Gaming Tonic

Suggestion, More Than a Spell

images (1)I was playing in the Reign of Winter Adventure Path for Pathfinder and an encounter got really rough.  Our party was wounded, half of them were down, our resources were depleted, and we were still facing overwhelming odds.  The few of us who were still on our feet didn’t give up, nor did we run and abandon our incapacitated allies to be eaten by zombies.  Instead, we ratcheted up our courage, started really thinking, making suggestions to help each other, rescued the downed party members, as well as the noble we were sent to rescue, and all without a single casualty.  The grandson of the elf rogue died, but he was a low-life dirty bandit who was originally helping the bad guys and changed sides to save his own life.  That is not a loss in the opinion of my character.

Many times making suggestions can be frowned upon by other players or even the player the suggestion is aimed at.  That is kind of sad as not everybody has the same grasp of the rules as everybody else.  Not every player is as capable of visualizing the action as well as some other players.  Sometimes you just had a lot of stuff going on that week and you just might not be on your game and some things might just slip your mind.  I hope a player makes a suggestion to help me out.  There are just a few things to keep in mind when doing so.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that if you can make the suggestion in character it will go over a lot better most of the time.  For example, saying “Julie use your wand of fireballs” is kind of boring, but having your barbarian say, “methinks this would be a glorious time to unleash the wand you claimed from the corpse of the evoker Blastoris” can spice up the game a lot.  The suggestion will probably be better received.  This is also one of the ways you can make combat more about role-playing and not just about rolling dice.  Something I think gets forgotten all too often.

The way you present something has a lot to do with how it is received.  Keep in mind that just because you suggest it doesn’t mean that it will always be heeded.  Sometimes a player might think that their character would do something different in a particular situation.  Other times a player might think that they have a better idea in mind.  Who knows what the correct answer is?  If you only offer a suggestion that will benefit your character or save your character’s hide, then other players will not be as receptive.  If you offer a suggestion on what a player should be doing every time another player is taking their turn, don’t be surprised if nobody listens to your suggestions after a short time.

If it’s a rule thing then remember to be patient and use a decent tone.  Sneers, whining, and exasperated breathing will not endear you to anyone at the table.  Remember how you like people to suggest things to you and do the same.  Even though geek culture is the new hot thing there are still not enough players to chase the new and inexperienced away from the table.  This is something that I see a lot and it really isn’t good for growing the popularity of the hobby.  Roleplaying games are a cooperative storytelling game and as an experienced player you are an ambassador of the hobby.  You should conduct yourself as such.

Keep in mind that from time to time you might be the one who forgets a rule or misinterprets a rule.  The way you act when another player points it out will be reflected when you are the one offering a suggestion or advice.  Even the most experienced player can sometimes not see every angle.  If you build a great rapport with the people you play with than your games will benefit from it, and be a lot more fun for everyone.

I have never really had a problem with table talk as a DM or a player as long as it is about what is happening in the game. It also needs to be about what a character would or should actually know.  I don’t want any character dying or looking ridiculous because somebody was unaware of a rule.  I like the characters in a game I'm running to look heroic and awesome.  It makes the players enjoy the game more.  I also like a character I’m playing to look like an action hero, so I don’t mind somebody making a suggestion to me.  Even after playing for more than thirty years.

I have to mention that it’s just as important to receive the advice or suggestion in away that isn’t impolite or unfriendly.  Saying “don’t tell me how to play my character” isn’t really beneficial to anyone.  Saying “thank you for the advice but you already had something else in mind” is going to make things go a lot smoother at the table.  If the suggestion was delivered to you in character, than responding in character can really bring the moment to life.  If the advice is in combat then this is gold, because all too often combats break down to nothing more than statistics and dice especially after a round or two has passed.

imagesThe great thing about rpgs is that it can really bring a lot of different people to the table literally.  Not every player has the same skill level or is going to play their character the same as you would play that character or your own character.  Sometimes they may have their character do something that seems like a waste of time.  That is okay because it is a game.  If you want to make a suggestion, remember your manners because they’re important to a successful game.  Diplomacy is more than just a skill check and until next time, Roll Hard!


Does The Slayer Slay Other Classes?

PZO1129-SlayerIt appears that in a class based game there is a ceiling that is reached where giving players new options for their characters begins to crack the system.  With the release of the Advanced Class Guide for Pathfinder it would seem that some players believe the popular system has reached that point.  The one class in particular that I keep hearing about is the Slayer.

The lightly armored, skilled warrior, has always been a very popular fantasy archetype.  Unfortunately the three core classes that you would most likely try to build this style of character either come up short or leave a portion of their power unused.  Those three classes are the rogue, ranger, and fighter.  Each of these classes can come close but don’t necessarily hit the nail on the head the way the slayer does.  Since the release of the slayer I've seen many more of these characters at the table than any of the other classes in the Advanced Class Guide.  Let’s look at the possible reasons why.

Back in 3.5 D&D a class was released late in the edition called the scout.  Many players felt this was the nail in the coffin for the rogue.  I've heard gamers refer to the slayer as the Pathfinder version of the scout.  Some are questioning why you would even play a rogue anymore.  First off the slayer has a higher hit die than the rogue, a d10 instead of a d8.  The slayer also has two good saves, Fort and Reflex, while the rogue only has one Reflex.  The slayer is a full base attack bonus class while the rogue is only a three quarters base attack bonus class.  This means the slayer would receive the coveted fourth attack a round at 16th level and the rogue never does.

Now to be fair the rogue does have two more skill points a level than the slayer and access to Use Magic Device as a class skill.  Use Magic Device in many parties is a huge contribution of the rogue.  You could overcome the scout’s lack of access to Disable Device by taking a trait.  Although since charisma is not an important part of a slayer's build they wouldn't be as adept as most rogues at using Disable Device.  I once heard a player say that a rogue could be replaced with a crowbar as long as you had a wizard, fighter, and cleric.  I think that is a bit simplified and somewhat unfair.  The rogue has access to Appraise, Diplomacy, Linguistics, Use Magic Device, and a couple of other skills that the slayer doesn’t.  The rogue is a problem solver and the slayer is well….a killer.

I think that the rogue having access to Use Magic Device is a huge consideration.  If you dedicate your rogue to this skill they will have an even broader range of things they can accomplish, scenarios they can shine in, and more combat ability.  I think this is often overlooked because you have to stop and consider it a bit more than a plus to hit or an extra die of damage.  Many wands can increase the rogue’s combat ability tremendously.  A fireball hits a lot of opponents at one time.

I've heard this argument about the rogue being no longer necessary for a long time.  For example some felt that the urban ranger option replaced the rogue.  I think that having lots of options and choices for players to make when it comes to their characters is just a natural progression of many rpgs.  Both of these classes offer talents but the rogue talents are much more widespread in what they allow the character to do while the slayer talents are focused on combat.  When deciding between the two classes I believe the type of game and the style of the DM are the biggest factors to which of these classes a player would select.  If you are in a game that is hack and slash the slayer may have the edge.  If your game is better rounded with exploration, social encounters, and combat then the rogue would seem to have the advantage.

Now the argument that I've heard from some gamers about the slayer infringing on the territory of the ranger and fighter is plain and simply not true.  The fighter does exactly what the class is intended to do and fights extremely well.  There massive selection of feats puts them out in front of other classes in combat.  The fighter pulls ahead of other classes in attack and defense capabilities with Armor and Weapon Training.  If you consider some of the fighter only feats such as Weapon Specialization, Critical Mastery, and Pin Down this gap widens considerably.

Now in the case of the ranger versus the slayer they appear to have a lot of similarities.  That is only true if you look at just a few class abilities the two classes share such as Ranger Combat Style and Quarry.  While the slayer may be more adept at taking on a single foe, the ranger’s Favored Enemy ability allows them to fight multiple foes with a high level of effectiveness.  Add in an animal companion, perhaps bolstered by the Boon Companion feat and the ranger becomes a formidable force of combat.  A tough cat or flying mount gives the ranger even more attacks available to them.  Let’s not forget the ranger has spells and their 3rd and 4th level spells are not to be trifled with.

Now I know all of this is my opinion and there are options and builds for all these classes that I am not considering, but I don’t think the slayer detracts from the appeal of any of these classes.  The slayer does what the slayer does and they do it well.  Sure they can do some of the things that a rogue, ranger, or fighter can do but they can’t do them all with the same level of effectiveness.  They can’t do all the things those other classes can do either.  So why have I seen so many slayers played in games since they were introduced to Pathfinder?   Because they are new, and many players have already played these other classes and new things tend to draw the curious.  It really is that simple.  Well then use the comments to let us hear what you have to say about the subject, and until next time Roll Hard.


A Chat With Mike Mearls: Magazines, Settings, and More!

AmpersandI sometimes just get a stroke of luck that allows me to do something cool simply because I like to talk about games, and keep a positive attitude.  So  I had another opportunity to ask Mike Mearls of Wizards of the Coast a few questions about the future of Dungeons & Dragons on the eve of GenCon.  Once again, Mike was open and direct with his responses and showed not only his appreciation for the history of the game but genuine care about the future.  See for yourself.

  1. When I started playing D&D there was no internet, or splat books, or character builders.  If you wanted something new to use in your game then Dragon Magazine was the place to get it.  Are there plans for either Dragon or Dungeon Magazines?

Right now, we don’t have anything to announce. Part of the reason we moved the magazines to an online format was the dramatic drop in the subscription base over the last few years. Bringing a digital magazine out on a regular basis is no small undertaking, either. So, we’re taking our time to make sure we have a good plan that puts material out there that people want and that makes sense from a business stand point.

With that in mind, we have a robust online presence through our website and social media. I’m on Twitter as @mikemearls, and I answer as many questions as possible that are tweeted to me.


       2. Everybody knows that Forgotten Realms will be supported right out of the gate, are there any plans for which setting might be updated and revisited next?  If not, and it was your decision alone, which setting would be the next to be supported and why?

We don’t have any specific plans we can talk about now. When we look at setting support, we’re looking at more than just products. The various D&D settings have acquired robust, active communities over the years. It doesn’t make sense to simply bring a setting back into print unless you can also find a way to support that community and making it a vibrant, living thing.

Personally, I’d love to see a big, Greyhawk hardcover sourcebook. The fifth edition rules system would work very well with Greyhawk. You wouldn’t need a lot of new class options, but the background system would be very handy for drawing out the differences between different regions. It would also be cool to get an in-depth treatment of the Free City of Greyhawk and the surrounding region. The original City of Greyhawk boxed set powered many of my campaigns in high school.


  1. You’ve mentioned how the design goal was to create a basic system with modular pieces that can add more complexity and option to the game.  What are some modular pieces that we might see next and when might we see them? 

Most of the optional systems will show up in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. They focus on options that people can use to more closely mimic a specific edition or optional rules that people like having available. For instance, stuff like detailed rules for combat, gestalt characters, lingering wounds, and so forth. It feels kind of like a mash up of Unearthed Arcana for 3e and a traditional DMG.


  1. New to this edition of the game is Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, Flaws, and of course Inspiration.  What would you say was the inspiration for adding what equates to role-playing rewards to the game?  Will we see any suggestions for using Inspiration in other ways besides advantage?

I believe that the DMG has some variants for using Inspiration. The basic concept was driven by the overall trends we’ve seen in RPGs over the past few years. Roleplaying is at the heart of D&D, but the game has not typically included mechanics to reward it. Looking around, we saw a number of games that provided benefits for good role play and decided to put a D&D spin on things.

In some ways, it’s simply D&D getting more in tune with the times. It’s one of those things that I think many DMs have wanted in the game for a while, if reactions to the mechanics so far are anything to go by.


  1. There is a definite feel of earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons in the new edition. Are there any plans to perhaps update some of the classic earlier adventures to the fifth edition?  If the decision was entirely yours what classic adventure would you like to see updated first?

We definitely knew that people like having the option to update their favorite adventures. We’ll have some guidelines on converting material from prior editions in the fall. In terms of updates we publish, it’s a bit too early to talk about that. We know that classic adventures are a big part of what has made D&D great, and we want to embrace that going forward.

My personal preference would be a deluxe update of the Saltmarsh series. It’s a fun trilogy that includes a nice variety of challenges and a nifty final dungeon against a band of sahuagin. It might not be an adventure that sits at the top of most gamers’ lists, but I’ve always had a fondness for it.


  1. Now that we have breached the subject of adventures, what influence do adventure paths have upon your thinking of creating future content for fifth edition?

It has definitely influenced how we think about creating more character options. We want to avoid simply creating new options for the sake of creating another book of new material. I think it’s easy to overwhelm players and DMs by releasing a torrent of new material every month. Instead, we want to carefully curate new stuff that we put out, ensuring that it is of the highest quality and is as useful as possible to your game.

An adventure path comes into the picture when you think about providing context for character options. Creating new options for a specific adventure path is very intriguing to me. It lets you zero in on what makes a campaign interesting, and then ensure that characters made with the new options tie into the campaign’s unique elements.

For instance, imagine an Adventure Path set in a tropical archipelago teeming with lost cities, dinosaurs, and deadly sea monsters. The sea elf might be a new character race for that campaign. If you create backgrounds that tie sea elf characters to the specific factions in the campaign, you have an easy way to foster player buy-in and create organic, compelling hooks for a player.

A DM who wants to homebrew or kitbash a campaign can use the sea elf stats, but if you want to run the Adventure Path you have a really nice synthesis between the player and DM sides of the screen.

A better example might be a classic adventure like Temple of Elemental Evil. Imagine a player’s book that served as a companion to it. It might have backgrounds that tie characters to Hommlett or the battle against the original temple. There might a druid class option that is an enemy of evil elementals, a ranger option that lets you join an order that watches for the temple’s rise (and includes has Elmo and Otis as allies or contacts), and so on. When the players sit down for the campaign, their characters are already integrated into the game and ready to go. When you meet Elmo, most of the players might think he’s a dope, but the guy playing the ranger recognizes him as an ally. Stuff like that really brings campaigns to life.


  1. From reading boards, talking to gamers, and personal experience, it would seem a player character crafting magic items seems to have had a hiccup or two in nearly every edition.  A few examples are requiring a point of Constitution from a wizard, requiring XP from the crafting character, requiring a series of feats that detracted from the overall toughness of the crafting character unless that character stuck to crafting items only for themselves. Why this might not upset every gamer it has created grumblings from some.  When will we see magic item creation, what will it look like, and what steps have been taken to balance it out?

The DMG will talk a bit about it. Our approach is to give DMs options to how they want to handle it. Some DMs are comfortable with simply charging a PC time and money to craft an item. Others can use it as an excuse to send the party on a quest. An item might require specific ingredients or reagents found only in specific, dangerous locations. The idea is to frame how the DM wants to use item creation in the campaign. Does it eat up the characters’ gold? Is it a way to drive forward the campaign?


  1. Are there any plans to include prestige classes, paragon paths, or anything of the sort that a lot of players have come to expect over the last couple of editions?  If so how will those be presented to the players?

We’ve talked about prestige classes and paragon paths, but we don’t yet have plans on what to do with them. They filled a very specific role in past editions, but it’s not yet clear that we need them in fifth. As the game develops, we’ll take the attitude of introducing them if we see the need, rather than trying to create a need or find an excuse to add them into the campaign.

That said, I think the concept has some strengths. You can see concepts like a Purple Dragon Knight of Cormyr, which in theory could apply to multiple classes (paladin and fighter in this case). I think that prestige classes could fill that role, the concept that rests between multiple classes.

With that said, it might be possible that a Purple Dragon Knight should simply be a paladin option. We’re going to let the lore of the game and a design approach that’s focused on simplicity and ease of use guide our decisions.

What do you think about what Mike had to say?  Let us know in that comment section.  I am personally really excited but what I have seen so far and how easy it is not only to learn but to be a DM with 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.  I plan on lots of blogs about it in the future.  You can also find this interview and a lot more discussion over on EnWorld  Until next time, Roll Hard!


Genesis of the Long Term Campaign

imagesI have been batting around running a Pathfinder game lately.  Lots of playtesting D&D Next and playing lots of 4th Edition before that had kind of occupied a lot of the fantasy role-playing time with my regular gaming group.  My group had been floundering a bit lately in our gaming.  We have been playing a variety of shorter lived games for a variety of reasons. The majority of the players longed for the epic campaigns that we played when we first banded together to throw dice and consume snack foods eleven years ago.

One night a few of our members were unable to show for our game.  We used the night to talk about what games we might play this year.  I started writing on the whiteboard attempting to put together a little schedule of what we would be playing which weeks coming up over the next few months.  My players were still itching to play a long term campaign, for some reason I am still unable to hear their pleas.

My group likes to debate each other, a bit heatedly sometimes on the finer points of rpg systems, settings, styles, builds, races, spells, equipment, color of dice, choice of beverage or pretty much anything else.  My mental fortitude was worn down by what seemed to me a huge waste of time because there was no right answer for the group.  Role-playing games are a group activity which lends itself to individuals with strong personality, intelligence, and problem solving abilities.  This is good in a game, but in between games it will have you believing that nobody is satisfied with their favorite hobby anymore.  I was still not running a long term campaign although I knew that would renew interest, I didn’t want the headache.

It is hard to run a great game when you can’t even get your players to agree on a system.  We could use the D&D Next rules but they were in constant flux and we were looking for continuity in our game.  A lot of our gaming sessions had been doing the Open Playtest for the last year and the group needed a break from the system for a bit.  I ran some Hero Fantasy before the D&D Next, but I know a few of my players are burnt out on the Hero System because we had been playing a lot of different games using the system in the last few years a well.  Mix in all the 4th Edition, and the opposition that some of my group had with 4E, and that is a few systems to run a great fantasy campaign with eliminated.  Did some Dungeon Crawl Classics a few months back but that won't work for the kind of game my group needs.  Savage Worlds is not in-depth enough to hold most of my players’ interest for a long campaign.  It didn’t matter I wasn’t running a long term fantasy campaign for the rest of my group, even though I knew it could work wonders for our groups camaraderie.  I had better uses of my role-playing time.

I found myself at first thinking to myself, then commenting in one on one situation with my players, then complaining that we did not seem to function well as a group anymore. Perhaps are play styles have changed over the years.  We might not enjoy the same things in games anymore.  I wanted to fix the problem but I wasn’t being a leader and that is what our group seemed to lack.  We are a large group and everybody would have to give something to get a game going.  That included me if I wanted to run a campaign for my long-time group again.  I needed to run a campaign, an epic campaign (in scope as well as level), and inspire instead of complain.

So now I have my players interested in something because I listened to what they were looking for.  If asked, most players that I have played with in three decades would say that running long term campaigns are one of my DM strengths.  I just had to listen to my players and get out of my own head.

Now I have to make sure that my campaign, which is set in my homebrew world will have something to satisfy each of my players.  I also have to make my players understand that not every part of every session is going to be their favorite.  Role-playing is really cooperative storytelling and you have to give and take each session and trust that your DM has something for your play style and character coming up soon.  I will be updating the progress of the game and what trials that my group faced to attempt to reach high levels playing by the experience point rules in a long term campaign.  I would really be interested in hearing how you get a game together for your group.  Do you play what the DM is running or does group input shape the next game?  Should group input shape the game or should the DM run the game he wants?  That is what the comments section is for so feel free to use it.  Until next time, Roll Hard!


Would You Be Okay With Story Experience?

I have been running a game periodically using the Hero System in my homebrew world.  The players play powerful characters right from the start.  Since we were using a point buy system, I figured just hand them a pile of character points and they should be done.  Since the characters started powerful, with the exact characters the players wanted, the players wouldn’t be motivated by the need to acquire more experience points, would they?

That has been one of the knocks I have heard about the Marvel Super Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game, the experience point system is a bit strange.  Some believe that the xp system for that game was kind of added after the fact.  That the characters are designed to be played in the published adventure how they are written up.  Even when I played higher level 4E D&D, and my character sheets from the DDI Character Builder was nine pages long, I still wonder what another couple of levels slapped on would look like.  Perhaps it is the nature of us to want to increase in physical powers in a way that is represented by the numbers.

Story rewards like titles bestowed, exceptional gear, a companion of some sort do increase the character’s power.  If those were substituted in place of XP handed out to the player to do whatever that player wants, would that satisfy the players need to acquire things like levels and plusses and such?  The tone of the game would matter of course.  If the power was handed out as an in story element controlled by the DM instead of selected by the players, which could be just about anything is the game better for the players and the DM?   The players would probably prefer these story rewards handed out in addition to XP, or however that system of character advancement is handled in the system you are using.

I would propose a compromise of sorts with my players to have their characters advancement mean something.  Perhaps a little less in the way of character points for more story rewards that would make up the difference and a bit more.  The bit more is for allowing me as the GM to have some influence on how their characters progress.  Assuming I am introducing great story elements I can perhaps get my players excited about something in the story and grow their character in that direction, which the player may have done anyway.

As participants in a creative hobby we may be too creative to not have complete creative control, and get what we earned.  Some players may be happy with just that.   For example a player in a D&D game might just want his level and the feat, hit points, bonus to hit, and other benefits that might encompass.  Another might be more than happy to have his fighter join the Guild of the Indomitable, and have his character receive the bonuses that goes along with membership.  Especially if the benefits are a little bit more, like I am suggesting the DM rewards.

I have played in games before where we were required to spend extra time or character points to learn things from scratch.  For example, if you wanted to do demolitions overnight it cost a bit extra than the rules state, but it was a bit cheaper to raise skills and abilities in something that you had used during the mission.  This worked well as a story element to channel character advancement but did not leave the characters room to grow without slowing their progression.  Every so often a player would do something weird as a setup to spend experience after the game in as specific ability they wanted to raise.  Sometimes it was comical so I usually didn’t mind.

In have done things a variety of ways over the years when it comes to handling character advancement.  Each variation brought something to the game.  What devices have you seen regarding this in the games you have played?  I would like to hear suggestions for games that you have used or thought of using.  Leave a comment and until next time, Roll Hard!


Earlier Versions of D&D Next Character Sheets

In case you aren't a regular reader over at EN World, I posted two different character sheets from earlier versions of D&D Next.  The cell phone pictures are from December, the better version is from the Friends and Family playtest.  It has been so hard to keep these to myself and hope you enjoy them.  I apologize for the quality but I am not a cell phone camera expert.  You can see for yourself how much and how fast the game is changing.  Let me know what you think, and until next time, Roll Hard!


Top Five Games That Influenced My RPG Play

I saw on Character Generation and then again on Dice Monkey the other day a post about what five games influenced the way you play?  I pondered the question for a couple of days and after serious consideration decided to share them with you.  I have played lots and lots of rpgs with many different groups in many different situations.  Some were long campaigns that lasted years, while others were one shots with a group of gamers I met at a convention.  I will explain my reasons for each game as we continue.

Marvel Super Heroes - I had become accustomed by the time I purchased this classic yellow box to rpgs either being a bit slow paced (mapping the Temple of Elemental Evil) or deadly (Boot Hill, Top Secret, Traveller).  So the classic yellow box was a welcome change.  This was the first time I really set about creating my own material, both adventures and rules hack, for a game that I would run.  The accessibility of the rules made it much less intimidating to take the reins.  The fact that most my friends, and myself were huge comic fans just made it that much sweeter.  It was also the first game I ever ran at a convention.

Star Wars RPGStar Wars D6 - I was five years old when Star Wars premiered in the theatre.  I have never known life without it.  When the rpg was released in the late 80’s it seemed like the perfect escape for a hardcore group of gamers.  The rules were easy and so was the character generation.  That left time to start role-playing the characters without rules distraction.  It is also a really difficult system to munchkin, so our games never broke down from power level bloat.  Venger Mok (points if you can pick out the two sources combined to get that name) was my first character and I still have the character sheet more than two decades later.  My favorite campaign of all time was using this game and it was run by a novice GM who was a big Star Wars fan.

GURPS 3rd EditionGURPS Basic Set 3rd Edition – When one of the best GMs I have ever had the opportunity to play with introduced me to GURPS.  I was intrigued by the flexibility and scope of what the game could cover.  I had purchased Champions 4th Edition but kind of set it on the bookshelf out of fear until I learned to play GURPS.  I am not a generic system addict, but when a genre specific system is not available for an idea I am dreaming up, I turn to generic systems before trying to hack some other system for my needs.  The first games in my homebrew fantasy world were used GURPS, and while I haven’t played GURPS in eight years, my fantasy world continues to grow regardless of what system I use to play.  I usually use Savage Worlds or Hero Systems for a universal system now.

Mage The AscensionMage The Ascension – What I learned from this game was a lesson that I keep in the forefront of my mind when I am designing adventures.  In certain games if players have access to certain powers, spells, technology, social groups, or whatnot, then be prepared for anything to happen.  If those powers are sort of make up what they day within abstract spheres of control then be prepared for the impossible.  In some settings like Mage the Ascension in a modern setting, be prepared for the characters to rely on magic, technology, wealth, political power, and more to figure things out.  In Mage the Ascension the players also have the ability to affect environment, time, and reality.  There will be very little that they will not have access to.  I carried the lessons that I learned from a game that had great concept, characters, and promise but poor execution into lots of other games.

Dungeons & Dragons 4EDungeons & Dragons 4th Edition – I have had some vocal criticisms of some of the mechanics of 4E but I in some way I feel like I was delivered what I had been asking for as a DM for years.  I had wished for a D&D game that would allow me to gauge the challenge of encounters better, for a game that could be played without a cleric, and a game that wouldn’t be all scrying, detecting, teleporting, and layering of spells before a fight.  A game that didn’t grind to a halt at every door. 4th Edition delivered but the fantasy was better than the reality (that was intended).  The deadliness of each encounter could easily be figured out by the DM and also the players, the party didn’t need a cleric because other classes could pretty much do the same thing but if the player didn’t really role-play their powers they all had the same feel.  The characters were more than tough enough to never need to slow down or prepare.  So wish granted.  I also learned I want action points, all characters to have some limited self-healing, spells and rituals, at-wills, interrupts, and themes in 5th Edition D&D.  Those were great additions to Dungeons & Dragons.

The things I learn in games are usually mixed blessings that I carry with me into other games I play.  I don’t really ever think a game is bad just some time not right for me.  Some of the games that I mentioned other gamers will hate.  I try to look at every system for the positives that I can use in my next game regardless of what system I use, and the negatives that I will try to avoid which forces me to be a better Gamemaster and a better player.  What are your five games and why?  Let us all know in the comments or link to your blog. Until next time, Roll Hard!


Critical Fumbles Can Be Good For the Game

The idea of the critical hit and the critical fumble has been around since I first picked up and threw my first d20 three decades ago.  Over the years adjustments have been made to Dungeons & Dragons as well as many other systems to deal with the critical hit.  I love the way Mutants & Masterminds handles them.  The critical fumble on the other hand has always seemed clunky and tacked on in most systems.  As a player I hate critical fumbles because I don’t care when a kobold has a bad roll but I hate it when I roll poorly, missing with my attack is already bad enough.   As a DM I tend to want to use them in my own way, a dramatic way that increases the flavor and feel in combat.

When I was a teenager I picked up Best of Dragon Vol. 5 which had an amazing article by Carl Parlagreco titled, Good Hits & Bad Misses: Accounting for Critical Hits and Fumbles.  The article originally appeared in Dragon #39 from July 1980.  This had extensive charts for critical hits by weapon type and against beasts that where much more severe than double damage.  Things like decapitation if you were not wearing or helmet or loose shield arm if you were not using a shield were just a couple of the deadly results from a bad die roll.  Too severe an effect for the DM to use against my PC, especially since my characters usually fought large numbers of opponents.  The article also contained a critical fumble chart for those times when we rolled a 1.

The critical fumble chart had some excellent ideas to pull from but as a percentile roll it was way too random to have the effect make sense in a combat.  For example several of the effects are hit friend, hit friend double damage, and hit friend critical.  Needless to say this can be devastating if your friend is next to you but makes no sense if your closest friend is twenty feet away and you are using a mace and several enemies are in the way.  That doesn’t mean that the chart is useless.  There are many effects that can be pulled as ideas for using critical hits in your game in a way that feels right for you and your players.

First off I would like to say that in my own game I don’t like the idea of players rolling critical fumbles.  If my players insist on using them, I would like to provide them with an environment or setting that they are immune to the critical fumble.  If I am playing a 4E D&D game perhaps the Purple Dragon doesn’t critically fumble in Cormyr or a Wild Hunt Rider can’t crit fumble while on their Phantom Steed from their ritual.  I am sure you can see quickly how the idea is used and find the situations it should apply to in your own games.  The idea is that the PC doesn’t look like a chump while attempting to do the thing that the character is supposed to do well or has devoted massive character development resources to.  A cleric rolling high and beating the ranger in his favored terrain on a nature roll because of a bad die roll just never seemed right.

When it comes to the being the DM I don’t mind using critical fumbles when it is applied to the opponents of the player characters.  If one of the characters is fighting on a catwalk, flanked by two goblins and one of the goblins rolls a one on their attack die, that goblin will plunge over the side of the catwalk.  The players usually enjoy the narration since it always makes their characters look even more amazing.  I think that most players won’t mind their characters looking cool and your combats shouldn’t be too lopsided if you occasionally discard a low level monster.  The minion will mean more to the game by being sacrificed for story than trying to take a handful of hit points or a surge from one of the party.

I would suggest treating important threats like the PCs and just ignoring critical fumbles unless you see a great set up for something that will enhance the game.  Your players will not mind the orc foot soldier impaling himself on the general’s flaming greatsword but will probably feel a bit let down if the general impales himself on the orc foot soldiers shortsword.  After looking over my 2nd Edition critical fumbles notes, the Dragon article mentioned earlier, and experience I jotted down a list of ideas to use in your game.

  1. Fall Down: This is basic but many powers in 4E already allow for this.  The positive is that a new mechanic isn’t needed.
  2. Drop Weapon: This is a classic and one of the kinder things you can choose to do to a character.  The positive is that this will give more use to quick draw skills and feats.
  3. Hit Self: The character hits themselves doing half, full, or critical damage (roll a d3, choose what the situation dictates as appropriate, this is old school so thanks TSR).
  4. Shield Entangled: The character’s shield becomes entangled.  The character cannot use the shield’s bonus to AC or loses the shield’s bonus (depending on system) for next round.
  5. Ankle Twist: Half the character’s move for the next round.  You can also allow for an ongoing movement loss with an Endurance/Constitution check here depending on what is appropriate in the system you are using.
  6. Hit a Friend: See entry 3 but tread lightly here.
  7. Scenery Disadvantage: A piece of the scenery moves breaks loose, shifts, falls, or generally creates a disadvantaged situation for the character.
  8. Wardrobe Malfunction: The character has their backpack strap cut, helm slip, sword belt slip off waist, or some other effect that hinders the character.  What that looks like in the system that you are using is up to you.  In 4E D&D it is as simple as the character granting combat advantage, in the Hero System it could be a -1 to DCV until the situation is fixed for example.
  9. Weapon Break: The character has their weapon break.  This is a rough one especially if the character specializes with that weapon and doesn’t carry a spare.  Once again I would tread lightly when it comes to breaking magic weapons because having them shatter randomly makes them seem a lot less magical.
  10. Whatever you feel is appropriate for the situation.  After all using the critical fumble as a device to enhance combats, action, and story is the best way to have your players appreciate using the system.  Common sense is better than a percentile chart or bland standard effect.

You have to do what is best for you and the rest of the players in the group.  If the game you are using doesn’t account for critical fumbles and you feel like it would add to the game than the above examples might give you a place to start.  Like critical hits not every game needs critical fumbles.  Until next time, Roll Hard!


I Grew Up With D&D, Now I Want to Grow Out With 5E

I have grown up with Dungeons & Dragons.  Now three decades later I want to grow out with D&DNext, or 5th Edition, or whatever we are calling it today.  What I mean by that is I want my game to grant my players the ability to deal with more situations effectively, rather than just slapping on plusses, to Armor Class, Base Attack, Damage, and Saves.  I know that some gamers may enjoy that but since the threat level scales with your character I never felt all that much more powerful or competent.  When a PC has the abilities to deal with a variety of encounters, challenges, and situations and not just bonuses to reflect power you will end up with longevity in your system.  Perhaps if powers and feats would have been built with this in mind 4th Edition would have had more traction, and a new edition wouldn’t be on the way.  I will explain what I mean by all this in greater detail now.

Receiving static bonuses across the board that add to my ability to hit and damage have rarely made my characters feel more powerful.  This is probably because the monster that I was battling always had scaling hit points and defenses.  This is true of D & D historically and Pathfinder as well.  It probably applies to many other systems as well.  I hope the designers and playtesters cure it with the 5th Edition.  I always tried to think about why my higher level character never crossed paths with lower level opponents.  I justified that the intelligent beings could tell just how powerful I was from the sight of me and knew better.  The unintelligent beings were just lucky to have not crossed my path.  I always questioned why a higher level adventurer wouldn’t just follow up on plot hooks from when they were lower level and go and loot dungeons, crypts, and abandoned keeps.  Sure the gold and magic would be less but so would the threats.  Just a boring way to go about things and stories of legend are rarely boring.

I felt that D&D was on to something in 4th Edition with utility powers and skill utility powers.  These allowed PC’s to select from a variety of powers to help them overcome the problems in front of them.  Unfortunately the really cool ones fell to the way side and the ones that affected your character in combat were the only ones selected the majority of the time.  I think if you look up the skill utility City Rat and the class utility Invigorating Stride you will see how this was a good theory but did not implement as successfully as the designers would have liked.  Both are encounter powers but they are not equal whatsoever.  City Rat allows you to use a Streetwise check in place of a Stealth check against any enemies you have cover against at the end of a move as a free action.  That is a nice little extra ability for a warlock perhaps.  Invigorating Stride allows you to shift you Wisdom modifier as a move action as long as you don’t shift adjacent to an enemy and second wind at the same time.  Sure Invigorating Stride is a Ranger Class Utility and not available to other classes but the other classes all have their own version of clear cut choices.  Why on Oerth would you take anything else if you were a ranger?

The same sort of theory applies to feats.  There are many amazing feats but some of them will keep your character alive longer than others in most circumstances.  I never saw a player at first level select Camouflage in place of Weapon Focus or Expertise.  I never saw any player take Camouflage.  It is a +5 Stealth Bonus when you are outdoors and have any cover or concealment.  This is a situational bonus as you have to be out of doors and have cover.  The weapon feats on the other hand are used in nearly every round of every encounter of your characters career.  Feats that stack bonuses for attacks, damages, saves, and AC build your character up but don’t necessarily make your character any more interesting.  Camouflage would build your character out and Weapon Focus and Expertise feats build your character up.

The upward build with piles of crunch seem to shorten edition life.  3rd Edition D&D was the first edition to introduce true player options from the start of the edition with feats and open multi-classing.  4th Edition came closer behind third than any previous edition had come to its predecessor.  4th Edition is filled with crunch, feats, powers, backgrounds, themes, paragon paths, epic destinies, etc.  The shelf life between 4E and the 5E is the shortest shelf life yet.  When you build characters up instead of out you handcuff the DM to challenge the party as much.  Encounters that should require some thought, cunning, and bravery to overcome become watered down into hitting the enemy as hard and as fast as you can.

I have had hundreds and hundreds of hours of fun playing 4th Edition D&D and am excited about the playtest for DDNext.  We need to take the positive from each edition and polish it like a gnome jeweler and then use those mechanics, concepts, and ideas to build a new edition of the most beloved rpg of all time.  If monsters and threats don’t scale then characters don’t need to scale and can grow outwards and possibly only slightly upward during a whole adventuring career.  My favorite heroes could always handle any situation but not always by superior firepower and defenses.  Do you like your characters to grow up or out?  Let me know what you think.  Until next time, Roll Hard!


Tweet RPG: Gaming With 140 Characters

When I was eleven years old I couldn't stop reading Choose Your Own Adventure books.  To be honest I did usually hold the page with my finger just in case I had made a fatal choice.  But who didn't?  In my internet walkabout I discovered something on Twitter that made me remember being eleven again.  Tweet RPG is a choose your own adventure game that allows all the players to tweet their choice at each encounter and then the game travels in the direction that got the most votes.  I had a chance to ask Sam Richards, the mind behind this new social media gaming concept a few questions about Tweet RPG and here is what he had to say.

Tell us a bit about your personal gaming experience and how you were introduced to the rpg hobby.

I was first introduced to rpgs through playing 'Fighting Fantasy' gamebooks when I was a boy. I loved how the reader could shape the story, and the use of the 'second-person' viewpoint to place 'you' right at the centre of the adventures. As I grew up, I had my first experience of video-game rpgs through 'Final Fantasy VII', possibly the best video-game ever! I haven't really had much involvement with table-top gaming or war-gaming, but would love to give it a try!

Play by post/e-mail games have been around for a bit, what made you think up a play by tweet rpg experience?

As a writer, I had been considering how I could innovatively share my passion in a world that is bursting at the seams with writers. How could I get people to take notice of me?

I was pondering the nature of rpgs, and came to the conclusion that the biggest issue I had with them was that I would always find myself consumed by playing, spending hours on gaming that could have been used more productively. I then thought, what if someone created a way of playing rpgs that limits the amount of time you can spend, whilst also being easy to pick up day by day? I also wanted to combine the single-player experience with a community feel i.e. you are the hero, but you're also part of a wider group that shapes the story together. And that's how Tweet RPG was born!

How long will it typically take to play out your average storyline?

The first Tweet RPG adventure, a fantasy tale called 'King Slayer', was completed in roughly six weeks. The current story, a science fiction epic called 'Starfall', began at the start of August and I imagine it will finish sometime around the end of September, depending on the decisions made by the players! Anyone can join in with an ongoing adventure – just head over to to catch up with the story so far!

Are the genres you develop your adventures in your personal preferences for gaming?

The first two adventures have specifically drawn from established and widely-loved genres, so that at this early stage of development, people aren't put off by stories that only have a niche appeal. I also felt more comfortable with writing stories in these genres over a short space of time – with more complex genres, I will probably have to spend more time 'researching' the subject matter.

What other genres can we hope to see coming up? I am a big fan of supers (hint).

Hint taken! I've got so many ideas for new stories; there are loads of different genres that could work for Tweet RPG. A superhero rpg is definitely on the cards, but I think it will take a lot of work to give it as much originality as possible. It would also be really fun to try some fanfiction rpgs – possible stories to adapt/draw from could be Star Wars or maybe even Harry Potter! The whole voting process has opened up some really interesting ideas for stories too: an adventure where the protagonist has multiple personalities i.e. the players are the voices in his head, or a military campaign involving the players as a group of generals leading an army. So many ideas, so little time!

Tweet RPG is a free service – all you need to join in is a Twitter account and an imagination! Follow @tw33t_rpg on Twitter and look out for new story decisions between 8:00-9:00 GMT, AM and PM. Send us a tweet containing the hashtag that relates to your story choice e.g. #trpg1a, and the choice with the most votes will determine the direction of the narrative. If you want more info about the mechanisms within the Tweet RPG process, or want to catch up with the current adventure, Starfall, head over to!

So that is how it is done.  A new way to get your gaming fix. Look out Zynga and Facebook you may have some competition in the things I am doing while at work category.  What sort of genres would you like to play in? Until next time, Roll Hard!