Exploding Criticals!

I’ve always liked exploding critical rules. Additionally, in 3.5 D&D I often played with a triple d20 dice by Las Vegas Decker, on Flickrcritical rule where three natural 20s meant you automatically killed the target. Admittedly when I was a player I loved this rule but as a DM it often threw wrenches into my gears (one of my players was nicknamed “Dice Jesus” for a reason)!

Thinking about those rules recently made me realize I wanted to write a houserule to bring the fun of exploding criticals to 4e. I couldn’t simply copy the same mechanic though, I had to make something better suited for 4e.  I came up with two possible rules I might try (although not at the same time!):

Exploding Critical – On a critical hit, roll again. If that roll is a critical hit add one bonus die of damage to your total number of bonus dice. If your weapon or implement doesn’t have bonus crit dice, add 1d6. Repeat until you do not role a critical hit.

Who doesn’t love to roll more dice? Who doesn’t love the thrill of crazy good luck? Really this rule will most often only add a dice or two to the bonus critical dice they’re already rolling for their magic weapon/implement without heavily swaying the game. It just gives that satisfying extra “umph”.
Note that it requires a critical hit, so if they have crit enhancements – like critcal hits on a 19 – then this still triggers. If you have a player that crits low,  then next houserule might be a better choice for your table.

Maximized Critical – On a natural 20, roll again. If that roll is also a natural 20, in addition to your regularly maximized damge, do not roll your bonus dice. Instead they are also calculated as if you had rolled max damage.

This is a more controlled, if slightly hefty approach. It requires a natural 20, not merely a critical hit. It maximizes the bonus dice, but doesn’t add more dice. Easy for the DM to anticipate because the DM doesn’t actually need to raise their damage expectations. A player could roll max damage on their bonus dice by pure chance – so getting to maximize occasionally it should not shake your numbers too badly. I would use this for games that tend to have deadlier enemies for combats with more punch.

Paper Zone Markers

Listening to Thursday Knights Podcast I’ve heard them mention their paper zone markers. Essentially these are small paper triangles folded in half so they stand up. Place four of them to mark a zone. The text on the triangle can show what the zone’s effect is. This is really great if you consistently use zones and need to remind everyone where they’re in effect and what they do.

Thursday Knights posted the instructions up on their webpage along with a download for the Photoshop template to make your own customized zone markers. The template is really amazing and I plan on using it.

Now, the zone markers are amazing but they also rely on having Photoshop. This made me think about who could access this template. Photoshop is a great tool, but not everyone has it. The template is also so specialized I don’t think that it’ll work if you convert it to another program, like Gimp for example.

I had an idea so I carefully pieced together my own template. Not nearly as beautiful as Thursday Knight’s template, it makes up for it in its accessibility. This pdf should be customizable by just about anyone that has a pdf reader on their computer. Free pdf readers are abundant, so anyone can use this template. Simply click inside the top triangle of each column and type your own text. Print on colored paper to make the zone marker more noticeable, or print on white cardstock and add color with markers or highlighters.

EDIT: I’ve updated the template to fix some errors I’ve since discovered.

Click Here to Download PDF!

Nomadic SheDM: Traveling Tiles

Tower tiles

"Warning! Construction Zone!"

As a traveling DM, I’ve use different battlemats and a number of tiles for various encounters. Each method had its advantages and disadvantages. When D&D Tiles first came out I was an instant convert and began acquiring as many sets as I could lay my hands on. Now that I’ve had some experience with them, they haven’t replaced my vinyl mats, but they haven’t been all that bad either.

With the new master set out, a single purchase can set up a DM with enough tiles to run any general dungeon or generic indoor settings. Additional sets can accent that with themes – deserts, forests, even snow ( soon… ). They’re pre-printed on sturdy cardstock. You’re stuck with square tiles, but the method is modular – you can create areas of any size and shape given the right amount of tiles. Add the 3D

Given the ease and versatility of vinyls, poster maps, and gamingpaper – why use tiles if you’re a traveling DM? Because they’re easier than you think.

An often-mentioned method to display tiles is adhering them to a poster board using poster putty (also called stickytak), removable glue dots, or blue painter’s tape. So then what? You have to lug this gigantic poster board around? Awkward!

Well, yes. You can do that. You can also purchase or cut down a large poster board into smaller manageable pieces – I suggest pieces larger than your largest tile but small enough to fit into whatever traveling container you’re using. Office supply stores sell “mini” sheets of poster board in packs of 4 or so. Lay these down for the size and shape you need and plan your tiles on top of them. Line up edges so that once the tiles are secured in place, you can separate the boards and stack them for transport. Place these in a folder, envelope, or bag and you’re good to travel.

When you’re ready to play you and pull out the section needed and lay it down. You can use this to your advantage for map discovery as well – when your players discover a new room, lay down the board that connects this hallway to that room.

This method is it’s not very friendly to 3D tiles. 3D tiles should not be adhered to the tiles but instead removed and stored separately – either assembled and in a box for transport, or disassembled and stored in a bag, folder, or envelope which can then also be tucked in with the stacked poster boards.

A downside is that this doesn’t give you much flexibility. If an unplanned encounter occurs, you must either pry up and rearrange tiles hastily, or fall back on your trusty vinyl mat (assuming you have one or something similar). It can be awkward, but honestly not unexpected.

Setting up, arranging, taping, and then carefully stacking and packing takes considerable time. You’re already a DM so that means you’re already spending a lot of time planning this stuff. You’re lucky if you have time to pick the tiles you want to use an hour before the session starts! What do you do then?

Invest in a roll of non-skid shelf liner. Generally found in the house goods section of your local department store, this foamy textured mat is sold in rolls and comes in a variety of colors like black, white, green, etc. I chose a dark blood-red color. Durable, washable, and flexible this stuff can be rolled, folded, crushed, and creased with little effect. It can be easily cut with ordinary scissors if you need less length, but hard to tear or damage otherwise. On a flat surface, tiles laid down on this stuff will not slide or budge when your players reposition their minis. Since nothing is sticking the tiles to the liner, you can easily pick up and rearrange tiles as needed.

Unfortunately, only tiles directly on the liner are immune to sliding. If you have tiles stacked on other tiles, expect these to be slid, pushed, and knocked off at every inconvenient moment.  Add another tile on top of that and you might as well play Jenga during an earthquake.

Of course you have to make sure to bring all the tiles you’re going to need, and don’t lose any of those tiny tiles! Your players have to wait while you fidget with getting the perfect arrangement of statues. But in return you have a great flexibility. Didn’t plan for a fight in the back room of the shopkeep’s store? Plunk down a door, a medium sized plain tile and you can roll initiative. If you happen to have a few extra tiles, even better – a bookshelf is a rack of goods, a blood pool is a barrel of wine, or a statue is actually armor rack standing in the corner.

Both methods have their advantages. At times I find myself using the liner method simply because I’m too lazy to spend the time taping down tiles. Other times when I have a great idea for a map, I’ll spend all evening meticulously pouring over my boxes for just the right tile.