Remembering the Life of a Gamer

10401986_10207936509441765_3763950777436396812_nLast March, I lost a beloved friend by the name of Logan Masterson. This week marks the first anniversary of his passing.

In the grand scheme of things, Logan was only in my life for an incredibly short time. That being said, he undoubtedly left a strong mark upon it. He pushed me to start a particular passion project that I I hope to finish by the end of the year. He was there to help me when I felt the insufferable dick named Depression that lurks within the back of my head was trying to break me. He was also one of the best players I ever had at my table, always engaged, doing everything he could to create an interesting story, and always excited to play a new game. I was always happy to run a game for a group if I knew he’d be there.

Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be if I had never met this magnificent bastard with a beard that was almost as big as his heart two years ago.

I just wanted to take a moment to remember Logan, celebrating the friend that left such an impression upon me, one that I wish I could have spent more time with, but happy to have had him in my life at all. We all have those people who are gone, but we wish they could come back, even if it was just for another day, another hour, or another minute. Logan’s that friend for me. I wish he could come back for just one more session at the table, get one more chance to roll some dice with him, and tell a story we’d both remember.

I miss you, Logan. I know I’m not the only one. I will never forget you.

Thoughts on Alignment

seelah_by_windmaker-d8pxfm9

“Alignment: Causing Moral Dilemmas since 1974”

There are three constants in life: death, taxes, and arguments about alignment.

Throughout the many editions of Dungeons & Dragons, the divisive nature of alignment has remained ever-present. It has sparked numerous debates both on- and offline, most of generally devolve into excessively loud diatribes about whether or not alignment should even exist as a rule within modern iterations of the system.

Tackling the topic of alignment is metaphorically similar to taking a stroll through an area filled to the brim with land mines: tread carefully or you’ll have a REALLY bad time. This is especially true if you have the sheer gall to admit that you actually kind of like alignment, like myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why people despise it with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. I might think that level of hate is incredibly excessive, but I understand why it exists, especially if the individual expressing that amount of hate describes a DM who viewed alignment as a prescriptive element. Forcing you to only take actions that fit within a rigidly defined box labelled “Lawful Good” or “Chaotic Neutral”, punishing you severely if you dare attempt to escape the straight-jacket they’ve forced you into, and this is doubly so if you decided to play a paladin in earlier editions.

I have empathy for players who have had to deal that kind of enforcement of alignment, but I feel we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater in this case. I think alignment can be useful when viewed as a descriptive thing, something that gives the player a broad idea of how this fictional character will generally act in any given situation. Not how they will always act, but what kind of action they will usually take in any given situation.

To put it simply, the alignment system works best as a set of guidelines than actual rules. Picture your character’s alignment as just another aspect of her personality, another tool in your arsenal to use when bringing her to life at the table, and help keep her behavior consistent. This doesn’t mean a character who happens to be Chaotic Good must always act in a way that is “Chaotic” or “Good”, but she will usually perceive the world through that lens, even when she occasionally acts “against” her alignment.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking. “That sounds like a wonderful approach, but how do you reconcile this with rules that allow you to detect alignment? How can you objectively detect something that is merely a philosophy? What about classes or features that require the character to maintain certain alignments or lose access to them?”

Those are all legitimate questions. In 5e, alignment seems to be less of an issue, but using this approach does create a wrinkle in earlier editions. The best way to iron out those are to simple have a short discussion with your group about how you will be handling alignment, figure out a way to justify those abilities/features, or simply remove them from the game entirely. Furthermore, you can treat alignment among mortal creatures differently than alignment among outsiders like angels or demons.

The key is to remain consistent, not to take the mechanic too seriously, and apply it with a gentle hand. At least, that’s how it has worked for me over the years.

 

Life Beyond the Dungeon – Handling Downtime Activities

LirianneIn Dungeons & Dragons, our time around the table tends to focus on activities that are the most obviously engaging. Things like exploring an ancient dungeon or battling a horde of vicious monsters. You know, the stuff that you’d expect to see on the resume of a fantasy adventurer.

However, these characters can’t be out adventuring every second of their lives. They need time to relax, recover from their wounds, and possibly indulge in non-adventuring activities.

The characters need a little break from their dangerous careers, and Downtime Activities are the perfect way to achieve this.

For the purposes of this post, Downtime Activities will any activity that doesn’t involve the typical elements of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. No dungeon-delving, no world-saving, etc. Downtime Activities would be stuff like crafting items, carousing around the village, running a business, etc.

These kind of activities are usually handled away from the table, outside of the actual sessions of the campaign. This is a practice that I’m actually fine with, mostly because Downtime Activities can sometimes slow down the pacing of a session, and players sometimes just want to get into the thick of things without worrying about everything else.

That being said, I dislike boiling them down to a dice roll here or there between sessions. Downtime Activities can be a great way for the players to engage with the setting and maybe give them an interesting new lens to look at future adventures with, such as a character who also happens to be a smith going on a quest to explore a lost mine because she’s heard rumors that it’s home to a rare metal, or an adventuring barkeep traveling to a nearby town to set up a supply agreement while also taking out a goblin uprising in the surrounding hinterlands. Furthermore, the DM can also mine these for future events for the campaign or help breathe life into the surrounding world.

The best way to start getting your players to think about what their characters might be doing between adventures is to simply ask. Go ahead and tell them how much time will pass between each session within the setting and ask them to come up with what each character is doing during that period. Don’t push them, just let them get used to thinking about this kind of thing.

Once they seem to be comfortable with the idea, with some getting into it, you can take the next step. When they start asking you about doing certain things, offer to run them through a short scene, giving their actions a bit of flavor, making it more than just a couple of dice rolls. The key is to keep these short, but interesting.

Eventually, you can slowly start incorporating these elements into the actual sessions. Maybe the base of operations for the party is the tavern owned by the party’s bard. The session could kick off with a small brawl with a local gang of thugs the rogue pissed off a couple of nights ago while partying. Maybe a local noble approaches the party’s artificer, wanting to hire them to make a particular item because they’ve gotten word about their skills, but the materials they wish the item to be made of will require the party to go on a quest to find them.

Downtime Activities might not seem as engaging as your typical dungeon-delving adventure, but they can be just as important. Let them enhance your campaign and the characters within.

Into the Wild – Advice for Running a Sandbox Campaign

zelda_breath_of_the_wild_2017_2.0

Adventure is waiting just beyond the horizon. Just remember said adventure by be WAY above your party’s current level.

This past Friday, Nintendo released the latest game in The Legend of Zelda franchise: Breath of the Wild. This entry departs from most games in the series, featuring an open-world environment that is massive in scale, allowing the player to freely explore and experiment with little very little instruction. I have yet to actually play Breath of the Wild, but I’m very close to selling a kidney to get my hands on it.

Not one of my own kidneys, of course. I need those to do stuff.

Back onto topics that don’t involve the theft of body parts to be sold on the black market so I can purchase a video game, Breath of the Wild got me thinking about sandbox campaigns.

The term “sandbox” is generally used to describe a type of campaign where the players are presented with an environment they can freely explore, doing what they to do when they want to do it. The narrative of the campaign is driven by the actions of the players, not a prescribed storyline. This doesn’t mean the campaign lacks a plot of some kind, it’s just another aspect of the surrounding setting, giving reason to why certain things are the way they are within the fictional world.

These kind of campaigns can look somewhat daunting to those who are new to the concept, especially if you usually sit behind the GM screen. They require some amount of planning before-hand and you have to be okay with your party having more control over the flow of the narrative then they usually would, but they can be a blast to play, especially if you enjoy exploration and emergent storytelling.

Keeping that in mind, I decided I’d give a few pieces of advice to those looking to give a sandbox campaign a try. I’m just going to hit the broad strokes with this post, presenting you with some tips to help you with the building blocks, letting you create a foundation to build upon.  Continue reading

Simplified Ammunition


sathe_arkona_comm_by_yamaorce-d916ke3-1Tracking ammunition in Dungeons & Dragons is a lot like tracking encumbrance: they’re both rules that make sense and should be utilized due to the intriguing effects they can have on the game, but are routinely ignored because of the added level of bookkeeping they bring along with them.

I understand how tedious it is to count every single arrow that happens to be kept within your quiver during the game, but I also lament the loss of those moments during the heat of combat where you reach back to find out that you’ve run out of ammunition.

Because of that, I’ve always wanted to find a simplified method of ammunition tracking, one that allowed for those tense moments without the unnecessary bookkeeping. Thankfully, I think Dungeon World has the solution.

Dungeon World is a fantasy role-playing game that is Powered by the Apocalypse. The game has several interesting mechanics that I believe one can easily adapt for Dungeons & Dragons, but today I’m going to focus on a rule inspired by Dungeon World‘s Ammo Tag.

TRACKING AMMUNITION

Every type of ammunition has a numeric rating, usually 3, which abstractly represents the amount the characters currently has within her possession. As long as this rating is above 0, the character has ammunition of that type.

During combat, each time the character rolls a natural 1 on an attack roll with a weapon that utilizes that type of ammunition, they lower the rating by 1. When the ammunition rating has reached 0, the character has runs out of ammunition and must purchase more.

Like the revised rules for Encumbrance, this rule abstracts the bookkeeping to make it easier to perform during the game. As long as you have an Ammunition Rating above 0, you’re fine. The added element of only lowering the Rating on a critical failure makes it even easier.

There is a question on how to handle magical ammunition, but I would track that as normal since most characters will not have a large abundance of such ammunition. You can try using this rule for other types of ranged weapons, like javelins or throwing daggers. In that case, I’d probably give them a lower Ammunition Rating, possibly a 1 or a 2.

((NOTE ~ This is a revised post, based upon a previous one I made last year on the old blog)).

The Inspiration Bowl

Recently, I’ve been casually reading the rules for Pugmire, a fantasy role-playing game about anthropomorphic canines exploring a world where humanity has long been extinct. This game’s kooky premise is a perfect example of why I love this hobby so much.

While reading through the pages of the Early Access PDF, I found myself intrigued by one particular rule called the “Fortune Bowl”. The mechanic gives the party a pool of points which they can use to hopefully alter the odds in their favor while in dire situations. Think Luck Points, but tracked for the entire group instead of individually.

The more I read this rule, the more I found myself really liking it. I like it so much that I’ve decided to adapt it as a house rule for my future 5th Edition campaigns, replacing the rules for Inspiration found on pg. 125 of the Player’s Handbook.

Here’s what I have so far. This house rule requires you to have a small to moderately-sized bowl upon the table, ideally within the players’ reach, along with some kind of tokens (glass beads or poker chips work fine) to keep track of the amount of Inspiration within said bowl.

THE INSPIRATION BOWL

At the start of each session, the DM will place a number of Inspiration into the bowl equal to one less than the current number of players. During the session, the DM will place additional Inspiration into the bowl when players have their characters act in accordance to their Personality Traits (Ideals, Bonds, Flaws), making the story of the session more complicated and compelling. The DM may also place additional Inspiration for other reasons as well, like the party working particularly well as a team or attempting a rather heroic act. This is up to the DM’s discretion. 

Players may also force the DM to place Inspiration into the bowl by electing to fail an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check. The player can only do this if they have a Personality Trait that would realistically cause them to fail the particular roll. Doing so forces the DM to place one Inspiration into the bowl. 

During the session, a player can ask the group if they can spend an Inspiration from the bowl. If there are no disagreements, the player pulls a token from the bowl and hands it to the DM. They then re-rolls an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check that she has just made, keeping the higher result. This isn’t the same as having Advantage – the player can choose to re-roll either d20 on a roll with Advantage or Disadvantage, and pick whichever result works best for her. Even if the player still fails after she re-rolls, the Inspiration is still spent. 

I decided to alter the amount of Inspiration the bowl starts with at the beginning of a session, basing it upon the number of players (excluding the DM) at the table instead of a set number like in Pugmire. I also decided to restrict it to re-rolls, mostly to keep the rule simple.

The main reason why I want to use this instead of the default Inspiration rules is that I like how it is a resource shared by the entire group, and I would definitely incentive that group dynamic by rewarding additional Inspiration if they work particularly well as a team. I also like the tactile aspect of having a physical bowl to toss these tokens inside, making it a lot easier to track for everyone.

Simplified Encumbrance

going_hiking_by_mattiasa-d30q8h5

What happens when you ignore encumbrance.

I have a confession to make. I have a strange obsession with fixing the rules that people seem to completely ignore when playing Dungeons & Dragons. Stuff like Ammunition, Rations, and the subject of today’s post: Encumbrance.

Encumbrance is one of those rules that sounds important for a game about adventurers exploring ancient ruins to collect massive amounts of treasure, but is unfortunately ignored by so many groups because the rules associated with it tend to be complicated and tedious to use while in play.

The variant rules for Encumbrance presented upon pg. 176 of the Player’s Handbook (5e) are headed in the right direction, creating penalties that are both easy to remember and apply during the game. The part where I feel they stumbled is still attempting to go the simulationist route of tracking actual weight. Trying to calculate actual weight off the cuff during the game is a hassle, causing you to have to look of the weight of various items, juggle some rather large numbers in your head, and do this in a timely manner so the pacing of the game will not be disrupted too much.

I think the key to making Encumbrance work is to make the rules more abstract, thereby making them much easier to utilize at the table. Keeping that in mind, I’d like to present my solution to the issue.

SIMPLIFIED ENCUMBRANCE

Characters have a Carrying Capacity equal to 1/2 their Strength Score, rounded down. They may carry a number of major items below or equal to their Carrying Capacity without incurring any penalty. 

Characters carrying a number of major items in excess of this amount, but below double their Carrying Capacity, are Encumbered. Characters who are Encumbered decrease their speed by 10 feet.

Characters carrying a number of major items in excess of double their Carrying Capacity are Heavily Encumbered. Characters who are Heavily Encumbered decrease their speed by 20 feet and have disadvantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that use Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution. 

When using this rule, ignore the Strength column of the Armor Table in Chapter 5 of the Player’s Handbook (5e).

In this version of the Encumbrance rules, you do not track every single item you’re carrying. Instead, you will focus on “major items”, which are listed below. This is the basic list. DMs can add to it as they see fit.

  • Armor, Weapons, and Shields.
  • Magic Items
  • Bundled Items (20 Ammunition, 10 Rations, 200 Coins, etc.)
  • Containers (Backpacks, Quivers, etc.)

I’ll also add an example for what this would look like in play. Lauren’s character Althea has a Strength of 16. This means she would have a Carrying Capacity of 8 (1/2 of 16). She is currently carrying a longsword, a shield, a suit of full plate, 200 coins, a shortbow, a quiver with 20 arrows, and a backpack.

This is equal to her Carrying Capacity, but does not exceed it, so she suffers no penalty. However, Althea would become Encumbered if she were to get one more major item, reducing her speed by 10 feet.

Like I mentioned previously, these rules abstract the idea of Encumbrance in order to make it more functional at the table. Instead of dealing with actual weight, you’re working with much smaller numbers and only worrying about a small handful of items. I admit these rules do hurt those characters who tend to have low Strength scores, like Sorcerers or Wizards. If that becomes an issue in your game, try changing the Carrying Capacity to be equal to the character’s Strength score instead of half of it.

((NOTE ~ This is a revised post, based upon a previous one I made last year on the old blog)).