly or fails miserably, it is considered to not have encountered any suitably defensible material and therefore suffers no risk of damage.

For creatures not wearing armor but wielding a weapon, the defensive roll only applies if a weapon to weapon strike occurs.  For creatures wielding natural weapons, such as claws or teeth, they may still be blunted or broken.  Natural attacks such as slams, however, cannot be damaged.

We’ll see how that plays out next time, if the PCs get into another fight.

I may have more thoughts on the campaign later, but for now we will have to wait and see what the PCs do with the rat corpses and whatever they were fighting over.  Next session is expected to occur on the 10th of March.  Oh yeah, Sliders is happening Sunday, so I’ll be participating in my wife’s adventure then, I may have some thoughts after that game. Stay tuned!

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DM Philosophy

As a DM, I have but two jobs:  run the world, and create drama.

Which is more all-encompassing that it first appears.  Running the world includes everything that happens to the PCs, and adjudicating the results of the PC’s actions in my world.  Managing the presentation of those things is how I create drama.  It sounds simple, and really it is.  Easy, on the other hand, well…

Realism and choice are the touchstones of my mission as a DM. The biggest things I do to promote those are 1) provide a world that is believable, comprehensible, and predictable; and 2) not handing out quests.

To explain: I have decided to set my world on what is essentially Earth, circa 1550. Granted, there are some differences (existence of magic, other humanoid races, etc.), but for the most part it is the earth that my player are already familiar with. That way I don’t have to go to great lengths to describe huge tracts of land and development to provide a world with depth, politics, history, and geography. It’s all right there for me on Google Earth and Wikipedia. I don’t have to invent a large metropolis and compare it to something the players are already aware of, I just set them down in London. Or Paris, or Madrid, or Munich, or Bangkok.  Work’s done for me.  That takes care of the comprehensible and believable part. For predictable, any actions or reactions that you could expect to happen here in real life will happen in my world. Punch a guy in the face, he’ll either punch back, fall down and give you his wallet, or pull a hammer off of his belt and clobber you. Most of the time. Invest in a shipping venture, and you’ve got something like a 70% chance to make a modest profit, a 25% chance to lose your shirt, and a 5% chance to make enough money to build a castle and take over Spain. I don’t feel like pulling everything out of my butt on a whim, it’s not fair to my players to have arbitrary results to studied actions.

I hate railroads.  Nothing happens “because I said so,” “because it’s what the story requires” or any of that bull.  Even if it comes down to “I don’t want you to succeed in this so you won’t.”  If a plan is logically sound and there are no active background plots that have accounted for such a plan, it will probably succeed.  Perhaps with unintended consequences, but if my PCs set something in action, results will occur, and not arbitrarily.  Logically.

As for not handing out quests, that doesn’t mean there aren’t quests. I just don’t hand them out. Handing down quests from on high is the start of the railroad.  There are video games if you want a selection of quests handed to you.  I leave the agenda setting up to my players. I start them with no directions, no timetables, no prophetic dreams, no pressure of any kind. I give them the environment, and let them give me the quests. For example, in the campaign I just started, during the character generation process my players decided they wanted to travel to Oslo to visit relatives. Which is great. I have no idea what’s in Oslo yet, because they have to get there first. Which will involve finding passage on a ship to go there. On the way to find said ship they might find an abandoned corpse, be attacked by bandits, encounter ghosts (all depending on what road they take), and they can do with that encounter what they will.  I don’t care.  I don’t plan the future, it’s not my job.  I run the present and invent the past.  The future is up to the PCs, the dice, and the dictates of reason.

But how does all of this create drama?  In the presentation.  That’s the tricky part.  The kind of game that brings players back to the table week after week is a game that they are invested in.  They need to care about their characters, they need to care about NPCs, they need to care.  Care and affection are a result of emotional ties.  Emotional ties are built through drama.

Which is all fine theory.  Now for some comprehensible examples.  Let’s say you have a brother.  Fine.  Lots of people have brothers.  Suppose you care about this brother because he protected you from bullies and such while you were growing up.  Now say that you’ve asked him to go to the big city to watch over some business venture or other for you.  Great, we’re happy for him, he’s helping us, wonderful.  Then let us suppose that we get a letter one day from our solicitor saying our brother has three days to pay off a large debt or he will be thrown into debtor’s prison and probably starve to death.  Uh-oh.  Now emotions are starting to be manipulated.  We care about our brother, and he’s in trouble due in part to us.  Better go make this right.  Then, about an hour before sundown on our way to town, as we are riding hard to make it to the city gate before nightfall and save our brother, we spy a column of smoke on the horizon, nearly in our path.  Riding closer we discover that a building is on fire.  A tall building, at least three stories.  A crowd of people are gathered around it, pointing up at the top level and shouting.  Closer still, and through the smoke billowing out of the second floor we see a window with several faces in it, people trapped above the conflagration.  A choice!  A moral dilemma!  Do we stop and try to save the people from certain fiery death and sacrifice our brother to prison for a night, or possibly more if we perish ourselves in the fire?  Ride on and surely save our brother but leave the innocent people to die?

Drama.  Sure, sent your brother to London to take care of things for you.  But your bro’s got a low wisdom score and gets himself in trouble.  It happens.  It’s a race against time.  You’re on your way.  Then I introduce a moral dilemma that is also time critical and drama happens.  As the DM, I don’t care what you do one way or another.  Heck, for all I care, you could decide to abandon both groups to their fates and ride off into the woods to hunt goblins.  Like I said, the future is up to the PCs and the dice.  I run the present and invent the past.

For me, this is DMing.  Run the world.  Insert drama.  Let the PCs and the dice decide the future.

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So it Begins

It took a while, but there have been two fresh new characters rolled up for the persistent campaign that I am starting.  It took a while because on of my players was feeling not-very-well-at-all, and I was attempting to explain all of the differences between what we had been playing (via Sliders) and what we will be playing.  Though all the basics are now out of the way and we will be ready to start next Tuesday on the official game (possibly with a third player, who will get a character rolled up under my supervision out-of-session).  I have begun them in the alternative history world circa 1550 in a little town called Canterbury in the County of Kent, in the realm of England.  And although we haven’t officially started playing yet, the players have an agenda all their own.

Being half-elf sisters raised by their human father (one a bard and the other a rogue), they have decided to blow out of the shaved ice stand of jolly old England and make for the Danish city of Oslo to visit their mother’s relatives.  (For those of you paying attention, Oslo is actually in Norway, but the Danes have control of it in 1550)  This is marvelous for me, mostly because I know exactly where they intend to go, so I can focus my research into that area and the hardships that might occur along the way.

I don’t want to tip my hand here too much, so let me just say that this is looking to be a good game.

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