ShamBam thoughs on D&D the game

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ShamBam thoughs on D&D the game

Postby Shamsy » Fri Mar 21, 2014 3:28 pm

Welcome to my thoughts thread!

In more than 17 years of RP and most of that D&D, you tend to get a few thoughts, opinions, hints and stories you'd like to share with other like-minded individuals. You may even get some insight into how I run games and think 'that's why that happened'.

So this is going to be the thread where I post some of these topics. This is not necessarily a discussion thread. I'm basically just putting thoughts to 'paper' as it were. You may disagree, you may agree, you may think what a prat, but that's your choice. We're lucky enough to have free will so we may as well use it.

Some of the topics I will cover include;

Enemy intelligence
Encounter loot
Realistic reactions
Good, neutral and evil
How to deal with a party
Traps, monsters and environment
Fudging stats and rolls
Creative VS absurd
Rules lawyers

I'll add to the list as I feel like it. There's no timeline, no order, this isn't related to anything happening on site, so please don't think I'm taking a dig if I happen to post something after a game.
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Re: ShamBam thoughs on D&D the game

Postby Shamsy » Fri Mar 21, 2014 4:02 pm

Enemy Intelligence

So here's a great topic to start the ball rolling. The importance of reading the intelligence stat block on a monsters profile. Now, as a rule of thumb Dm usually want to create an enjoyable encounter containing the following elements; challenging, surmountable, requiring some though. So basically you don't want to make 'silly moves' with you 'critters' that may remove one or all of these core elements.

But this is where enemy intelligence really comes into play. We should all know and expect that a zombie will not have the same tactical movement as a lich would. The higher a creatures intelligence score the more a DM can justifiably create a 'tactical' game that will challenge the players and put his own chess skills to the test. Intelligence can also be an important scene setter, useful in narrative, good for hints. Your own creativity is the limit here.

So to set up some context, here are a couple of examples of 'low intelligence' and how it can be used in a game.

The PC enter an enclosed graveyard and encounter zombies. Now, unless commanded these things are basically going to do one thing. Charge and attack. Do they take note of the PC's ready spears? No. Do they 5ft step to flank? Maybe actually. If it will get them closer to the 'food', why wouldn't they? Will they provoke AoO with their movement? Sure, if they need to to reach said 'food'.

Now, this of course raised two more great scenarios and points here. Zombies are mindless and will do stupid, unpractical things. However, the important bit to remember is that through a little creativity, you can make 'smart zombies'. Say a necromancer hides nearby, commanding them. Suddenly they move in formation and make 'smart moves'. Do you have to give up flanking opportunities because these things are low intelligence? No way! Justify it! "As three zombies proceed to drag Sandra down under their weight, the remaining two lurch towards the waiting fighter, seeking a meal of their own." Or even make zombies prefer rotund or less armoured foes. After all, they want to attack the living, so the 'more of the living' part exposed surely beckons louder?

Another example would be orcs. Not dumb, not bright. Do they move tactically? Well, are these well trained orcs, experienced in battle? Are they a young band of berserk who are likely to charge into a spear line in crazy blood lust?

The more intelligent a creature the harder it is to justify 'blunders' in combat. But if the PC are taunting, fighting skirmish style and hard to hit or perhaps the enemy is sorely wounded, well all these things can be used to 'justify' said blunders. I also tend to believe that more intelligent foe may be more prone to escape or bartering wit opponents should they find themselves sorely outmatched.

So what I'm getting at is that DM should take note of an intelligence score and RP towards that level. But so long as you can justify it, why not add a little tactical movement to increase that 'challenge' factor. But of course it is a fine line. If you make mindless creature too tactical then that really defeats the purpose of their mindlessness in the first place. If you make a brainy wizard go for a merry run past 4 armed and AoO ready fighters, well, need I say that's not likely to make a fun scenario. As with everything it's a fine line with playing a monster in character and creating a challenging scenario. Above all good RP, challenge and fun should be at the forefront of the DM's thoughts as they set up the scene.
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Re: ShamBam thoughs on D&D the game

Postby Shamsy » Thu Apr 17, 2014 5:49 pm

Realistic Reactions

So the next topic I have chosen to cover is 'realistic reactions'. This is near and dear to my heart. I've had plenty of games ruined when players just do absurd, meta-gaming or sudden character switches. This can occur for a variety of reasons, but here are some of the most common I have encountered:

The DM/story teller etc drops a hint of comment
The PC see an advantage to a change in attitudes or basic character personality
People want the story to go a certain way
A situation would be detrimental if you acted normally

So here is a real life example of a game utterly ruined by the players;

Setting is an island in the modern era. PC are solidiers ascending a mountain to look for a threat. They climb over a cliff. A big monster looms! They ready their guns to take it out! One party member fired… then the DM said "Oh, so you just kill it then?" That was game over.

Suddenly "Oh, uh, as I was climbing my gun would have been slung so I wasn't holding it." "I never said I acted threateningly." "Blah blah blah", the bull shit continued. It got so ridiculous that one of the PC ended up trying to pet the alien and bandage the wound. Yes, that's right. Because we all know that a team of soldiers encountering an alien on a strange island would suddenly buddy up to it. "Oh how cute! A huge alien with massive fangs! Lets pat it and be utterly nonchalance! Good thing I never had a gun ready!" I never RPed with that group again.

So that's one example of players mixing meta-gaming, unrealistic reactions and complete personality switches. Often it isn't quite so blatant, but it does happen.

So what I am appealing to here is for people to think of how their PC may react to a few different situations. If you want to play the fearless hero, by all means, we are playing a fantasy setting after all! But you should stick to that archetype, not pick and choose WHEN you will be fearless. For almost all PC they should be afraid of something. I cannot believe that anything but epic level PC could snort and dismiss an ancient red dragon off hand. Oh, PC have feelings to. Doubts, regrets, remorse… If your paladin just stopped the rampaging orc by lighting a forest fire, only to later find out you destroyed Silverymoon, a "Oops." and shrug doesn't cut it.

When your PC encounter something that is obviously powerful, evil (I pick evil since WD is a good aligned city), disgusting, horrific or otherwise disturbing, don't just go "Oh, whatever." While we need to remember that Waterdeep is a city of wonders, with magic, ghosts and strange races running rampant, that doesn't and shouldn't mute a PC's reactions towards everything new they encounter. Dull maybe, but not mute.

My hint for this; think of how YOU would react. Then over the top of this reaction add you characters 'personality'. As I stressed earlier, play your PC true.

Now, as with all things there are exceptions too numerous to list. A PC may have a very good reason to act in what could be considered a non-typical way to a certain situation. A cleric is unlikely to be badly phased by undead. Perhaps the PC has already encountered a monster of that kind. Maybe the PC doesn't mind skipping through a volcano because they have a magical ring of non-burny-death. In the company of an overtly good OR evil party the PC needs to fit in for fear of repercussions or accomplishment of a shared goal. So there are situations where you may very legitimately alter the PC reactions from what would be considered typical. Just have a think next time the DM throws something new at you. "What would my PC do?"

I'll add that I think we have an excellent, mature and highly experienced group of players and DM here, so this is CERTAINLY not aimed at anyone. I'll probably reiterate this every time I post anyway.
Last edited by Shamsy on Sat Aug 02, 2014 3:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: ShamBam thoughs on D&D the game

Postby Mark » Thu Apr 17, 2014 7:51 pm

Like +1
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Re: ShamBam thoughs on D&D the game

Postby Corvin » Thu Apr 17, 2014 10:28 pm

I agree, and I can actually cite an example of my own:

The character was a CG Dwarven Fighter/Barbarian; his people were killed, and he was raised and trained by a tribe of savages. So the concept of "retreat" is not well-formulated within his mind. This will be important later.

Some time later, he and his adventuring group are on a ship which is being attacked by a megalodon. The dwarf has no ranged weapon, and never got around to removing his breastplate. The DM calls for an engineering-type skill check, and informs me that the ship can take two, maybe three more hits from the magalodon before capsizing, putting everyone in even greater danger. Now this dwarf has many options...unless you know how his mind works. He quickly tied a rope around his waist, pulled out his waraxe, screamed a war cry and opted for an over-the-railing midair charge attack via leaping off of the ship at the prehistoric ocean killer. The megalodon performed a successful attack of opportunity and snatched the dwarf out of the air by his leg. Again, while any PC with common sense would view this as bad, the dwarf laughed maniacally and informed the beast he had it right where he wanted him.

The dwarf continued to bash away at the face of the megalodon until he was which point he began stabbing it repeatedly in the stomach with his dagger. Eventually the beast was slain, and the ship's diver tied a new rope to the mast and retrieved the dwarf before he could finish drowning.

Always remember that it is ROLE play, not ROLL play. :D
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Re: ShamBam thoughs on D&D the game

Postby Shamsy » Tue May 06, 2014 1:28 am

Encounter Loot

This topic is near and dear to any players heart. Probably a few DM to, if you enjoy thinking about the exciting things that your party might find or want in their latest episode. So I've really got a few things to say about this, might break it up into chunks to make it easier to digest.

On this site it is a known and accepted fact that PC are 'poor' when compared to their Table Top equivalent. In my humble opinion, this is probably a good thing, as it prevents players from having a huge array of outrageous items that can blast enemies to pieces with a sneeze. It also adds a much greater sense of achievement every time you pick up a new trinket, armour or weapon. The system also works well to balance the game out a little bit, which I can't say is a bad thing. I have to add that the Journal system DeathSeeker has implemented is fantastic. It encourages thought and effort in writing about some aspect of a PC's life and also provides the time poor or circumstantially limited the opportunity to earn some coin and not fall too far under the poverty line.

When it comes to giving out treasure the DM has a variety of options. I'm going to try and not say which I think is best as it is entirely situational to a given adventure and entirely up to the DM. Instead I'll try and offer pro's and cons for both options and you can make up your mind. For reference, here is the link to the 'Rewards' guidelines; viewtopic.php?f=5&t=3557

So the first factor for the reward is the actual limit you have to distribute. We have guidelines that are both strict but also rather flexible for the DM to use. As gold is awarded per SESSION (yes, not per scene, adventure, chapter), meaning every time a player plants their PC into a room for any given time, the amount of gold you have to award increases. Now, some DM set a minimum 'play time' required before they will award a sessions gold, and I somewhat agree with this. I think it's a matter of common sense frankly. Ten minutes is not a suitable time for a reward. A couple of hours or more probably is. Next, there are MINIMUM rewards that a DM can give, based on the party's average level. As the table states, in almost every instance the 'Average' award should be given, though I myself will happily award the higher bracket if I feel the players really got into the adventure and put in a good effort. The next part is to decide what the average part level will be. Now, this is the first of the 'two ways to go about it', so I'll present these neatly below.

1) You pick the average party level based on the PC range. So lv1-3 party are awarded lv2 average gold. Easy right!

The pro's and cons for this (as I see it) are as follow…

Pro: Everyone gets and equal share (no hard feelings). You know exactly the max market cost of the loot you could offer. As all the PC shared the same risks, they get an equal reward.

Cons: A high level PC may get a lot less gold than they could earn in a higher level adventure. Some PC may contribute more resources or utility to the group. Sometimes the reward does not equal the adventure level (though this may be more poor choice on the DM side).

2) Award gold based on each individual PC level…

Pro: Each PC is awarded based on the investment the player has made levelling and playing that PC. Reward items are more suited to each PC based on value.

Cons: If each PC is at the same risk, it may seem very unfair that one will get more or less than another. Can promote bad feeling (evident in so many TT games, when the rogue runs off to make a quick buck on the side).

So whether the reward is based on the individual PC level or on an average, the next step is to decide what you will give the players. This basically comes down to three options; Straight gold reward, straight item reward, a mix of the two. Again there are pros and cons for each, which I will now discuss.

Straight gold. As the name implies, each PC gets gold. Simple.

Pro: It is simple! As easy as it gets for the DM. Players are free to purchase whatever the PC may want. Players can save up for larger purchases of expensive items. No one ever hates getting gold!

Cons: The party have only one option. There is no tangible memento of the adventure. The PC may miss out on something they would have never considered buying, but ultimately want.

Straight items. You get it.

Pro: They can usually be sold for gold anyway. The PC has a memento, something to say they were there, a memory in physical form. Allows for some great social as PC pull out shinies and say "Did I every tell you how I got this axe?". Adds a sense of history to a PC. Can be awesomely themed to align with the adventure (elven weapons from an elven adventure for example). Every PC should look like their equipment came from a variety store. Items given at loot are considered half market value, so a great way to even out the lack of gold on site. Can slip in a curse or some other story driven event based around that item (assassin wants his fav dagger back etc).

A mix of gold and items.

Well, this has the pro's of the above, without really any of the negatives. It's probably best to offer a few items though, so each PC may have something they can select from the pile. Gems, art and jewellery are also great ways to give 'gold' but also take advantage of the pros and cons of the item loot.

So, I will add that I am obviously a big fan of the item rewards. I've been able to give out some great and colourful items this way, which I hope the players have enjoyed parading around with their PC. You can think of your own item's you'll give, theme them around the adventure, include things the PC may want, ask the PC what they want (generally or more specifically). There are a lot of options available. For longer adventures with bigger rewards, I usually ask for a general idea of what player wants (weapon, armour, something to aid magic etc) then theme it to the quest they're on. In a volcano? Make it fire based. Under water? Aquatic items. Even just the general 'appearance' of an item can be a great way to theme gear and also give the player more visualisation of an item. Gee, even add a brief history and suddenly that +1 mace is SO much cooler, colourful and awesome to PC. June mentioned that one time she added runes to a mundane long sword, just for flavour, and quick as you like it was snapped up.

Sometimes it may not feel like it is appropriate to give out 1,000GP for the PC rescuing a beggar from a handful of thugs, but it is up to the DM to be creative enough to determine a reason why. Having said that, there is no reason you can't say IC 'He leaves, giving you only his thanks' and then say OOC 'PS guys, you'll all get 300GP anyway'. But really, off my head I can think of three ways to dish out that 1000GP without even more than a passing thought. I'm sure we all can.

Remember that there is also a provision for disposable magic items to! These are great and encourage players to actually use expendables. I encourage all DM to take advantage (in a clean and not underhand way) of our ability to hand out scrolls, potions, wands and some wondrous items.

Strange items are also a great and cheap way to add to the mystery of a treasure horde. This is where your imagination can run wild at little to no cost to the PC, provided that you're not trying to slip a +10 full plate suit in there on the sly.

It's up to the DM ultimately and we should always be grateful simply because running an adventure takes time, effort and is at times stressful and under-appreciated. We play adventurers and without adventures the game wouldn't be a lot of fun.

I've gone a little over on this one making it a long read. I've still got a heap to say, but this will do for now. If you made it this far I hope you've found it insightful, useful and possibly inspiring. The next dragon horde awaits!
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Re: ShamBam thoughs on D&D the game

Postby Shamsy » Sat Aug 02, 2014 3:47 am

The good, the bad and the ugly

Being an open site with basically no limitations of alignment (beyond the old if you murder a half dozen people in public there will be consequences) you get a myriad of different PC with different alignments, goals and responses to any given situation. What this can mean for the DM is difficulty in getting a party to cooperate, and the players themselves can have problems when the action of one PC inadvertently (or not!) triggers a 'can't let that pass' moment. So I'll offer some thoughts and perhaps tips here for the DM and individual players, should they find themselves in the middle of a battle between good and evil… before the adventure even begins!

As has been mentioned and I'm sure we all know, Waterdeep is a relatively lawful and good aligned settlement of the North. What this basically equates to is a lack of tolerance for displays of violence, evil magic, necromancy, and other 'evil' activities. If a PC thinks they can summon a pack of zombies in the streets to help them 'barter' with a stubborn merchant, they can expect a swift and ruthless response from the law enforcement. Does this mean that everyone is good in Waterdeep? HECK NO! But even the dumbest, most vile villain should know when to pick their battle and be aware that some things are for behind closed doors or shadowy alleyways.

I think we have a good mix of good and evil PC on the site. Often being 'evil' aligned doesn't mean that you have to stab people, steal babies and worship demons. It may simply be that the PC has less empathy, perhaps they will tolerate extremes, maybe they are complete psychopaths. So when a party assemble and the forces of light and darkness combine, how do you avoid blood?

Well, the first and most obvious thing I have mentioned above. If the evil elf goes and stabs the virtuous paladin in the street that's not going to end well for him. Conversely, the paladin, being lawful is unlikely to cut down the elf because she favours black leather and wicked looking daggers. It's about the realistic reactions again. The good PC may suspect the other of being less than squeaky clean, but unless there is some compelling, open reason to end them, it would be wrong to act without just cause. And evil PC probably can tell who the good guys are, because they tend to be a little outspoken about it. So does the evil PC want to attract attention? Very unlikely in a place like Waterdeep.

So here are some ways a DM and player can manage a mixed and potentially explosive party:

Reward. Offer a reward for goal A, and it's likely the two will work together to achieve it, even if the motives are stellar opposites. The good may want to help because they can, evil PC may seek profit or some other motive. A common goal is the great uniter and is usually enough.

If it looks as though PC are about to come to blows, you'd be surprised how a rapidly approaching threat can divert attention…

A situation where the PC must work together to proceed can often be a good way to 'bond' a party.

The skills and talents of the other PC are often valuable in completing a goal, so good PC may tolerate a 'different approach' while evil PC may see the 'necessity' of dealing with the shineys.

Despite being evil, often a PC is somewhat invested in their 'home', so while they may be something evil driving them, most PC probably don't want to see their 'home burn'.

Evil PC may see opposing NPC as a threat, rival or outright nemesis, so often they can work with good PC, under the belief of ultimately benefiting.

If a PC finds themselves grossly outnumbered by either shiny heroes or villainous types, they may not be quite so loud and abrasive in their beliefs. After all, who wants the kind of attention a pack of hostile adventurers can bring?

While they may be classed as evil or good, often a PC is SO much more complicated than that. They don't see it all in black and white, and nor should they in most circumstances. A 'grey area' may be a way for the PC to reach an amicable decision. Instead of setting the prisoner free or killing them outright, perhaps tying them up and clubbing them senseless is a 'grey' option that both parties can agree will resolve the problem.

In a fantasy setting, odd-balls, wild dress and exotic looks are hardly a reason to be suspicious or judgmental. Does your PC know the alignments of the rest of the party? No, usually not. They may have some idea of course, but we are past the burning people because they have a pointy nose stage.

Neutral PC often straddle that area between good and evil. They can often be the voice that mediates between two actions of opposite alignment.

A majority consensus usually wins out, even if one PC is against it on alignment grounds.

Often an adventuring PC has powerful allies and friends, so dealing a swift justice or nasty murder may have very real and devastating consequences for a PC. This is something your PC is likely only too aware of.

Hard choices sometimes need to be made, and good PC know that. Evil PC also understand that sometimes you need to let the good guys get their way. Compromise.

Do the means justify the ends? Is it okay to look the other way this one time? Is justice sometimes beyond what the law can or will administer?

I've offered a few of my thoughts on alignment and how it can managed as a player and a DM. If the party fight over every little decision or point it's not likely to be a lot of fun for anyone. Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't, because it is important to stay true to your PC and always keep the alignment in the back of your mind. This will give you a much more honest, consistent and realistic role playing experience. There does also come a point where a PC may just say enough, where someone has gone too far and blows will be traded. If this is the case, then by all means go for it! It doesn't have to be a duel to the death, as often a show of force, a threat or a promise of trouble will be enough. Play your PC truthfully but remember this is a team game and actions in Waterdeep do hold consequences!!
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