Tag Archives: dnd

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