Judge Not

Something I make a constant effort to do is keeping an open perspective of how other people play Roleplaying Games. I frequently witness other groups playing, or I read discussions online. As my group plays in public and I too post in online discussions, I’ve also been subject to others observing and commenting on how I play. It is a constant reminder that we all play differently.

Roleplaying isn’t about telling people how they should experience their own game. It transcends settings, editions, even entire systems.

We are rightfully entitled think the specific way we play our game is so awesome. Clearly we’re having so much fun, so it should be helpful to share how we enjoy the best about how we play, right?

But sometimes we get on the wrong path. We try to find a way to tell someone else if they’re roleplaying the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, but we really can’t.

Its not because there’s a formula for the perfect roleplaying, it’s because we can’t play in anyone else’s shoes except our own. Our experience is entirely subjective to our own preference. We find a perfect balance for ourselves, but we’re still not the other person. The method he or she enjoys: they will swear by it, just like we will swear by ours.

Advice is helpful. Judgement is not. Challenge yourself to play a game differently if you desire, but never judge how someone else enjoys their game.

The Gamer Effect – Jumping Into D&D Next

I’m now contributing over at The Gamer Effect and I have a new post up over there: Jumping Into D&D Next. Check it out! In it I talk about my first foray into DMing D&D Next.

I will still be posting updates here, including posts that I feel don’t fit well with The Gamer Effect’s topics. I know things have been slow, but I have plans and as always – lots of gaming going on!

The $5 Pledge for Free RPG Day

I saw this over on www.thegrogtard.com, The $5 Pledge for Free RPG Day

“Free RPG Day is coming up so don’t just swoop and loot the place. Look around, talk to people and show a little appreciation for your FLGS by throwing a little cash their way. Just a couple of bucks. Maybe about like say $5. I know that isn’t much. Maybe a new set of dice or a miniature.”

I heartily agree with this!  Show a bit of love, spend a couple dollars and show love for your favorite game store. Free RPG Day is June 15th, I’ll be at my local game store Guardian Games helping with the Vault of the Dracolich event.

Et tu, DM?

Betrayal is a classic trope. I think every DM uses it sooner or later. Betrayal reminds our players to question what they hear, to think about other perspectives; to anticipate betrayal means  thinking about what benefits your betrayer. Players that fail to do these things fall victim to betrayals easily.

The key to DM planning for a betrayal is flexibility. You can never truly predict a party’s cleverness and reactions. As a result, I take a sort of “Schrodinger’s” approach to NPCs – an NPC’s goal can be changed at any time until observed definitively as one particular goal by the PCs. I’m not perfect, I can’t perfectly predict every possible outcome of my group’s actions, therefore I have to take a reactive approach to planning certain twists. I find this makes them more believable. After all, this is sort of true in life as well – any person can change their mind at any given moment: including the bad guys.

Types of Betrayals

The Inevitable

Most of us are familiar with the quote “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” (shaking your fist when you say this is usually required.) We tend to think of betrayals as a surprise, but some are not so unexpected. The Inevitable is the betrayal you see coming from a mile off.  Sometimes we can’t help it. Evil Bart the local trail guide is obviously going to betray the party at the first possible chance, but sometimes a party just has to take that risk to gain other benefits.  Like the stabby equivalent of a surprise birthday party, the party knows the NPC is going to throw one, it’s just a matter of when and where. The best way to make an Inevitable betrayal more interesting is to challenge the party’s assumptions. Listen carefully to your party’s opinions about your NPCs for ideas – consider if you can twist those perceptions even a little. It wouldn’t hurt to encourage some wild speculation while you’re at it. Whatever the players are expecting, try to take a different angle.

Well-placed Inevitable betrayals will build a gritty atmosphere in a setting where you want to portray a lot of corruption and strife. Lightly handled Inevitable betrayals can bring an air of humor to an otherwise serious transaction. Out of all betrayals, Inevitable betrayals are the easiest on the trust between a DM and the players. By continuing to interact with the NPC, they acknowledge they’re accepting that possibility. Personally, I feel Inevitable betrayals should never be huge story-changing betrayals. They work better with smaller consequences that the party can recover from quickly.

The WTF

Blind-siding my players is sometimes immensely satisfying. This betrayal is all about it. Give no clues, reassure the players frequently about trust, raise no alarms and when no one in the party questions their loyalty that is the prime moment to strike. Treasure the look on everyone’s faces when they realize their fervent ally just jabbed a poison dagger in the party’s collective back.

As the DM, you control all the information your party receives. Therefore the WTF is the easiest betrayal to pull off by simply denying your players knowledge of the impending betrayal. The easiest to prepare and use – you don’t necessarily have to do any long-term planning. You can simply decide on the spot to suddenly have a trusted NPC suddenly sell out the party – for no particular reason if you need it that badly (although gold, lots of gold, is usually a solid stand-by). Be warned though! The WTF betrayal is an easy crutch. Used poorly it comes across as petty: a cheap shot at the players for daring to trust their DM. It’s a sudden and shocking experience and it burns bridges fast. Use it too much and your players will soon trust no NPC, regardless of undeniable proof or sincere gestures of loyalty, because they will no longer trust YOU.

The Hindsight

The best betrayals are the ones the group should have seen coming, but didn’t. This is the villain’s betrayal. The masterpiece. I call it the Hindsight because all the clues were right there all along: seen but never suspected. Only when they look back do they see how they were played all along. Unlike the WTF and the Inevitable, the players will only blame themselves after a beautifully executed betrayal.

The Hindsight betrayal is the opposite of the WTF in that, as the DM, you must shower your players with hints about their impending betrayal without ever revealing their doom. Too much info and it tips over into the Inevitable territory. Not enough and the players will be oblivious and WTF’d by the outcome. It’s a narrow and delicate line to tread.  It can involve providing clues that seem unimportant, by distracting the characters with a scapegoat, or an over-abundance of information that mixes truth and falsehood.

The downside of any betrayal is sometimes you’re not as clever as you think you are – or your players are far more clever than you gave them credit for. Always stay prepared for a premature epiphany. If someone does figure out betrayal is inevitable (heh), you have a few options depending on your situation. If the evidence is still in the early stages you can back out of your plans and perhaps play up a sense of unfounded paranoia. This can be great for some games – a sort of “reverse betrayal” in which you can “betray” the party’s sense of distrust and paranoia by surprising the group with intense acts of loyalty or piety from the suspected NPC.

In late stages it may be best to let your plans unravel. Perhaps the villain realizes the gig is up and has to change their tactics to their own disadvantage, or the villain could carry on as usual and your players end up with the upper-hand, surprising the villain with their preparedness. Either way reward, don’t punish, the players for their insight. Allow them to enjoy having the jump on your villain’s plans for a change – you’ll surprise them again soon enough.

Guest Post: Arashidrgn Explores D&D Religion Part 2

Today’s post is a guest post from friend, reader, and writer Arashidrgn. He explores religion and deities in D&D in two parts.

The influence of deities and religion is often overlooked but really has a huge effect in how it shapes the D&D world. Its actually pretty easy to talk about how individuals perceive their gods – after all belief and perception are uniquely subjective to each individual. What about gods and their place in the world? If we absolutely know multiple gods exist, we don’t necessarily know their exact positions and influences in the universe.

Its interesting exploring religious knowledge in D&D because we have canonical information: this celestial realm is here, the gods warred here and at this time, this god lives here, this god eats souls, this god likes ponies, etc. So I had to explore theoretical ideas about how people think where the gods fit into their universe without this empirical knowledge – because what the game designer dictates isn’t necessarily what the imaginary inhabitants in our fantasy world actually know. In other words: “The gods work in mysterious ways”.

Part II – Philosphy Pie

The Clockwork Universe

The Clockwork Universe is a particular viewpoint on the relationship between the gods and the mortal realm. It may be held by any deific practice. Omni-deific individuals most commonly hold this viewpoint. Whatever the reason, this religious philosophy thinks of the gods as architects and designers and the world is a great clockwork machine. Once the gods set the machine in motion they stepped back and let it run by itself.

This religious philosophy holds that the gods have a very small or no guiding hand in the petty affairs of mortals. The gods watch the universe from afar but rarely intervene in the affairs of the world. There are a number of explanations for why the gods do not intervene in the affairs of mortals. Some consider that to the gods an individual or even large group is insignificant in the eyes of the gods, or to the gods a single lifespan is too short to hold lasting meaning to gods who are eternal. The most predominant theory is that the gods have agreed amongst themselves to refrain from meddling directly with the mortal realm to prevent wars between the gods.

This religious philosophy sees the tenants of the gods as a set of guidelines they wish mortals to follow; however, since the gods do not take an active part in monitoring or punishing a mortal for breaking their tenants it is up to the individuals own dedication and integrity to adhere to them. Mortals who live their life very closely to the tenants of their god and are wholly devoted to their cause gain divine benefits and boons becoming clerics and paladins of their varying faiths. It is like each individual is a potential cog, axle, or spring and if they are right for the job their god will set them in motion with their blessings.

Because the gods are seen as taking no direct action in the universe, to anyone who believes in the clockwork universe they are ready to stand up and act taking a proactive involvement in affairs around them. Other religious philosophies that believe in praying and waiting for divine salvation are considered foolish. To The Clockwork Universe mortals must act on their own in order for anything to be done. The gods will only support the actions of mortals. Because of this those that practice of The Clockwork Universe hold self-reliance in great esteem.

A church of this philosophy is more likely to have active involvement. A church of Avandra may actively build roads between major trade routes or missions out on the frontier while a church to Erathis may train a police force to enforce the laws of the land.

Prayer for The Clockwork Universe is given less emphasis than in other practices. Typically prayers are made as a request for guidance or blessings in ones actions rather than for ones deity to solve their problems for them. While it is believed the gods hear their prayers the answers to them are much less direct. A request for knowledge may be answered by a readily available library or mentor. A request to defeat an enemy comes by receiving divine strength in fighting instead of a bolt of lightning striking them down. Whatever the answer, it will come from something already in place or already in motion.

The views of The Clockwork Universe can sometimes become pessimistic. Some consider the fact that the gods do not take direct action in the universe as abandonment and come to believe, “If the gods don’t want to take care of the world, then it is no longer their world. It should belong to those that must live within it.” This tangent view on The Clockwork Universe has spurred warlords to conquer great expanses or warlocks to summon terrible demons for power.

The Great Game

This concept is most commonly applied to a mono-deific or radiant-deific viewpoint. It is a viewpoint on the interactions between the gods themselves and the reasons for how they interact with the mortal realm. This idea is neither mutual exclusive or inclusive with The Clockwork Universe.

The Great Game is a concept which describes the mortal realm as a large and complex game and each of the gods as the players. The rules to this game are seen as being too vast for mortals to understand; however, it is commonly thought that the stakes are mortal souls and that mortals themselves act as pawns and other pieces on the board.

This concept spurs, or is spurred from, the gods being in conflict with one another. It is not agreed upon exactly what ‘winning’ is in the great game. To worshipers of Erathis having the most advanced, widespread, or prosperous cities may be sufficient while worshipers of Pelor see it as having the largest population of followers and the longest lasting church. Furthermore, followers of Bane, Gruumsh, or Kord focus on individual or military victory over worshipers of other gods in combat.

Whatever the goals of the gods in The Great Game, it is the responsibility of the individual to follow the tenets of their god in order for them to win. Those that believe in this concept often have a ‘my god is better than your god’ attitude. Any aspect that can be considered rival point between gods becomes a competition. Churches of Moradin and Erathis may try to best each other by building a larger church than the other, while Ioun and Corellon compete in scholastic competitions.

The Great Game is also sometimes referred to when mortals attempt to explain why gods act a certain way or why they keep the tenants that they do. The cultivation of nature praised by Melora might be a play to combat Erathis strength in civilization and cities. It is also considered that the gods may ‘make moves’ looking at the world in terms of centuries or generations. The actions that worshipers make may not pay out during their lifetime but will pay off for their children’s children. This is a common concept for Dwarves who worship Moradin as they begin building temples and strongholds which they will not see completed in their lifetime.

The Great Game best lends itself to Mono-Deific beliefs because of the close attachment and loyalty to their god. When The Great Game is referred to in a Radiant-Deific sense it is often a reminder that while all of the good aligned gods are working together to defeat evil; ultimately, each god has their own goals to achieve. This can often be used to imply that the alliance between good aligned gods may not last forever and is only a temporary truce until a more common threat is removed.

Believers in the Great Game who also follow The Clockwork Universe especially believe they hold direct control over whether or not their god wins. These individuals or religious groups often spend a great deal of time in religious practice and study in order to make themselves more valuable pieces on the board. Some who follow this concept attempt to interpret the game and base their actions on what they believe to be the winning move for their god. Others may adopt this ideology to give justification for their actions. Cults with skewed motivations from the gods they worship will arise from time to time in this manner.

The term The Great Game was originally coined by Halflings who preferred to put a lighter spin on the conflicts between gods. They also found it easier to apply terminology found in more universally known and understood games to explain the actions of the divine. The Great Game is a more modern alteration to the term which was originally coined as, “The Great Card Game.” When describing the game to other races like humans terms like ‘pawn’ that refer to other types of games became more common and the title was changed to be more inclusive. Worshipers of more militaristic deities may refer to this concept as The Great War.

The Celestial Garden

The Celestial Garden is a concept to describe the relation of how the gods view the mortal realm. It is juxtaposed to The Great Game point of view. It describes the world as large farm or garden and the gods as its caretakers.

In this view the gods goal is to raise and cultivate the world to make it healthy and prosperous. It is considered that there are varying views between the gods and their followers regarding what is considered to be prosperous. As described in The Great Game gods of combat may regard great warriors as prosperous while other revere civilization or the bounty of nature to be true prosperity. It is thought if the world is a great communal garden to the gods they would have differing views as to what should grow there.

The primary difference between this viewpoint and The Great Game is the scale of and reason for conflict between deities. In this viewpoint the only reason for conflict between gods stems from when their goals for The Celestial Garden are mutually exclusive. For example Erathis and Melora are constantly at odds between the desire for civilization and nature. In this way struggles between the gods are viewed more as territorial disputes than a desire to win and dominate another god’s realm. As such those who take this point of view are more open to resolve conflicts through negotiation and reaching common ground.

The Celestial Garden is a common viewpoint for those that practice radiant-deificisim. Those with this particular perspective see the deities of good as wanting to see the world thrive and being willing to set aside differences to make that happen; however, the evils gods are unwilling to compromise and are inclined to see the destruction of the garden in order to get their way.

Organizations that believe in The Celestial Garden general concern themselves more with creating and building. Worshipers of Erathis would focus on creating great structures or a follower of Ioun collects a vast library of knowledge. Kord’s warriors might be seen as the defenders of the garden and the creations of all of the other gods. While this viewpoint may seem counter intuitive to Kord as the lord of battle; however, this viewpoint is right in line with his tenant, “Be strong, but do not use your strength for wanton destruction.”

Guest Post: Arashidrgn Explores D&D Religions, Part 1

Today’s post is a guest post from friend, reader, and writer Arashidrgn. He explores religion and deities in D&D in two parts. 

So I decided to write out some stuff on religion in the D&D universe. In a world where there are multiple gods and everyone KNOWS there are multiple gods, how is there more than one religion? To tackle that, I had to break down different approaches to religion and deities in a world where multiple deities are accepted general knowledge. At times, thinking about how individuals would experience their particular religion helped flesh out my ideas.

Surprise, surprise, there is potentially a lot of material to expand upon. And of course I have constant access to Wikipedia. Do you know what this has done? I typed in Theism and it opened up a world of concepts that goes so deep the Underdark is a shallow pit in comparison. What kind of can of worms have I opened here?! I just started typing and every time I finished one sentence it spurred two more ideas. I am fighting some sort of bizarre conceptual hydra here!

Part I – One, Two, or All of the Above?

Mono-deific:

credit: Dungeons and Drawings

Moradin the Soul Forger

This is the belief that individuals should worship only a certain deity. Typically those that practice this ideology believe the proper deity for each person is the one associated with their race (Dwarves worship Moradin, dragonborn worship Bahamut). There are some exceptions to this. Gods whose realm is an idea and not a particular race may have followers from any race such as Avandra’s tricksters or Melora’s druids and rangers. People who follow these ideological gods must have a very strong affinity for them. Each person is born with a proper deity to worship and they should follow the teachings of that deity throughout their life. The ultimate ideal is to live their life as their deity intended for them.
Mono-deific allows for very little experimentation and research into other deities’ practices. A mono-deific worshiper of Moradin might never step foot into the temple of another god. Typically, individuals are expected to follow in the same footsteps as their parents. Cases in which a person feels a strong connection to another god are treated with the utmost care and consideration by their church. Often a worshiper of an ideological god will go on a pilgrimage another temple to gain understanding.
Individuals who stray from their racial god, including those that are considering following an ideological god, may find themselves shunned or persecuted by other mono-deific worshiper. In their eyes it is a greater sin to “change sides” than it is to be a worshiper of an opposing god (Bahamut vs Tiamat).
             Good or neutral aligned worshipers of different gods do not have trouble working together so long as their varying gods are not at odds with each other. Mono-deific individuals in a group can often get into debates over whose god is better, or whose tenants are more appropriate in a given situation. In instances where mono-deific worshipers of various gods must work together to a common goal it is seen as the gods themselves driving them on to achieve the goal which is mutually beneficial to all.

Poly-deific:
This is the belief that an individual may follow any of the gods which they choose. It is up to each individual as to which gods they follow and how much weight each god has over their actions. Poly-deific worshipers typically select from three to four gods in the pantheon to closely study and follow and almost always one of these gods will include their racial deity. For example, Pelor, Avandra, and Erathis are a typical triumvirate for human traders or wandering craftsmen. There are many such commonly held groups of deities.
Because poly-deific worshipers choose deities with common goals and interests it is uncommon to see conflicts arise in which two or more of their chosen deities are at odds with each other; however, when such events to occur it is the choice of the individual to decide who they will follow. There are many parables in which these sorts of choices are made and they are common themes in sermons and part of religious texts.
A poly-deific worshiper believes that they may pray and worship at any temple that is devoted to one of their gods regardless of how strongly they follow that god. So a worshiper of the previous example triumvirate may most strongly identify with Pelor, but go to a temple of Erathis to worship. It is thought that when they pray they are praying to all of the gods with whom they worship. Some poly-deific worshipers will attempt to visit a temple for each god they worship or may cycle from one temple to another. A poly-deific worshiper follows all of the holidays of each god that they worship.

Radiant-deific: 

credit: Dungeons and Drawings

Pelor the Sun God

Radiant worshipers follow all the gods of good alignment. They most strongly believe in the triumph of good over evil and revere the good aligned gods in their struggle to hold back the darkness. Temples to radiant worship will often have statues and murals of the gods working together to fight of evil. A radiant-deific temple accepts worshipers of any good aligned god and will allow anyone (mono or poly deific) to worship there.
Radiant-deific members see all the good aligned gods as the creators and maintainers of the mortal realm and other realms. It is their belief that the world is held together by the bonds of the good aligned deities and their endeavors to combat the evil gods. They see power struggles and arguments among the good aligned gods and their worshipers as sacrilege that threatens to tear apart the unity of the gods and one day will result in the destruction of the mortal realm.
Radiant-deific patrons may have tendencies toward mono or poly deific teachings in that they may identify with one god or a group of gods over the others; however, the primary idea behind Radiant-deific ideology is that all of the good aligned gods are equal on the same side.

Chaotic-deific:
Chaotic-deific follows many of the same rules as Radiant-deific; however, they believe in the bringing together of the evil gods to overcome good. Chaotic-deific is less popular and less structured than Radiant-deific. The tenants of the evil gods are focused on empowering of them alone. It is less likely to see them banding together than the good aligned deities.

The concept of Chaotic-deific is primarily a mortal creation; however, Clerics and Paladins that are Chaotic-deific still receive their powers from a combination of all the evil deities. Evil aligned gods see their goals as a general out lashing at the good aligned gods and as such they will give a portion of their power to them.

Omni-deific:

credit: Dungeons and Drawings

The Raven Queen

Omni-deific worshipers are fewer and far between and a temple of this kind is rare. Omni-deism revolves around the idea that all of the deities, both good and evil, are a necessary part of the world and without them the mortal realm would become stagnant. The concept of omni-deism is one that few people adopt. Typically someone of a neutral alignment will come to realize that the good and evil deities are two parts of the same coin, and it is the power struggles between them that keep the world moving and changing.
Some Omni-deific followers are detached from the struggles between religious sects. Being able to see the whole picture they choose to remove themselves from the world in fear of tampering with the delicate working balance.
Others see the conflicts between deities as an unnecessary thing. If the gods are all part of the world then there is no reason for them to fight the way they do. Omni-deific individuals that choose this path travel a great deal to put out the fires of war as best they can.
Omni-deific people typically do not care to freely divulge their religious ideas to others. Because of their unique perspective they are commonly persecuted or mistaken for followers of an opposing god. There are no Omni-deific paladins or clerics and no temples. An Omni-deific follower may keep a collection of religious texts and holy symbols as a set to all the gods.

Next: Part II – Philosophy Pie

by: Arashidrgn

images credit: dungeonsanddrawings.blogspot.com

Save vs. Player vs. Player

    “I’ll let the thri-kreen know we’re back so we don’t startle them,” the dragonborn female explained as she slipped past the wardens. The tunnels were cool and dark and Kiveya, the daughter of a dragonborn merchant, was eager to finish this trek and return home. The Wardens thus far had tolerated her presence, but the hostility was palpable from certain individuals. It was because of her father. They didn’t trust him – for reasons she didn’t know – they wouldn’t discuss it with her. It didn’t matter though, she got the goods she came for and she’d be out of their hair as soon as they got back to the city. Striding ahead, Kiveya began clicking and trilling in the thri-kreen language, calling out her customary greeting into the silent tunnels ahead.

    “That’s a good idea. Billy, why don’t you join her? You speak ‘kreen too don’t you?” piped up someone in the back of the group – it sounded like Melwyn. Kiveya snorted derisively and looked back over her shoulder, “You guys, he doesn’t actually speak ‘kreen! He lied about that.” Rolling her eyes, she turned her attention forward again, frowning at the significant lack of response to the groups’ presence. The hive tunnels were eerily silent.

    She heard his booted feet behind her, but she never expected what happened next. She started to turn, opening her mouth to speak – to remark that something was wrong up ahead – when cold steel bit into her scales and explosive pain blossomed somewhere in her lower back. The scream that ripped from her throat was shockingly loud – overwhelming the cries of confusion and surprise from the rest of the Wardens. Billy slashed across her unprotected back again and Kiveya staggered away from him. She stumbled. Knees and palms barked sharply against the rough stone floor, she barely realised she had fallen. The noise of scuffling feet and shouting voices came from behind her, strangely muffle and distorted. Kiveya collapsed, spasming weakly in a slowly growing pool of dark blood.

    “BILLY! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” Morwen’s shout echoed down corridors.

-=-=-=-

What followed was chaos. Billy was turned into a rat and then yelled at by his superior officer. Kiveya (my character) was healed but not happy. She was eventually put in a headlock by the goliath fighter to keep her from ripping out and wearing Billy’s entrails as jewelry. There was a lot of angry name-calling and accusations of betrayal by various parties. Feelings were hurt and even one member of the group quit in utter disgust of the unfolding events.

… and we all had a TON of fun!

You see, while the exact circumstances weren’t planned, Billy’s player and I had come to an agreement that our characters were at odds and if the roleplaying opportunity presented itself, then one of our characters would spontaneously take advantage of it to escalate the hostilities between our characters. After “joking” all evening about a secret signal for the entire group to turn against my character, Billy finally struck first and was rewarded with a critical hit on his surprise attack – the result was magnificent. The conversation at the table went something like this:

Myself: Oh, I know Billy doesn’t speak thri-kreen!
Billy: Oh that is it! I attack her! [rolls] Natural 20!
Everyone: [laughing, they all clearly think Billy's Player is joking]
Myself: Holy crap, seriously?
Billy: Oh yeah, Billy’s serious, he’s sneak attacking.
Everyone: [laughing dies] Wait… what?
Myself: You are serious… [enormous grin] Okay, what’s your damage?
Billy: [math] and extra damage from my encounter power [more math]
Myself: Awesome, I’m bloodied!

We rolled initiative after that, the DM treated the first attack as a surprise round for Billy. Billy won initiative so he got to attack again, used an action point, and reduced me to negative hitpoints. After healing me, the rest of the fight consisted of the party trying to keep us from attacking each other by various means. Enjoying ourselves immensely, Billy’s player and I shouted insults and accusations across the table, roleplaying our characters to the hilt. Having concealed my class from the group the entire time, it’s finally revealed my character was a (reflavored) vampire, thus heaping more suspicion on my character as I needed to steal healing surges from the others to keep Kiveya alive and fighting.

Eventually the leader of the party negotiated a cease-fire and Kiveya compromised down from tearing Billy’s heart out personally to settling on him being arrested and taken back to her home city be charged with attempted murder. She is, after all, the daughter of a wealthy and influential noble who loves his daughter more than anything (seriously, I took “Well Loved” as my background!) so Kiveya is confident she’ll have no problem having Billy strung up for his crimes.

Player vs. Player rarely works as well as it did that night. The reason this session turned into an epic win was because the key people involved were already in the know. We had a mutual understanding and an agreement on how far we could take things – he actually had permission to kill my character if things went that far. I agreed not to kill his character if it came down to it. The DM was aware of our plans and approved. The rest was luck and good roleplay.

Usually when I see PvP at a D&D table it fails enormously because someone wanted to surprise someone else: the player thought the other player would pick up on the hints, or they thought just surprising them would be more fun. A DM orchestrating PvP without telling the group ended up with a table full of awkward hostility, not sure why everyone was taking things so personally! It’s hard to resist the urge to have everything be a surprise – it always seems like such a good idea! Unfortunately, I’ve never seen it work well that way.

PvP is often upheld as the Unholy Grail of Never Attempt This Or You Will Regret It. I disagree by merit of last Monday’s D&D game. PvP can be done and it can be great. It should not be over-used, and it should be pre-planned to some extent by all individuals – not spontaneous. You don’t necessarily need to tell every person in the group – but you do need to inform the targeted individuals in advance. Approach the actual roleplay carefully, gauge reactions. If half the group is surprised, they’ll look to their teammates for their reactions. While Billy and I were relaxed, smiling, and sitting back in our chairs calmly watching instead of being tense, frowning, and sitting forward then everyone at the table knew things were okay. From there, everyone can realise its all part of the plan and have a good time.

So has anyone else been in a PvP situation? How did it turn out?

I Just Want Minis

I’m not going to write a review about Dungeon Command. A lot of folks have already written excellent reviews about the two sets, Heart of Cormyr and Sting of Lolth, and my favorite is over on BoardGameGeek.com. I agree with the conclusion – they’re great sets with complex rules for tactical play but the game lacks intensity and immersion resulting in very dry and distant game play.
What I’m really here to talk about is the minis. I’m a DM so is it worth it to buy a box just for the minis? Especially since Wizards of the Coast stopped making new miniature boosters? I know some friends are thinking about buying one or both sets just for the minis and tossing the rest.  Well, at $40 a box, you’re looking at a steep $3.33 per mini. Of course, we’re paying $3 a mini because we’re also paying for some tiles and cards (which happen to also work with the D&D boardgames). If you collect minis solely for the sake of an addiction, ahem, I mean collection, then is it worth it to buy the sets or better to just buy singles?
Most of these minis are repaints – meaning old sculpts, new shine. Assuming you don’t care whether it’s a repaint or an original – you just want some damn minis – then we really have to compare buying the original singles versus buying a $40 box.
 Demonweb Spider (x2)  = Deathjump Spider #54 Dungeons of Dread $3.99 (x2)
Drider = Drider #45 Desert of Desolation $11.99
Drow Assassin = Drow Assassin #20 Demonweb $2.49
Drow Blademaster = Drow Blademaster #46 Desert of Desolation $2.99
Drow House Guard (x2) = Drow Spiderguard #13 Dungeons of Dread $2.69 (x2)
Drow Priestess = Drow Arachnomancer #46 Underdark $7.49
Drow Wizard = New sculpt!
Giant Spider = Large Monstrous Spider #54 Dragoneye $14.99
Shadow Mastiff = Shadow Mastiff #36 Desert of Desolation $3.49
Umber Hulk = Umber Hulk Delver #57 Desert of Desolation $22.99
Grand Total $87.77
That’s comparing across two online vendors (TrollandToad.com and BeholdertheBargains.com) and choosing the lowest in-stock price at the time of my writing this. I’d have to drop over $80 to get all the minis that come in the Sting of Lolth box. I didn’t even tackle Cormyr. So cash-wise, yes it is totally worth it to get the box even if you intend on tossing the rest. Perhaps you should give the game a play before you do though, it’s not the next 40k but it will pleasantly pass an hour or so.

D&D Next – Dipping My Toe In

I played D&D Next this weekend. My group dispensed with a lot of roleplaying and went straight for combat. We dove into the Caves of Chaos and started tackling some bugbears almost immediately. The game so far feels simple and easy to grasp. Possibly too simple, though I’m trying hard not to be biased. I spent a large amount of time at the table doing nothing in between turns.

As I waited for my turn to come back around, I realised something about 4e.  Sometimes it is heavily implied that immediate powers are some how taking away from the real combat and/or slowing down combat to a crawl. The speed issue is true, and I used to think maybe immediate actions could be removed from the game. I have to say I feel differently now. 4e’s immediate powers keep players invested in the combat – all of it, turn by turn, because someone might do something that affect them. This is not a bad thing.

I noticed a huge difference in myself between playing 1st level Next on Sunday and playing 1st level 4e Encounters the Wednesday before. At Encounters I’m sitting forward, I’m listening to what every player does, how the monsters react, because it might be immediately helpful for the group if I can do something, or someone else might drop an immediate that will benefit me, even indirectly. At Next I’m sitting back, I’m idly flipping through the rules book again, I’m jotting notes in my equipment, or stacking dice. I have no investment in the battlefield when it’s not my turn. Its a strange feeling to me.

Again, I’m trying hard not to be biased. I don’t want to settle for being a grognard, but I loved 3.5 when 4e came out and I was very open and excited about 4e. That transition was like jumping into a swimming pool full of jello and hundred-dollar bills – kinda weird but at the same time really freakin’ awesome. Trying out Next so far has been more like sitting in a kiddie pool with a roll of gold dollars. Its okay? I guess? It comes down to hoping that more will come out that will make me excited about this game. Until then I’ll keep testing the waters.

May of the Dead: Left For Undead

You wake in a fetid darkness. The only sound is your breath as you heave for air, pinned down by something wet and heavy on your chest. The smell of decay, the coppery scent of blood, and the sick odor of viscera assail your nostrils.  You realize there’s a corpse across your chest, weighing you down. Then movement stirs to your right as your eyes adjust to the moonlight. The blank eyes of the dead all turn in your direction and the broken bodies begin to lurch upright and towards you.

PCs are heroes, but they can’t win all the time. Sometimes the table turns and the heroes have a run of bad luck. Sometimes a TPK happens. Sometimes war happens. Sometimes a new campaign just needs to begin with a pile of dead bodies. Whatever the scenario, waking up in a weakened state in the middle of a pile of dead bodies is sure to shake up any stalwart warrior.

I started my first level players not just in a war, but as casualties of war. They began prone, laying near each other, with only one healing surge apiece, and waking up in a pile of dead bodies gathered by the enemy for manufacturing more undead soldiers. It made a great roleplaying intro to have the players describe the horrific almost-deaths each of their characters faced as they fought side-by-side with some of the soldiers and mercenaries they were now laying next to. It also worked well in that I did not have to hedge in reasons for the characters to know each other – the only requirement being they were all present for the same battle. I used random cards to set up flashback-style memories of the massive battle that caused their “demise”. You can download those same cards here. Print, cut, shuffle, and the players draw one apiece. The cards are intentionally brief, I asked the players to elaborate on the events leading up to the scene described on each card.

After reminiscing about their defeat, the players realize they must escape the area and make their way back to friendly territory. Unfortunately, their dead comrades-in-arms are up and fighting again. So many undead rituals performed in an area caused heavy concentrations of necrotic energy to linger. Unfocused, the miasma is sufficient by itself to animate the freshly dead corpses.

The Left For Undead scenario is less about the damage and more about the horror of the body count. When planning your encounter, make two things your goal: 1) leaving is really hard and 2) staying is not an option. Adjust for party level and make sure you’ve got plenty of minion tokens. When I planned my Left For Undead campaign opening, I had plenty of great zombie stats to choose from. For a first level party, there’s not a lot of hit points to spare, you can start with several generous waves of Grasping Zombies mixed with a few Grave Hunger Zombies. To keep up the desperation of the never-ending wave of zombies, when any zombie is reduced to 0 hit points, replace them with 1 hp Shuffling Zombies.  If your party is a bit higher in level, you could have a lot of fun with Reg06’s Romero Zombies and subsequent Zombie Plague. Even if undead disease is not your theme here consider using it because, well… piles of dead bodies are just not sanitary places to take naps!

You can increase the difficulty of Left for Undead by applying one or more terrain or hazard effects. These can make escaping very difficult, but be careful not to overwhelm your players, especially if they’re very low-level.

  • Simply Difficult: treat all squares with corpses in them as difficult terrain
  • Piled High: These corpses are piled in an unstable heap several feet high. Whenever a creature ends a move action in a corpse square they immediately slide one square towards the edge of the pile.
  • Grasping Hands: Zombies trapped beneath the weight of the pile still claw and grab at their enemies above. The corpse pile is treated as a zone. Enemies in the zone that become prone are instead prone (save ends). Add ongoing damage (save ends both) if you’re really vicious.
I put together the following map specifically for the Left for Undead scenario. Not having access to a large format printer, I designed the battlemap with free textures and patterns, then sliced the image into page-sized pieces. You can download the full-sized picture or the pdf pages. Simply print, trim, and tape together.

Full Sized Image Here

Paged Version Here 

And be sure to check out the other awesome stuff at Going Last’s May of the Dead Blog Carnival!