Tag Archives: tabletop

Just Say "Yes"

It’s time for Tabletop Tuesday!

Roll for Imagination
Roll for initiative to see if you can keep up with your players’ insane ideas.

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to leapfrog over the rogue and flip through the air to land next to the goblin and smash his face with my hammer.”

“…”

“I want to grab hold of this powerful conduit of magical energy while casting a spell at the incoming ranks of undead, in the hopes that maybe it will, like, amp up my powers… or something?”

“…….”

What do you do when your players come up with unique plans and crazy ideas?

Just say “Yes!”

Tabletop Role-Playing is all about collaborative storytelling. It’s all about the characters, the heroes of the story. “Actions speak louder than words,” so when the players come up with unexpected methods to deal with conflict and trouble, that’s an important part of defining those characters for the story you’re all telling.

Sometimes this takes a little bit of stretching, a little imagination to figure out “How do we make this work?” It can be challenging to come up with a solution on the spot, but that gives the DM more practice being flexible.

Someone wants to jump on an enemy and bite at them, Mike Tyson style? Say yes.

Someone suggests setting the whole outpost on fire in order to gain a short-term advantage? Go for it.

Someone decides to activate a mysterious magic device in an attempt to stop a powerful foe? Why not!

Discrepancy
Page 183 of the Player’s Manual clearly defines Diplomacy, but you say in your post that you allowed your group to use it in a fight… so… can you clear up the obvious discrepancy?

Psst, to all the rules lawyers, you and I both know this is completely unacceptable. Stick with me for a bit. If nothing else, they just handed you a golden ticket as the DM.

Perhaps, “Oops, now the whole building is burning down, and you must race to rescue the innocent captives / recover the precious artifacts before it collapses on your heads.”

Or several sessions later, “Remember when you activated that device in order to destroy that elite monster? Yeah, you also set off a beacon that attracted the attention of an incomprehensible alien race that is now making their way to your realm. Better get ready!”

Or, “Hey, that sounds cool. Sure, you gnaw the guy’s face.” And everyone in that region now knows what this hero is willing to do in order to win.

I recall a story from a game designer recounting a session with his son. At the end of the fight, his son says, “My character goes to the statue near the altar and discovers a hidden treasure. He tries to open it, but it has a trap.” The kid starts alternate-DMing for a moment. And the game designer father had the good sense in the moment to just go with it.

The party ends up with a little extra gold, the kid’s character gets poisoned and needs to heal more than he did before, and everyone moves on with the rest of the session. But that moment told the child, “This is your game too. This is your world. Let’s explore it together.”

Just say “yes.” Your games will be better for it.

Okay… rules lawyers, it’s time for a very important caveat.

Are there limits to this suggestion? …Yes. (See what I did there?)

“Is there a way that I can use diplomacy to leap across the chasm and then maybe do an endurance check in order to disarm the trap?”

No. No, there’s absolutely not a way.

Every DM has probably had a player who gets one exceptional skill, and then tries to use it every round. “Can I use my Dungeoneering to fight the goblin? Can I use my Dungeoneering to forage for food in the sky temple? Can I use my Dungeoneering to understand complex magic and recall a historic religious ritual that will help us spot the hidden treasure? I do have a really high Dungeoneering score…”

But your players never want to hear “No.”  So what do you do?

You want your default inclination to be “Yes” so long as it makes sense.

Take advantage of that collaborative aspect of the tabletop game. Make them explain how exactly their favorite go-to skill is going to help in this particular situation. You give them the impression you’re willing to go along as long as they can come up with a convincing answer. You show them you’re willing to bend a bit for the sake of story without completely breaking the game or common sense. You put the ball back in their court and ask how it’s supposed to go from there.

Your average tabletop player is probably going to be reasonable and admit that their idea is beyond the scope of reason. If not, then once again go collaborative. Have a majority vote from your players or invite suggestions on how to make it work. And of course, as the DM you have the ultimate power to conclude that there’s no reasonable way to agree to the crazy plan. So, sometimes say, “No.”

But only if absolutely necessary.

Cooperative Storytelling

Cooperative Storytelling

This isn’t the first time I’ve posted about tabletop role-playing, but it’s the first Tabletop Tuesday post. I hope to funnel all the related topics into this weekly category: reviews of various products, ideas for how to add to your game on the cheap, thoughts about how to run a group, or accounts of silly thing my players have done in game.

Now with 100% less capes!
Write your own story, with friends

Yet for many, the idea of tabletop role-playing is quite a mystery. Some of us have probably heard a lot about the evils of games like Dungeons and Dragons, and perhaps we’ve seen groups of young (or not so young) people dressing up and playing live action games in local parks. Even my wife was worried before her first time playing a tabletop RPG.

“I don’t have to wear a cape, do I?”

The extent of role-playing is defined by the group. No one has to quote Harry Potter terms or wave a stick around yelling “You shall not pass!” If the players are open to that, more power to them. But that’s not what the games are about.

Tabletop games are all about a group of people telling a story together.

It’s not much different from the lure of major sports. We watch men and women perform challenging but ultimately useless feats of athletic skill, and we get drawn into all the rivalries and back-story of our favorite teams and superstars. No one really cares if a guy can put a ball into a hoop suspended up in the air, or if someone can hit a little white ball with a stick.

No, we get into the stories.

Will so-and-so ever lead his team to victory? Maybe this is his year to shine. Can that player overcome his public indiscretions, or will his performance on the field suffer? Will Team A triumph over Team B this year, since Team B crushed them in the finals last season?

We even go so far as to imagine “what if” with sports. What if this great player from this team and that great player from that team were actually on the same team? What if I took these five players I really like, and put them on the same team? How would they compare against other people’s choices? And thus we have Fantasy sports, so-called D&D for Jocks.

We are drawn to the characters, the conflicts, the victories and the failures. That’s ultimately what tabletop RPGs are about. You’re not merely reading a book or watching a movie, waiting for the next twist, wondering when the mystery will be explained or the hidden villain revealed. You’re not trying to comprehend and relate to whatever main character you’ve been given.

You’re helping write the plotline for a character of your choosing.

Beyond that, tabletop gaming is a social activity with friends gathering (usually) in the same place. It’s a creative activity, allowing players the chance to think outside their daily norm and even act a part. It’s a strategic activity, with rules and tactics that players can use to their advantage, like a chess game with dice. When it works out, tabletop gaming can be a great diversion, just like any hobby.

And, no, you don’t have to wear a cape.

+1 Sling of Angry Birds

We’ve been playing a tabletop role-playing game for Family Game Night.

Tonight we took a break to level up the characters.

I also took some time to level up my son’s interest in the game.

Justin (7 years old) has a rogue character named Clayface, and he seems to be enjoying himself. The problem is, all Clayface ever really has to do is shoot his crossbow at everyone’s face.

When I ask, “Justin, what do you want to do?” that’s always the answer.

“I shoot the goblin in the face.”

“I shoot my crossbow at the spider. In the face.”

“I want to shoot my crossbow RIGHT IN HIS FACE!”

So I thought, how am I going to get Justin to think more about what different things he might want to do?

That’s when I thought of these guys:

Justin is an absolute nut about Angry Birds.

And this is a silly family game where anything can be allowed.

So why not give Clayface the rogue a slingshot and a sack of birds to use as ammunition?

For the next session, I get to hand Justin the sheet below. It may not get him sneaking around and role-playing a rogue, but it will get him thinking about what he wants to do in the game, even if it turns into, “I fire Little Red into the goblin’s face!”

Angry Birds in D&D 4E form

Paizo is Still Eevil

Some of the best parts of tabletop role-playing are the creative ways players solve or avoid (or outright ignore) the problems and troubles the DM/GM/Storyteller sends their way.

One of the other best parts is coming up with those surprises to stump your players.

This afternoon, I sat down with the wife and kids to continue our D&D campaign. They’ve been steered (mostly by their characters’ needs and not by railroad tracks) toward tracking down a manipulative vampire clan. Members of the clan operate behind the scenes all over the realm, and it’s the heroes’ job to root these villains out.

They’re starting to travel all around the region, which gives me the chance to use a variety of settings.

Tabletop version of plug-and-play.

I was going to use my copy of Dungeon Delve, with its pre-made adventures. But that would require getting tiles together, and I was looking for something with less prep required.

Good thing I had an unopened pack of GameMastery map tiles: Mines.

It’s 18 tiles that are made to mix and match, so that you can create a variety of tunnels to explore.

Events in the game led the wife’s and kids’ characters to a nearby mine overrun by goblins somehow connected to the clan. There are surviving miners… probably. Rescue is the main goal… as far as they know.

The intrepid heroes are ready to move in, and since it’s a dark mine, I lay out one Mines map tile at a time as they advance through the mine. I fanned out the tiles, blank backs up, and let the kids and Jami pick which one would be next. Then I came up with a brief answer for why that section of tunnel mattered. Sometimes it was tracks in the dungeon. Sometimes it was signs of battle to hint at what they might soon face. Once it was a vein of gleaming ore.

But even before all of that, right off the bat, their creative juices are flowing. I start off with a Dungeoneering check, as Beastly Tiger notices something amiss in the entrance of the tunnel. The goblins have prepared a rock-fall trap for unwanted guests. The kids discuss how best to deal with this, when I tell them their characters hear goblins chatting ahead in the tunnel.

The children gave me a pleasant surprise by remembering the idea of “holding action.” Basically, that means a character is ready to do a certain action if something specific happens. “I hold my axe up, ready to chop at the first goblin that walks through the door,” for example.

Deborah decides Beastly Tiger would make some noise to get the goblins’ attention, then she prepares to chuck a rock at the cords that will trigger the trap. Justin likes this plan, and declares that Clayface has his crossbow ready to shoot the cords at the other side of the tunnel, once the goblins are in position. Jonathan finishes up by “holding” a magic missile to hit any of the goblins who survive the rock-fall trap.

Needless to say, the battle went poorly for the goblins. It also went poorly for Jami’s new monk character, Lily-Ann, a halfling who is unfortunately about goblin sized. That explains why Beastly Tiger may have accidentally swung his hammer to smash Lily-Ann in the side of the head:

Deborah rolled a 1. We picked a fumble card, and it said “You attack your ally instead. This attack is a critical threat.” So Deborah rolled for her attack against Lily-Ann, and the die went off the table. She tried again, and rolled a 20. Murphy’s Law, I guess.

Even so, the heroes had little difficulty dealing with the goblins and some creepy-crawlies in the tunnels.

I needed a good hook to end with, and as we took a quick break, it came to me.

Not yours. Mines.
So maybe I took mix-and-match too far…

I’d been removing the old map tiles behind their characters in the mine, partly to save space, but more importantly, to set up the surprise.

They hit an intersection, determined a direction, and quickly came to a dead end with the section that has ore. They fought more beasties, then turned around to back-track…

And eventually they found themselves right back at the ore, even though they’d gone the opposite direction.

Deborah and Jonathan look at me funny. Jami asks, “Wait, what?” And then it starts to dawn on their faces…

Time and space are being shifted around in the mine. The path they took is now completely different. There is a monstrous creature in the cavern whose powerful twisted magic creates this effect, and they must find it and slay it in order to find their way out.

Jonathan’s eyes go wide, and he declares, “I like where this is going.”

Removing the tiles saved space and created a fun challenge.

The kids took off to play outside, since there was only a couple hours before sunset. But they made sure to ask, “Can we keep playing once we come back inside?”

I’ll chalk that up as a win.

This Game Bites

It’s almost weekly game night with my wife and kids. Maybe I better post last week’s silliness.
 
Last week my wife and kids had their heroes continue a desperate attack against the goblins who took over their town. They had just finished clearing out the Town Hall when the last living goblin cried out, “Wait! I’ll tell you everything!”
 
So we began with that conversation.
 
I love Pathfinder’s goblins.
They look totally nuts.

The fearful goblin explains the mysterious jewel the goblins are seeking: it’s a magical artifact that can exert control over the goblins in some way. The band of goblins are part of a larger organization led by the enigmatic Kal, who no one has ever seen and lived to describe. Kal has allowed the goblins to keep the jewel as a sign of trust in their relationship, and the goblins have pledged their support to Kal’s unknown goals.

 
Further details are all well above the head of the pathetic goblin captive, so the party stops questioning him.
However, if his story is true, the goblins aren’t motivated to ransack or destroy. The heroes begin wondering if it’s possible for them to help the goblins find the jewel and thus end the invasion on the town.
 
They bring the goblin captive into the next underground tunnel and head for the smithy to attempt diplomacy.
 
The goblin is sent up the stairs with the offer of coordinated effort.
 
His corpse is dropped down the stairs a moment later, followed by a fireball.
 
Burak, the half-orc sorceror I control, takes a crit and gets knocked 15 feet down the tunnel. I’m fine with this. As I’ve said before, I like finding ways to get him out of the way. That way, we can focus on my wife’s character and especially my kids’ characters as heroes.
 
Justin’s rogue, Clayface, is the first up the stairs. The party already knows there are four goblins near the stairs. But I whisper to Justin, informing him that there are four more goblins at the far end of the room. One of them is the purple goblin the heroes have been looking for.
 
I don’t put down any pieces because I don’t want the rest of the party to know yet. They’re downstairs. They can’t see these extra goblins.
 
But I do tell Justin, “Would Clayface want to tell his friends anything about what’s up here?”
 
Justin thinks a moment, and ‘Clayface’ informs his allies, “Guys, there are goblins up here.”
 
Deborah looks at me with eyes and a smirk that say, “Duh… we knew that.”
 
Jonathan calls out, “Uh… okay! Thanks…” in a sing-song response.
 
Jami’s character is next up the stairs and finds out about the added goblins. She laughs about Justin’s well-meaning attempt at a warning.
 
Soon everyone is upstairs from the underground tunnel into the smithy (well, everyone but Burak). The fight is pretty intense, and almost all the heroes are bloodied, D&D 4th Edition’s term for “half-dead.”
 
On his turn, Jonathan decides that Killbot is mad about this.
 
He starts asking about rules for biting.
 
“I want to walk up and bite the goblin on the nose.”
 
GOBLINS!
OM NOM NOM

I try not to laugh. “Your character is pretty big and these guys are small. Look at that picture of your character. If you bite a goblin, you’re probably biting on his whole head.”

 
“Okay, even better.”
 
We roll for grappling, as Killbot tries to catch and hang onto a goblin. Then we roll an attack for the bite itself. It hits but doesn’t do too much damage. Jonathan doesn’t care. He just wants the goblins to know that the Dragonborn wizard is MAD.
 
Then it’s Justin’s turn.
 
 
He has a habit of getting excited that it’s his turn and immediately rolling dice to see “how well I do.” He knows most things in D&D require the roll of a 20-sided die.
 
He rolls a 20, a critical hit or automatic success.
 
As usual, I have to ask him, “But what are you trying to do?”
 
“Shoot my crossbow at something that’s not dead that’s not one of my friends in the game.”
 
Fair enough.
 
Killbot continues his toothy rampage. He grabs and bites the purple goblin on the head.
 
But the goblins score a lot of hits. Jonathan looks around and says, “I’m the only one in the party not bloodied yet.”
 
He says this as I calculate damage for an arrow that hits him and bloodies him.
 
 
The purple goblin and another goblin die in a scorching burst cast by Jonathan’s wizard.
 
The three remaining goblins get mad and start chanting, “Bursh nakh!”
 
Two of the three fall dead from Clayface’s crossbow bolts.
 
But then the wall shakes, splinters fly, and the last goblin rejoices.
 
Killbot grabs hold of the third goblin, and bites him. The goblin tries to break free but is held fast.
 
Then Justin decides he wants to shoot at it.
 
“Justin, your friend is holding the goblin… the goblin who is about to die.”
“Yup.”
“You remember, your magic crossbow causes explosions when it kills enemies.”
“Yup.”
“You might hit Killbot with your crossbow, or you might hit the goblin and make it explode. Are you sure about this?”
“Hmm…”
I try to throw him some rope.
 
“Let’s talk about delaying actions or holding actions. You can choose something you want to do, and say ‘if this or that happens, I will do this.’ So, maybe Beastly Tiger could stand next to a door and declare, ‘If an enemy comes through, I’m going to smash it in the face with my hammer and call it a hobo.’ Your character picks an action and waits for the right moment to do it. Does that make sense?”
“Yup.”
“And you guys are in the same room. So you can talk about this. You can tell Killbot, ‘Throw that goblin toward me.’ Then when he does, you can shoot it and make it explode.”
“Ok.”
“So… do you want to do that?”
“Nope.”
“…”
“I want to shoot it.”
“Right now?”
“Yup.”
 
I give Killbot a break and allow him a saving throw to see if he can react in time. You roll a d20, and on 10 or better, you succeed… so you have just over a 50-50 shot at whatever it is. He saves, and throws the goblin away just as the crossbow bolt hits it.
 
With the goblins defeated, the heroes have a moment to catch their breath.
 
Then they learn what “Bursh nakh” means, as the Dire Bear the goblins summoned bursts into the room like the Kool-Aid man.
 
I think the bear might do some biting too.
OHHH YEAH!!

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.