Tag Archives: D&D

Goblins Asplode

It’s that time of the week when my wife and I try to get the kids to help get the house in order, so that we can relax and play some D&D. As usual, this is always more challenging than we anticipate, but we succeeded and sat down around the table.

Along the way, I start setting up, the kids work to finish their part of the chores, and Jami is keeping on them because they stop working every time “ooh shiny!”

I lurrve me some Dire Bear

And Judah escapes with a Dire Bear miniature that apparently he now loves.

He flips out when we try to take his new teddy bear, and immediately calms down once we return it to him. He doesn’t put it in his mouth, it’s too big to swallow, it doesn’t have any small parts, and we’ve got an eye on him. So he hangs onto the bear for a minute.

The kids and I take some time to review what powers their characters have… so far it’s been too easy to fall into “I stab him with my sword, I shoot him with my crossbow, I hit him with the one magic spell I know my character has.”

Every. Single. Round.

Since it was a long time ago that we made the characters, I think the kids forgot what awesome stuff they could do. Now they know, and I see their eyes light up. Deborah is happy to know Beastly Tiger has “powers other than asking everyone if they’re a hobo.”

Jonathan has other plans, too. He eyes the collection of miniatures I have on the shelf, and asks,

“Next time can we fight an elite?”

I laugh. He’s always been the one who wants to help DM. One of these days, I’m going to have to let him.

“Let me know what you want to fight, and I’ll see if I can work it in.”

But for now, it’s just a bunch of goblins. The heroes bust through the gate of the goblin-occupied town and begin the assault to return it to the townsfolk.

Deborah’s character, the acrobatic Beastly Tiger rushes to the first house and tries to spring up and pull himself onto the roof to engage the goblin archer up there. Deb rolls a 1, and I tell her she hit the overhanging rooftop with her head.

Jonathan’s wizard, Killbot creates a massive ball of fire that he moves around in order to burn his enemies. Justin tries to shoot through it at a goblin mage, and Jonathan and Jami both start asking if shooting through the flaming sphere will light the bolt on fire give any bonus to the attack. I want to encourage this kind of creativity, so YES. Yes of course it does.

Next we’ll get a Wall-Nut and a Chomper…

I think Jonathan has been playing too much Plants Vs. Zombies and was thinking of the Torchwood.

I’m ok with that.

Beastly Tiger gets up on the roof and smashes his foe with that massive hammer. It’s a one-shot kill, and Deborah is satisfied at having gotten past that initial fumble roll.

Another wave of goblins rush to the fray, and the heroes slowly whittle them down. Jonathan declares an attack with his flaming sphere against a goblin, and he asks a great question:

“What does the roll have to be above in order for it to count as a hit?”

I don’t really feel like explaining attack bonuses plus roll versus whichever defense is applicable to the attack power, and-like I’ve said before in these posts-I’m trying to get more game than math going on for right now. So I dismiss the question with, “Just roll and I’ll figure it out in my head.”

He rolls a 20. 

Unfortunately for my monsters, that’s how I rolled tonight.

Math completed. The goblin is consumed in the flames.

Justin’s character, Clayface has a crossbow, the special item card he got from the NPC challenge last session. The card describes a stock carved and stylized to look like a dragon, with the bolt flying out of the dragon’s maw. So I figure this has some flame power that the characters haven’t identified yet, but I haven’t decided exactly what, other than a +1 to damage.

He attacks a goblin and kills it, and I decide that the magic power is that if a bolt from the crossbow kills a target, the bolt explodes and damages anyone next to the target. No one is around the goblin that Clayface kills, but I describe this nonetheless and the children decide that’s pretty cool.

Sure enough, my plans come back to bite me later.

Toward the end of the fight, three goblins remain. Justin shoots one and kills it. And of course it’s next to one of the other remaining goblins. Faithful to my word, the dead goblin explodes, and I roll an attack against the other goblin.

I roll a 20 against my own monster. 

We’re using the Critical Hit deck, so I pick a card. The goblin is deafened by the explosion and takes double the damage I’d originally planned. He’s barely hanging on to life and his ears are ringing.

Now it’s my half-orc sorceror’s turn. As always, I try to leave him in the background. He’s there for comic relief or as a handy tool for explaining a concept by example if needed. So he casts a basic spell on the mostly-dead goblin, because certainly he can’t steal the spotlight with that.

I roll a 20 again.

The kids cackle with glee, knowing something horrible has happened to this goblin.

Double damage and knockback of 5 squares (25 feet). This guy would’ve been killed instantly by the spell if he was fine, but he was already down to almost no health. That and the knockback meant “explosion” in my mind.

I describe the devastation, and I lay out some gobs of meat–little red rocks I use to mark “bloodied” when a PC or monster has lost half its health.

“I cast Conjure Meat,    level 2.”

Deborah quotes Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: “You’ve probably seen a meteor shower…

“…but you’ve never seen a meatier shower than this!”

Zing!

Well played, Beastly Tiger… touché.

Tree-trunk Diplomacy

NPC [1]
(en’ – pee – see

1. noun. (archaic) an acronym for Non-Player Character, commonly used in Role-Playing Games. This character is one with whom the Player Characters (PCs) can interact in order to gain information, accept goals or objectives, or conduct business.
2. noun. (modern) A target or prop upon which the PCs attempt to unleash all manner of pain, suffering, and torture, without expecting any consequences.

The session in which the children accidentally all the NPCs.

(Grammar Nazi disclaimer: it’s a meme. The mistake is intentional.)

So, in session 2, the intrepid heroes created and controlled by my wife and children have successfully defeated a two-prong attack by goblins and a host of icky natural critters. As is always my fear and always the custom of seemingly all D&D players everywhere, regardless of what they face, the heroes attempt to capture the last surviving enemy in order to interrogate it.

One goblin remains and is questioned. He reveals that hordes of goblins are en route to the nearby town, bent on recapturing a jewel that was stolen from them. The heroes take their prisoner along in the hopes of using him as a bargaining chip.

Inwardly I laugh at the thought of goblins caring about one of their number held as a prisoner.

But that’s a surprise for a later session.

The plan for session 3 is mostly role-playing and interacting with NPCs.

The hero meets his nemesis, the NPC.

This is one of the most fun parts of the game for me, because you never know what a player is going to decide to do to your NPCs. It’s usually good.

Usually.

Session 3 begins with a recap, and then I describe the scene as the heroes return to their town (the supposed target of the goblin hordes). The townsfolk are camped out in makeshift tents like refugees, cast out from their own walls. The goblins have already struck.

I pick out one of the official-looking faces from the Urban NPCs deck, and now he’s the guard captain who meets the heroes and briefs them on the situation. He’s gathering together all able-bodied townsfolk for a counter-attack in the morning, and he needs the heroes to assist in the raid.

However, the rest of the people are giving the party the stink-eye.

And so I take a moment to describe skill challenges to my kids. “Now’s your chance to use some of these skills your characters are good at in order to figure out what’s going on, why the town is mad at you, and maybe get some info that will help you beat the goblins the next day.”

A host of thousands! Or eleven.

I also had a stack of those face cards ready for them to randomly choose, with a rough idea of who each NPC might be. They rolled initiative, but I had my half-orc barely-functional comic-relief character go first to show how an interaction with an NPC might go. He talks like Hulk, if Hulk was stupid. Or more stupid than whatever version of Hulk you might be familiar with.

I lucked out and got the crazy-looking guy. The conversation was devoid of anything useful, other than serving as an example of picking a skill to use to interact with an NPC, rolling a check, and seeing what happens.

Justin’s character, Clayface the rogue, was up next, and he got the innkeeper. Since the innkeeper was fairly friendly, all went well, and Justin used Streetwise to get some gossip about what took place.

Then my wife’s warlord, Bethrynivere interacted with a politician from the big city. The NPC was a total witch–no, not a magic-using witch, the other kind–and blamed the incompetent “countryside buffoons” for the failed defense of the town. But Bethrynivere was able to use History (her character’s primary hobby) to point out the unique and abnormal nature of the goblin attack in order to persuade the politician to help the party rather than hinder them.

She makes the guards bring out some of the salvaged supplies that have been gathered for the assault. I just let the players pick a total of five random cards from a Dragon Trove deck (or whatever it’s properly called… I’ll probably write a “Paizo is Eevil” post about it and offer a picture and link).

The warlord ended up with a special suit of armor. The rogue got a new crossbow. The hunter picked a heavy hammer. The wizard got a mysterious magic potion. And my “special” half-orc got a chainmail shirt he intends to sell for some extra gold.

So far, all has gone pretty well.

Jonathan’s wizard, Killbot encountered another wizard, a supermodel-perfect blonde-haired fellow who boasted proudly of all his awesomeness and ridiculed the so-called heroes for letting this calamity happen while they were out camping in the woods. I really tried to push Jonathan’s buttons by being as annoying as possible, but he calmly made a Diplomacy check to defuse the situation. Then the two wizards discussed the magic energy in the area, and Jonathan’s Arcana check helped confirm what this wizard suspected. The jewel the goblins were after was a powerful artifact that was changing the flow of magic around the town.

I was pleasantly surprised thus far. The kids were taking this pretty seriously, and kind of thinking about what their characters might do instead of how they personally would like to respond.

Then it was Deborah’s turn.

Actually, I’m pretty sure.

Deborah is smart, and she has a concept of what Beastly Tiger is like and how he interacts with people.

For one, he calls everyone a hobo. Sometimes he politely asks them if they are a hobo.

Why?

Because apparently old people are hobos, as a general rule.

Turns out Beastly Tiger is also a hobo.

Oh, now we’re getting some backstory here.

So Beastly Tiger encounters a monk, a servant of the Divine Aspect of Strength. And this fellow suggests that he is willing to offer a supernatural blessing to people of proven strength so that they might better defeat the goblins who have taken over the town.

“Show me your strength,” the monk says in my best Ian McKellen Gandalf impression, “and I will bless you.”

Deborah looks at the card for the hammer her character received, and grins.

I could make you fly.

“I could make you fly,” she threatens.

At this point, we have a conversation about consequences in-game, and how the townspeople might react to an attack on their number.

We also revisit the definition of Diplomacy.

Beastly Tiger re-thinks his plan, and the suggestion is that he can show off some martial skill with throwing knives.

Deb rolls low, and I describe the monk’s eyebrow raise in a question as Tiger’s knife nicks the side of a tree.

I almost went with the Miyagi line, “Wood not hit back.”

The monk is not satisfied and demands that Beastly Tiger try again.

So then Tiger decides perhaps a good demonstration would be to throw the monk into the tree.

Poor NPCs, objects of wrath and torment.

I roll a Diplomacy check using Strength.

We discuss again the wisdom of such a decision.

Tiger finally decides to pound the tree with his hammer, sending splinters flying in all directions with the force of his mighty strike.

And that finally works.

Thank goodness, because I thought I’d hear the fateful words, “I attack the monk,” any minute now.

One “round” of NPC interactions has finished, and so I ask the kids if they want to do another round.

They’re loving it. “Yes!” they cry.

Again, my orc-sorc goes first. But DM PCs are notoriously horrible for stealing the spotlight, and I have eleven characters to play in this session already. So I want this out of the way quick.

I pick a random card and get a poor waif’s face.

I can picture her begging, “Please, sire, just a crust of bread to get me through the week…”

But Burak the sorceror is… sorely lacking in the People Skills department. It goes a little something like this:

“Please, sir, can you–“
“NO!!!!!”

My shout of “NO” is so loud and unexpected that my wife practically jumps and the kids’ eyes go wide. But then they start cackling, because once again it is proven that Burak is a moron.

“Surely no hero really acts that way,” you may think.

Yes, but players do it all the time.

I had a player show up impaired, we’ll say.

The session turned out to be quite odd, but never more so than when the heroes saved a villager from ruffians on his farm.

The Halfling comes running out the door of his farmhouse crying for help. The ruffians chase him, clearly intent on bodily harm if not bloodshed.

The heroes intervene and defeat the ruffians.

Then the player immediately says, “I INTERROGATE THE HALFLING!”

WAT.

“Interrogate” is a word with connotations. It’s not just “ask how he’s doing” or “try to find out why the ruffians were after him.”

I questioned his chosen course of action at  least three times, explaining, “That’s the Halfling you just rescued. You really want to interrogate him?”

“Shhh…” he whispered with a dismissive hand-wave. “It happened. It happened.”

Yes. Players do interesting and horrible things to NPCs.

So back to the game…

Now it’s Clayface’s turn, and he gets some beggarly-looking fellow with obvious fright on his face. I figure this is a contact of Clayface’s, someone with minor ties to criminal elements, someone who knows what happens in the back alleys of town. And Clayface wants to know what this guy knows, so Justin goes with Intimidation checks.

Last time, Justin’s character was represented by a “Human Bandit” miniature, with a big sack like Santa Claus slung over one shoulder. Thus, when it came time to question the goblin they captured, Justin’s plan was “I hit him with my sack.”

It’s a *diplomatic* sack.

No questions, no demands. Just start beating the goblin until answers fall out, I guess.

This time, I gave him a miniature that looked a little more roguish. It’s an assassin with a flowing black cloak, jumping back as if parrying an attack with his shortsword.

Now Clayface’s intimidating plan is, “I whap him with my cape.”

Roll for a Humiliation check, maybe.

Naturally, he rolls a 20. (Pun intended.)

Capes can be pretty scary, I guess.

Soon, they’ve finished another round of chats with the friendly folk of the town.

They’ve learned about secret tunnels they can use to get the drop on the goblins.

They’ve learned about the jewel the goblins are after–that it’s probably an artifact of some magic power, that it’s affecting the area around the town in a bad way, and that it was seen in the hands of the merchant they rescued in the first session long ago.

They’ve gained some material and supernatural aid to help them own some goblins.

And they’ve been offered a few side quests from concerned citizens with interests in town.

It seems a good place to stop, and I’m left hoping that the players learned a little more about how the game works.

But I suspect that we’re going to have to talk about not beating on the NPCs again soon.

And I’ll be okay with that as long as I don’t hear “Shhhh… it happened.”

Paizo is Eevil, pt 3

Paizo continues to get my money, despite all my efforts to resist them.

And they deserve it, because they put out some great stuff.

In part 2 of this topic, I mentioned the value of pictures to communicate an impression and image of a Non-Player Character to your players. Naturally, the same holds true when dealing with description.

You can be an amazing wordsmith, and you can have an impeccable delivery, but my experience is that your players hear “words words words  wall of text  still more words  CASTLE with words words  blah blah Baron von Guy-we’re-gonna-kill okay enough already let’s move on.”

Description problems get compounded when combat ensues.

“I fire my Thundertusk Boar-Strike at the goblin.”

You can’t see the goblin. He’s out of line of sight because he’s in the hall around the corner.”

“You failed to mention that, DM.”

I mentioned it while you were checking Facebook and laughing at a LOLcat.”

And this is why many games use maps. Good use of a map of some kind will get everyone seeing roughly the same thing in the portions of the game where that matters. It quickly answers questions like “Can I target that guy?” and the natural follow-up, “Can I hit that guy with an arrow/a fireball/the wild dog I’m holding by the throat?”

yarp
Please do not throw the dogs IRL.

Because that happens more than I would have guessed.

(Maybe I should choose my players differently.)

Anyway…

Different games use different combat systems, of course. Different groups of players are going to employ combat rules in their own unique ways. So some folks may not even need a map. I’ve heard arguments that in some games, combat — at least the storytelling aspect of it — is enhanced by not having a map.

But I don’t have supreme confidence in my descriptive storytelling or in the attention span of players. And as much as possible, I want them to see the world as I see it in my head.

An easy method that requires very little artistic talent is the plain hexagonal or square grid roll-up playmat. Get wet-erase markers, draw lines for walls and add a few simple features, BAM! Instant dungeon.

Tiles
A slight step up from the playmat

But for some of us, this might not cut it.

So there’s the option of tiles. Wizards of the Coast has put out a whole mess of these sets, with punch-out cardboard map pieces you can mix and match to create any number of settings. They’re generally pretty easy on the eyes, but can be painful to the wallet if you want a good variety.

And my experience has been that I spend more time in preparation looking through a bag or drawer of tile pieces trying to find parts that are “just right,” and then I spend too long during the gaming session trying to recreate the map that I made before.

I don’t want to put together a puzzle in front of my friends, and they don’t want to watch me. They want to own monsters with nat 20s.

I need something faster.

Eevil Paizo strikes again.

How about maps I can just lay down and run with? (To be fair, Wizards also puts out similar products, and I’m sure there are smaller companies doing it too.)

Need urban combat in a city? Who wants to draw every individual building? And if you’re rushing, be honest: all your buildings will end up as little featureless squares. So why not unfold one of these City Streets flip-mats?

Maybe you need more detail. Maybe you’ve got your players clearing out an enemy force by going building-to-building. You can pick up the Shops Map Pack and have interior maps for every building on that flip-mat, including upstairs and downstairs in most cases. Now you have the element of surprise, too. The players only see into buildings as they get inside them–you lay down the individual building map as needed. So you get something like this:

… continue pwnage.
Clear some buildings…
…move to next building…

 

Of course, this plan costs a pretty penny. Or about 2,500 of them. Plus tax. Plus getting to your local game store and hoping they have it, or getting it through the store in the links above… which probably means shipping and handling, too.

If you want to spend the money but don’t have a conveniently located game store–you can get Paizo’s eevil map subscription plan, which gets you each new map and pack as they come out (charged to your credit card at the time, of course). The advantage is that you also get access to a free .pdf of the map or map-pack, in case you want to print your own.

Printing your own… hey, there’s an option! Maybe I don’t want $25 a month going to random map packs I may or may not actually use. What’s stopping me from printing off a map for cheap?

Nothing.

In fact, using that limited artistic talent again, you can print off sheets of 1×1 grid, and then draw whatever you want on them. Like I said, I spend time looking for the “just right” tiles or maps, time I could be spending on any number of other things.

Maybe this is enough.

Quality suffers a bit, of course. It’s not shaded and colorful and pretty. But a quick-drawn map on a sheet of paper or two serves the intended purpose, providing a graphic representation of where all players are in combat, so that your players can develop and execute strategies to kill things and take their stuff.

It all depends on the needs of your group and the needs of your budget.

Heck, if tiles and measuring range and all of that are unnecessary in your system or your group’s playstyle, just sketch out the setting like a football play.

Even this might suffice.

The pic isn’t great, but you can jot down names of PCs and monsters on the page, plus add a little bit of setting detail.

(This is meant to show a couple trees for cover and a line for the trail through the scene).

I threw in lines to show movement and red lines to show ranged attacks, with red circles for the blast radius of spells.

Is this high-quality? No.

Does it work? Possibly.

Does it cost money? About two bucks for paper and a pen. If you’re doing any traditional tabletop RPG, you probably have plenty of both right at your fingertips.

As always, find out what works for your group and what saves you the most time and money, then run with it and have a blast.

For the sake of brevity (relatively speaking), I’m not even going to get into stuff like 3D terrain pieces or the crazy craftsmanship (warning: language) that can go into setting up a particular encounter. That Penny Arcade link just shows some pictures of the ridiculous extent they went to in creating a setting for one session. If you can find the articles where they explain the game mechanics of those settings, it is mind-blowing.

Anyway, you can do that. You can literally create worlds for your players to explore.

And you probably ought to, if you are able. But for most of us, that just doesn’t happen, because life.

Speaking of relevant things that distract from life…

I’ll just leave this roll20 link here. Welcome to the future.

Drudgery and Drag-on

Giving up some of the structure of the game you’re playing can sometimes make for more interest in the story you’re telling.

So we finally got a gaming table set up in our living room (a sweet hexagon table we picked up for cheap… reminds me of BattleTech), and the entertainment center next to the table is filled with all things D&D.

Time to put it all to use!

For my birthday, among other things, we decided to finally sit down as a family and play some D&D for the first time since our move. I had some new Eevil Paizo products, and I wanted to try them out! I whipped up some generic notes to form a very rough (and thus flexible) plotline, got character sheets and minis and map packs ready, and laid out sets of dice.

We got started, but we’re not the traditional table-top RPG group. I’m dealing with a 12-year-old and an 11-year-old, who both pretty much “get it.” My wife is also playing, but our 1-year-old is requiring attention RIGHT NOW. And then I’ve got a 6-year-old who wants to play but also starts thinking about Angry Birds any time there’s a second of silence in the game. So… how to cater to the needs of this group?

It has been a while since we played. I mention terms like “Perception” and then have to explain where on the character sheet to find the skill. We talk about powers and attacks, but they’re not remembering what all they can do. We go over generic descriptions of the characters they’ve chosen, and what sort of decisions they might make.

*snore*
Can I just do some math homework instead?

I figure, start with action rather than with non-combat role-playing, or else the 6-year-old is done. Sure enough, he’s pretty well into the combat, even if he needs coaching on how his character can participate. “You can shoot your crossbow at that rat, or you can run over, pull out your sword, and slash at it.” His first attack goes well, but the second misses. He seems kind of overwhelmed, and his character gets stung by a scorpion. I try to put it in terms he understands. “Remember when you were crying today because your sister hit you SO hard? That’s what this felt like for Clayface. He got stung in the shoulder just like you got hit. He could take maybe another three or four hits like that before he gets knocked out.”

So he’s mad at that scorpion, and still kind of unsure about what to do. Then my wife uses her warlord to give my son a free attack. Basically, the warlord opens up, vulnerable to attack, drawing the attention of some enemy… then one of the warlord’s allies gets to use that distraction to his or her advantage, making a free attack. Justin rolls his attack…

…and gets a 20.

I use the GameMastery Crit Hits deck (and the Crit Fumble deck) for additional description and excitement. I have seen exactly zero players complain about the fun of finding out what specifically their crits accomplished, and sometimes the random cards fit the story in ways far better than I could come up with on my own. So my son’s rogue, Clayface slashes at the scorpion, doing only modest damage, but permanently blinding the poor creature. Now he’s completely excited.

Still, this fight is taking a long time, and the kids are barely familiar with their characters and the rules. They get the idea that “you say what you want to do, you roll a d20, add some number off the sheet, and then figure out if that’s enough to succeed.” It hits me… do we all really care that the AC for a Giant Centipede is 16? Does it really matter that they have a Mandible attack that is +6 to the roll, with a chance for 1d8+4 damage on hit? No, none of that matters. What matters is, do they get the feeling they can contribute in a meaningful way?

Very quickly, we’re doing guesstimated math. If a number is readily available, I’ll use it. (My wife’s warlord’s AC is 17, for example). If not, I have a good guess in my head. Maybe I’m not doing the monsters justice, or maybe they’re slightly more powerful than they should be.

So what! We’re playing this for the kids, not just for me. They’re completely satisfied with this system.

We finish the fight and it has gone longer than I planned (1 year old distractions!). For whatever reason, in my haste, I never bothered to think of the party capturing the last evil creature for questioning. They ask a bunch of generic questions, and decide to use the goblin as a bargaining chip for when they meet the rest of the goblins that might be attacking the town the heroes came from. (Little do they know that the goblins have no loyalty at all  and won’t care… but that will be for next time.)

By now, it’s 9 PM, and it’s time for bed for the kidlets. But I learned something important in this short gaming session: as long as your group is fine with it, you can speed things up significantly by reducing the strictness of the rules. I didn’t have exact breakouts for every monster’s stats or make the kids do all the math required to play by the rules. We just got the story and the fight going, and kept it moving fast enough to keep them interested.

Yawn
You can be strict with these… or not.

You roll a 5 when you make your attack? You miss. You roll a 16? You hit. Figure somewhere about 11-12 as the cutoff and then just go with it. Is it a tough monster with thicker armor or swifter reflexes? Maybe 13 or 14 is the cutoff for that one.

The attack does 9 damage? Ok, then this level 1 or level 2 monster is probably bloodied now. Do you really need to make sure that Dire Rat #2 gets its full 12 HP worth of actions before getting bloodied? No, not really, not for this particular group.

Your group dynamics are going to tell you very quickly if you can get away with this sort of thing. I’ve often had at least one player in the group who wants the specific numbers. “Wait a minute, I rolled a 13 last time with a +6 to attack, and I hit… she rolled a 14 with a +3 to attack and missed… so this thing’s AC must be about 18…”

That player is probably not going to be satisfied with this option.  I’d suggest being honest and up-front with your players about it. Ask if it will bother them if you try to speed combat and skill challenges along in this manner.  It may take some of the pain and concentration away from strict dice math, and focus the concentration of your players on the story developing in the game.

And I think that’s where you want it to be.

Paizo is Eevil, pt 2

Seriously… STOP TAKING ALL MY MONEY! (Except I’ll puchase a few of these and one of those… and a set of that.)

DM: “You approach Torhalin and inform him that–“

Ranger: “Wait, who’s Torhalin again?”

Rogue: “I thought he was the guy we killed last session.”

Paladin: “No, that was the other dwarf… the one we used the Jar-Jar mini for…”

Ranger: “Oh yeah, I hated that guy. So who’s this guy?”

DM: *sigh*

More likely than not, if you’re playing a tabletop RPG campaign, you have a few non-player characters (NPCs) that show up regularly. It could be the innkeeper who offers free room and board based on some favor the adventurers have done for her… along with juicy gossip full of quest hooks. It could be the kindly noble who needs heroes willing to stand up to insurmountable odds in order to save his town. Maybe it’s a favorite villain whose presence sends your players into a frothing rage. (Using a Jar-Jar mini helps with this.)

In any event, a name and brief description only gets you so far. Using an accent or particular speech pattern might make the NPC more memorable, but you still can only hope you are making an impression on your players.

Friends & Foes
Worth a thousand pennies!

A picture is still worth a thousand words.

And a deck of pictures is apparently worth about ten bucks.

The Friends and Foes deck comes with 54 full-color face cards, each with a space for notes on the back to aid with keeping track of just who the heck Torhalin is in your campaign. When you introduce an important NPC, you give your players an immediate image of what he or she looks like along with your description and roleplaying. Each time they encounter that character, they get the visual reminder that says “This is who you’re talking to, remember?”

GameMastery has at least two others: Enemies and Urban NPCs. I’m not going to bother looking through their store to see if they have any more… because I might buy them.

On top of having a visual cue, the deck of various pictures might inspire new ideas for characters, situations, interactions, or encounters… maybe even key campaign arcs.

herp de derp
…and you know you wanna play THIS guy!

Of course, the downside is that you only have so many cards, and the variety means you only have so many of particular types of NPCs. It might seem strange if all the bad guys start to look just like the first villains the heroes encounter.

But the decks are a great start… IF you want to spend ten dollars.

There are cheaper ways, of course.

If you have any artistic talent (or if one of your players does, and is willing to volunteer the effort), you can make your own cards, tailored specifically to the needs of your campaign.

You know what you want the diabolical politician and her powerful magician advisor to look like.

Corrupt Politicians
Corrupt Politicians

You have an idea of how the ancient ghost in the ruined city will appear.

Ancient Ghost
Ancient Ghost

What about the crafty assassin your party has chased throughout the realm?

Crafty Assassins

Show the players exactly what you want them to see. (Try to have better handwriting than I did, though.)

This also works great for scripted events. You have the chance to show rather than tell.

Poor Archmage Danethral…

Danethral before
Danethral, before…

At some point he was doomed to get twisted inside out by one of the villains. I did my best to describe this, and a few of my players at least said, “Ew, that sucks.” Then I showed them the card,

after
…and after

and I got more than one cringe or grimace. Win!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, so you’re not an artist. (I barely qualify as one anyway, so don’t feel bad. Paizo’s not banging down my door asking me to draw stuff for them.) What are you supposed to do?

Though stick figures might be good for comic relief, that’s not a sustainable option. Likewise, if your “art” becomes a distraction, it will take the players out of the game to try to figure out if that’s a picture of the troll or the damsel in distress. No bueno.

Oh hai Google Images.

If you use a computer as a DM screen, or even if you just load some pictures to your iPhone or cell, you can easily show your players a decent representation of what their characters are looking at. Load a few key NPC pics, and you can easily remind them of who they’re interacting with, while paying nothing but a few minutes’ of image search in the process.

And of course, your rulebooks probably have a few pictures in them as well. Flip to a page if you have a hardcopy, or bring up an image if it’s a softcopy, and there you go. Obviously, that’s less than desirable, but it’s better than nothing.

And if all that fails, and your players stilldon’t remember your villain, break out the Jar-Jar miniature. They may not know who it is or why they’re out to kill him, but they will unleash all manner of fury in their effort to destroy him… especially if he says, “Meesa gon’ die!”

Jar Jar