Archive for the ‘Home Campaign’ Category

Say My Name

As a follow-up to my earlier feminist gaming post, I happened to get in touch with a certain author of a certain fantasy name generator.  I’m being coy because while he was happy to share all his code and data with me, he explicitly asked that his name be removed from any credit or blame.  I guess that name generator is well over a decade old and not the author’s proudest work.  I think he’s mad, it’s wonderful and has been naming characters in my game world since its inception five years ago.

I have finally rooted through it, pulled out the data I wanted, reformatted it, and added in the missing female names.  It was actually pretty easy to just reformat the tables into something usable by my favorite randomizer: Inspiration Pad Pro.  Even better, I have discovered in the course of doing this that Inspiration Pad Pro now has an Android port, which means I get all these awesome names right in my pocket.  Huzzah!

And of course, share and share alike, right?  So here it is, my Inspiration Pad Pro table for Silly (Awesome) Fantasy Names:



After returning from my trip abroad I was greeted home with a horrible flu.  But I did manage to get that one post in before resigning myself to days of day-time TV curled up on the couch.  Actually, in this day and age of streaming TV day-time TV isn’t quite the same curse it was to the cold sufferer of my youth.  But, that’s all behind me, so what’s on my radar now?

Well, Carnage is this weekend and I’m woe-fully under prepared.  That’s not really true, I did cleverly sign up to run stuff that I have run at other conventions so really I should be able to just dust off my notes from previous runs and off we go.  The one bit of work I do need to do though is generate some characters.  I’ve been doing this long enough that of course I have some scripts I wrote to automate the process, but as my house rules are ever morphing I find each convention that creeps up I have to revisit those scripts and make some minor corrections.

This time around I find myself thinking about my rules for multi-classing.  First, let’s look at what I’m using in my home campaign right now:

IV. Multi-classing

Players may take on additional core classes (not including Ranger or Paladin) upon reaching 2nd level. They may never have more than three total classes, nor ever be both a cleric and a magic-user. A character’s second class can never exceed level 8, his third class is capped at level 4.

  • Must sacrifice single highest level of experience, XP is pro-rated at time of multi-classing.

  • Must have a 9 or higher in the prime requisite of the new class.

  • Must track all stats (XP, hit points, etc.) for each class. Always pick the current highest value as the actual value. May choose highest value for saves for each individual save.

  • Must choose at the start of each adventure which XP pool XP earned will go towards.

  • May use all abilities of any class. May not cast magic-user spells in armor heavier than chain mail. May not use thief skills in armor heavier than leather.

  • Elves may begin play as level 1/1 multi-class character, provided one class is magic-user.

That’s directly out of my 3-page booklet of house rules for my game, affectionately known as the BXCL (B/X Change List).  So, how has this affected my home campaign?  I currently have 7 players in my game, and they include 1 human fighter, 1 dwarf fighter / cleric, 2 paladins, 2 elf magic-user / fighters, and 1 elf magic-user / thief.  As the paladin class is specifically proscribed from multi-classing, that leaves 5 players out of which 4 have decided to multi-class.  In fact, the 5th one would have done so, but his stats are all so terrible that he doesn’t have the required 9 in any prime-reqs of alternate classes — likely why he chose fighter in the first place.

There are two things in play here that I’m not terribly happy with.  First off, that’s a lot more multi-classing than I would hope for.  I like multi-classing, but I prefer to see it in a minority of characters.  In my mind it should be for support characters willing to sacrifice some power for more flexibility, not an obvious tactic that simply makes all characters better.  Secondly, note how all the elves are first and fore-most magic-users.  I do like that elves encourage multi-classing, as it harkens back to the original B/X concept that all elves were essentially fighter/magic-user hybrids, but what about a fighter/thief, or even a fighter/magic-user over the magic-user/fighter?  It turns out that the rules above basically highly encourage players of elves to choose magic-user first, so that they won’t be level capped in magic-user and thus can conceivable obtain 5th level spells (available at magic-user level 9).  Conversely, what you miss out on for limiting fighter or thief to level 8 is far less powerful – a third feat for fighters, and the ability to read magical scrolls for thieves at level 10.  The choice to all my players has been obvious.

So, here are some alterations I’m considering:

First, I think maybe I should increase the stat requirement for multi-classing in general.  Let’s make it a littler harder to obtain so we see a few more single-classed characters in the wild.  The obvious choice for me seems to be to raise it to 13, as that’s the point where the related modifier increases from 0 to +1.  That’s a pretty strong change in probabilities – according to this site the chances of getting a 9 or higher on any given stat is 74%, while the chances of a 13 are only 26%.  Assuming that we don’t care about the prime req of your starting class, and we don’t care about the 2 stats that are not prime-reqs for any class (Constitution and Charisma), the chances of any given character being able to multi-class is the chance of getting a 13 or higher on any of three rolls.  Or to make the math easier for me, it’s the inverse of the chance that you roll 12 or less on all 3 rolls — 74% x 3 trials is about 40%, thus 60%?  Am I getting that right Delta?

Huh, that’s still higher than I expected.  Should I go even more severe?  I don’t know, I don’t want to swing the pendulum too far to the opposite side, and honestly, it’s taken many many months of play to observe the current trend naturally in my player base.

The other problem is probably simpler to tackle – to find a way to encourage a more even distribution of multi-class typed elves.  Obviously whatever solution I find to the general rate of multi-classing will apply just as well to elves, so really the only problem here is that there’s no reason to pick magic-user as the second class when taking advantage of the free first level multi-class.  I could obliterate that rule entirely, but I do still like the idea that elves are somewhat magical in nature and thus more inclined to at least learn a little magic.  So perhaps I just need to restrict it a bit more?

Some of my players have suggested just changing it to a free second class in magic-user.  That is, a starting out elf may start as a level 1/1 something / magic-user for free.  This means players of elves that want to reach name level as magic-user will either be single classed, or have to pay for their multi-classing the same as every other starting character.  The bonus will be restricted to players who wanted to play fighter or thief primarily, and happen to have a high intelligence and don’t mind have a little free magic on the side.

I kind of like that ruling, but I want to think over both of these a bit more before I make up my mind.  I suppose that means for the coming convention that I will just stick to what I already have.  I really should make decisions on this stuff soon though, as I’ve been promising my players to do so for some time now.  Not that it’s hugely important, as obviously any already existing characters in my game will be unaffected.  Though you never know when a poisonous snake might get in a lucky bite, and it’s time to roll a new character, right?

My Campaign Goes High-Tech

Now that I’m commuting over an hour to Providence, while my darling wife commutes half an hour in the opposite directions, we decided it was finally time to bite the bullet and purchase cell phones.  Yes, some of you may be shocked to learn that we had been cell-phone-less all the way up to the year 2011.  I’ve seen reactions go over the years from understanding, to curiosity, to out-right disbelief.

Anyway, I figured since I had held out so long that if I was going to make the shift I had better do so in a big way.  So I bought myself an HTC Thunderbolt, and Jenn an iPhone 4.  That’s right, we went from no cell phones to the fanciest damn phones we could find.  Funny thing is, I really have no concept which features are new and exciting, and which are pretty much standard these days, as I have no frame of reference.  However, I have noticed the damn thing seems to creep into every day life quite a lot, even including my D&D games.

I bought the silly 3D dice rolling app, which has come in useful once or twice, but is mostly a novelty.  Nothing really comes close to solid chunks of plastic rattling in your hands.  No, the real benefit is quick and easy access to PDFs.  I’ve downloaded quite a few onto the phone, and while for the most part I still prefer physical books, it’s pretty handy to have the more esoteric ones in digital form rather than have to have a huge stack of stuff sitting at the table.  However, the screen is pretty small, and I’ve come to realize that the PDF reader software makes a huge difference.  If you have an Android phone and also use it for gaming PDF reading, I highly suggest you fork over the 99 cents for ezPDF Reader.

Sure, you can get the official Adobe reader for free, but ezPDF Reader is far superior.  First off, it has a nice file browser interface at the top level.  Not only will it let you search for pdfs on your device, but it has a kind of customizable bookmark/favorites list that’s easy to edit.  Once you open a PDF, it gives you a nice full screen view with a very satisfyingly book-like page flip animation when you flick your finger across it to turn the page.  Of course, the print is too tiny in this view to really read, but it’s good for quick flipping around to find the right page.  There’s also a good interface for using bookmarks and a thubnail view to jump quickly from section to section.  Once you’re on the right page though, that’s when the best feature comes to play: fit-to-text column view.

With just a double tap on the screen the view will zoom into a single column of text.  This is great for old school gaming PDFs, which by and large tend to be in two column format.  The zoom is enough for easy legibility, and then as you scroll the thing actually automatically jumps from one column to the next as you reach the end, and across pages as necessary.

Honestly, at a quarter of the price of the silly 3D dice app, this thing is a steal.  Truly it is the most useful phone app for gaming, and I highly recommend you get it.  And in combination with the silly dice app, it tickles me to know that I have absolutely everything I need to run an impromptu D&D game in my pocket at all times.  Welcome to the 21st century indeed.

Rebirth of my Campaign

I had something interesting to post today, but then realized I haven’t posted anything in weeks and perhaps that warranted some explanation.  I am moving, or will be soon.  Much of my free time is taken up with all the efforts involved in buying and selling a house.  I won’t bore you with the details, suffice it to say that my posting is going to be pretty spotty for the next couple of months.  I expect by the time GenCon rolls around though you’ll see me regularly posting again.

Good news though, my home campaign has started up again.  I call it my home campaign, though it’s no longer held at home.  As the group consists now entirely of co-workers, we play right here in the office.  It’s really an excellent place for it.  Actually, in general I’d say your average office is an excellent place for gaming, as they’re usually equipped with meeting rooms containing long tables, plenty of chairs, and a white board if you’re lucky.  Our office is particularly well suited though.  Not only has Curt bought us some lovely dwarven forge to play with, but recently his latest gift to the gamers in the company arrived — an Emissary table from Geek Chic.  I’m not yet allowed to post pictures of the interior of the office, but you can bet that when we are you will see some shots of the really sweetset-up they’ve made for us here.

Back to the campaign though.  As the company moved down to Providence so too did several of my players.  We became so spread out that several people had to drop out.  We were down to just three players left.  Fortunately, working for a large company creating a fantasy based MMO means access to lots of gamers.  I never even had to go so far as to put out a general call, I simply started emailing coworkers I knew might be interested and slowly got the group back up to 6 players.  As the group is now 50% new players and the last session had ended right in the middle of things, we decided to start fresh.  New characters have been rolled up and we’ve picked a new spot on the map far away from where the old group was to start playing.

In reading the old writings of Mr. Gygax, I’ve started to suspect that back in the day the term “campaign” referred not to a specific group of players meeting regularly, but merely a consistent GM and setting.  I suspect Gygax’s own campaign ran more like the West Marches than what we’re used to these days.  Quotes like the following from the DMG seem to support this:

You pack it in for the night. Four actual days later (and it is best to use 1 actual day = 1 game day when no play is happening), on Day 55, player characters B, C, and D enter the dungeon and find that the area they selected has already been cleaned out by player characters E and F. Had they come the day after the previous game session, game Day 52, and done the same thing, they would have found the monster and possibly gotten the goodies! What to do about that? and what about old A and his pointy-eared chum off to see the oracle? … Being aware of time differences between groups of player characters will enable you to prevent the BIG problems.

Dungeon Master’s Guide, p. 37

This may be indicative of old school play, where character death is more frequent and the persistence of the campaign lies more in the world than any one character or group of characters.  However, I think it also has the side benefit of being more conducive to a shifting player base.  I’ve had some players drop out and replaced them with other players over the past year.  I also experimented a bit with running an odd one-shot adventure for a totally different group in the same campaign setting, and allowing their actions to be reflected in the world as experienced by the regular group.  At least one of those one-shots had one of my regular players in it, and I think he can attest to the fact that it was a pretty satisfying experience on both ends.

However, this is my first real attempt at keeping the campaign world consistent for an entirely new group.  I am very curious to see how it goes, especially for the players that have remained consistent and will remember details about the world that are unknown to the newer players.  I actually would love to see that played out in character, with the three old players perhaps playing more well traveled characters who know a bit about the world, and the new guys playing young fresh-faced characters, or foreigners to whom everything in the local region is strange and new.

And of course my long term dream is that many years down the road, perhaps with an entirely new group of players, my world will be detailed and full of interesting and unusual features, each molded by actual play rather than preconceived and plotted out specifically for their enjoyment.  I’m excited to see that world, I just hope I have the staying power to create it for my future self.

Goldilocks Syndrome

Normally I try not to give my players any direct advice about how to play.  I want them to learn their own lessons and come up with their own clever ways out of a pickle.  However, we’ve been playing almost a year now and I see them make this same mistake time and time again.  I’m starting to feel bad for them when it blows up in their faces, so players, this post is for you.

My players suffer from what I’m calling “Goldilocks Syndrome”.  That is, they seem to think it’s a good idea to break into someone’s house, rifle through their things, and then stop for a nap.  They’ll be in the middle of exploring a dungeon, be it an ancient ruin filled with strange monsters or a simple thieves’ hideout, when they notice their resources have been pretty depleted.  By which I mean, the fighters are down to just a few hit points left and the spell casters are all out of spells.  Thus, they decide, let’s find a room or a corner to hole up in and sleep to refresh.  At this point I suspect they’re thinking of it too much like a video game, and not enough like a simulation of real life (or at least, fictional fantasy-land life).

As DM, I see myself as having two major jobs:  1.  Enforce the rules as written, and 2. Roleplay the non-players to the best of my ability.  For the latter I’m referring to every sentient being that’s not a player, be it the friendly king who asks the players to go on a quest for him or the band of goblins whose cave the players are invading.  Both of these jobs are directly at odds with the practice of “holing up” while inside a dungeon.

Item #1: Enforce the rules.  The rules in a dungeon often dictate that I roll a d6 every turn or every other turn, and on a 6 a wandering monster shows up.  Let’s be generous and say it’s every other turn and the players want to rest for just 8 hours (it’s often more, as they want to keep a rotating watch and still give every person 8 full hours of rest).  Even in this most generous case I’m rolling 24 dice, which means on average you’d get at least 4 encounters during that time period.  You want to face down those 4 encounters with a subset of your team who are already in a weakened state?  I think we know how that’s going to go.

Item #2: Roleplay the non-players.  This is even worse for the players.  Let me give you an analogy.  Let’s say you come home from work one day and discover some stranger is sitting on your couch watching TV.  You yell “Hey, what the hell are you doing in my house?  Get the hell out of here!”  In response, the fellow runs up stairs to the bedroom, locks the door, and lies down on your bed to go to sleep.  Do you:

a.  Go away so he can steal all your belongings and leave safely when he wakes up.

b.  Wait patiently at the door so the two of you can have a fair fight after he’s slept and feels refreshed.

c.  Call the police and let them bash down your bedroom door and beat the living snot out of the bastard.

When my players enter a dungeon, make huge amounts of noise, get into fights with the inhabitants and allow some of them to survive and escape, what do they think is going to happen when they try and stop for a nap?  This is especially bad when the inhabitants are at least somewhat intelligent.  I end up looking at the layout, which obviously the inhabitants know well while the players do not, and try to think “how would these guys eject or kill invaders?”  Then I try to implement that plan.  More often than not, it works.

So players, please, take my advice.  When you’re exploring a dungeon and feeling like it’s too dangerous to continue, leave!  Go away, rest, refresh, and maybe think of a new plan of attack.  And be aware that while you did so, so did the inhabitants of the dungeon.  If you think there’s any way they might suspect you’ll be back, you can bet things will be a little different than how you left them when you return.

Patchwork Campaign Settings

For some reason, I’ve always felt I needed to be apologetic about using content from modules or similar in my home campaign.  I guess I was worried this somehow indicated I wasn’t creative enough to come up with my own material or something.  After playing for almost nine months now though, I can say that while the world map and the large scale themes playing out in our game are all my own invention, all the details come from existing material, be it old D&D modules from back in the day or new OSR printed stuff.

I came to terms with it today when I made a decision to move a major element’s location radically in the world.  OK, I want go into specifics here, I guess I’ll just have to warn my players off.  Players, don’t read beyond this cut.  Suffice it to say, I don’t think using bits from other locations isn’t such a big deal.  My analogy is that it’s a bit like making a quilt.  Everyone can appreciate a truly beautiful quilt and the craftsmanship that went into it.  But the quilt-maker didn’t weave the fabrics, he just found pieces that fit together in interesting ways and stitched them together.  The end result though can definitely be a work of art.  The whole is more than the sum of its parts.

On with the details…

Continue Reading »

Bring Out Your Dead

Because it amuses me, here is the current death toll of my game:

32EmrysLevel 4 Elf Magic-User/FighterPlayer: MMDisturbed yellow mold once too often

Name Details Controlled By Cause of Death
1 Liam O’Gara 2nd level Elf Ranger Player: JA Mauled by a Mountain Lion
2 Grut 1st level Dwarf Fighter Player: MW Killed by Kobolds
3 Strang the Unlucky 1st level Human Fighter Henchman being controlled by Player: JA Killed by Hobgoblins
4 Melchior of the Three Fingers 2nd level Human Fighter Henchman Killed by Troglodytes
5 Koode Dood 2nd level Human Magic-User Player: MS Face severed by evil faries
6 Talen-Zin 3rd level Human Magic-User Henchman Killed by evil faries
7 Fedyeka the Bastard 1st level Human Fighter Henchman Poison needle trap
8 Kashiim 3rd level Human Fighter Player: MW Digested by a gelatinous cube
9 Elif Gooten 2nd level Halfling Magic-User Henchman being controlled by Player: MB Petrified by Medusa
10 Yogund Fruze 4th level Human Paladin Player: MB Poison by bite of Medusa’s hair
11 Gentleman Jack Getz 4th level Human Thief Player: JA Killed by party after turning into a were-boar
12 Janse Marlense 1st level Human Ranger Player: MB Killed by Brigands
13 Evynd Knifewielder 1st level Human Fighter Henchman Left for dead in a brigand lair
14 Motya Karamazov 1st level Human Fighter Henchman Lava breath of an animate statue
15 Ure of the Evening Eye 1st level Human Fighter Henchman Lava breath of an animate statue
16 Prince Te’Waharoa 1st level Human Fighter Player: JA Lava breath of an animate statue
17 Hare Sarlicsson 1st level Human Thief Henchman Poisonous gas inhalation
18 The Man with No Name (Klint) Level 4/1 Human Thief/Magic-User Player: PA Poisonous gas inhalation
19 Deacon Silver Level 5 Human Cleric Player: BJ Bitten by poisonous spider
20 Blood Mallet Level 2 Human Fighter Player: DD Eaten by a ghoul
21 Kellen Level 2 Human Fighter Player: JA Fed poison potion by own party while paralyzed
22 Thrain Fireknife Level 1 Human Fighter Henchman Killed by flaming zombie
23 Atseden the Fastidious Level 1 Dwarf Fighter Henchman Crushed by the hammer of an animate statue
24 Ozmo Level 2/1 Halfling Magic-User/Fighter Player: MM Died looking up at two descending Gargoyles
25 Bloodmallet Level 4 Human Fighter Henchman Stung by a Wyvern
26 Kellen Level 3 Human Fighter Henchman controlled by Player: MM Decapitated in fire ball blast (friendly fire)
27 Achlor, Rasheed, and Brand the Mace Normal Humans and Level 1 Human Thief Henchmen Frozen by the breath of a white dragon
28 Bazil the Dancing Sorcerer Level 6 Human Magic-User Player: MW Bisected by a Frost Giant
29 Yel Level 1 Human Fighter Player: MW Eviscerated by zombies
30 Bjorn Bigflask Level 1 Halfling Fighter Player: RV Cored by gray ooze
31 T. Walker Level 2 Human Ranger Player: SS Poisoned by giant spider bite
33 Emrys Level 4 Elf Magic-User/Fighter Player: MM Over-charged a wand of magic missiles
34 Raede Level ? Elf Magic-User/Fighter RL Killed by horde of skeletons
35 Savin Level ? Elf Magic-User/Thief Player: RV Died alone on the road of Lycanthropy
36 Sir Thom Level 6 Human Paladin Player: JD Beheaded by a demon
37 Aweirgan Level 4 Human Paladin Player: NP Beaten to death by confused party member
38 Post Normal Human Henchman Stung by giant flies in the Red Swamp
39 Bloodcleaver and Jeb Human Berserker and Norman Human Henchmen Exsanguinated by stirges
40 Klaus Normal Human Henchman Bitten by a giant centipede
41 Drummian Level 1 Elf Cleric Player: JD Eaten by a phase spider

I think that’s roughly in the order it happened.  As for explanation of the henchmen controlled by players, originally the idea was simply to allow the players to take over a henchman as their primary character if their primary character died.  This extended naturally through play to also use them if a primary character was in some way incapacitated.  Rather than sit out for the session while your guy is paralyzed, why not control the henchman for a little while?  This practice has not proven healthy for the poor henchmen.

Oh, also, the two unknown deaths.   Currently the players are on a quest to find out exactly what happened to those two.  They went off on their own and never returned, so it’s a mystery to the rest of the party.  Quite literally too, as I had the player play a private session to figure out what did become of them, and that player no longer plays with us at all (for unrelated reasons), so the group really has no clue what happened.

EDIT: I have bolded the names of those characters who were later Raised from the Dead by the party after their death.

Making Magic Items Magic

One of my gripes about D&D, especially later editions, is the profusion of magic items.  After a few levels every character seems to be carrying around with him a huge collection of magical artifacts.  I think it really reduces the mystery and specialness of magic items.  Having a sword +1 is barely different from having a sword.  In my current game, I’ve tried to make any magic items the players find feel really special and different.  I noticed at last night’s game that it actually appears to be rather successful, which has really pleased me, especially given that it really wasn’t as hard as you would think.  Here’s a few minor things I’ve done and the effect they’ve had.

Adding a minor detail to the item goes a long way.  One player found a sword described to be “very finely made with a large ruby pommel.”  Another has a staff that is “a gnarled stick of wood with various feathers and fetishes attached to it.”  These are pretty minor and not terribly original, but the fact is that I don’t give that level of detail to normal equipment, and so it stands out.  I noticed as a result my player doesn’t say “I swing my magic sword” or “I use my sword +x”, he says “I pull out my ruby pommeled sword” and everyone around the table gets excited.

Make up command words. The staff above has charges that cause extra damage when expended in combat.  When the players discovered this I made up a command word on the spot: “breeshk”.  It’s a nonsense word I made up that felt right given the primitive appearance of the staff and the fact that it was taken as treasure from a gnoll camp.  Now my player never tells me he’s expending a charge from the staff, he merely shouts “Breeshk!” as he rolls his attack.

Tie it to the location.  One of the best things I’ve stolen from Stonehell is the magical material known as vaedium.  What I love so much about it is that in Stonehell there is no description of what it is or what it does, just that it’s a metal with a magical nature.  While my players were exploring Stonehell they found their very first magic weapon: a sword +1.  I decided it was in fact made of vaedium, which causes it to glow very slightly and imbues it with its power.  When the players tried to have it identified, the sage was stumped — he told them it had none of the usual enchantments upon it, but rather it appeared the very material it was made of was imbued with magic.  I still told them that mechanically it was a sword +1, so they got their money’s worth from the sage, but it’s become known now simply as the vaedium sword.  My players probably still wonder if there isn’t more to this sword than simply the +1 enchantment.  So do I.

I noticed this all last night as the party has its first serious encounter with a monster that required magic to hurt it: a group of three shadows.  The shouts of “breeshk!” and the descriptions of the ruby pommeled sword and the vaedium sword really made it feel like the party was pulling out all the stops, bringing to bear the full power of their magical resources.

Thinking Like a Monster

Tonight is game night, and I have to admit I’m really looking forward to it.  Bigfella posted a recap of last session, which in summary ended with the party discovering a Medusa was loose somewhere in the dungeon.  Worse yet she apparently knows the layout better than they do, having surprised them at first by entering a room they thought they had secured via a secret door they didn’t know existed.  At the very end of the session they holed themselves up into another room, discovered the secret door that presumably connects to the other, and started discussing plans for how to deal with her.

Whenever the session ends with the party disagreeing about some plan or other, I like to tell them they have a week to figure it out.  I’m pretty sure though that all thought of the game vanishes from their heads until they return to the table a week later.  I chided them in my email about tonight’s game, saying “I assume you have all spent the week productively coming up with a cunning plan for your current predicament?”  Then it hit me — did I come up with a clever plan for the Medusa?

Bigfella himself called her “an intelligent, mobile, and potentially very dangerous foe.”  She’s out numbered, but she knows the layout better than they do.  And they’ve locked themselves in that room to bicker about what to do for a  considerable amount of time (it took several turns for them to find that pesky secret door).  She should have her own plan, shouldn’t she?

I started thinking about what kind of scenes would be cool to play out.  Of course I have no idea what the players have in mind, so I’m thinking pretty generically here about how she fits into the rest of the dungeon’s ecosystem, what her own goals might be, and what information about the setting she might impart to the players.

Then the second revelation hit me — I shouldn’t be thinking about how she progresses the game, I should be thinking like she’s my character.  If I’m the Medusa, what do I do about these pesky players?  How can I get the upper hand?  Sure, I can petrify with my gaze, but there’s a lot more of them than me.  I’ve got to play it smart if I want to win.

And that’s the key right there: how do I win?  Oh sure, I don’t really expect to win.  The players are high enough level that they should be able to handle a medusa.  The real problem for them is doing so without suffering any petrification or player deaths.  But for this encounter to really be fun, I should be trying to win as best as I can.  Sure, I should know the answers to what kind of info the medusa has, how she fits in to the dungeon as a whole, but I should not be planning on how to use her to get that info to the players.  I should simply know the answers in case I need them during play.

With that info in hand, the real question is how can I best kick the players’ asses?  Man, this is going to be fun.

Observations from the Front

We had another very enjoyable D&D game last night.  I feel like the campaign is really rolling now.  The players are in the level 1-3 range, with some getting close to 4th level.  Interesting enemy plots are starting to be uncovered, and the players are making a lot of decisions about how to involve themselves.  Here is a hodge-podge of observations from last night’s game, any of which I may sprout into a larger post in the future:

Little Books – I made a DM’s reference book, similar to the red player’s guide I posted recently, that has the rest of the LL book in it.  It’s mostly monsters and treasure, with a few extra rules like naval/aerial combat and hireling stuff that didn’t make it into the player’s guide.  Both books are spiral bound 8.5″ x 5.5″.  Having one of each behind the screen is fantastic.  The spiral binding means I can leave them open to a specific page with the rest of the book flipped completely around, thus taking minimal desktop space.  The division of what’s in each book is perfect, I found myself frequently with the DM’s ref flipped open to the current monster the players were facing, and the Player’s Guide open to combat rules.  Both were easy to shuffle around with my large binder of notes, and those three things plus dice are pretty much all I need behind the screen.

Screen – Speaking of my DM’s screen, I’m very sad to report that one of the hinges on mine is starting to split.  I’ll try to repair it, but I’m worried it will never be the same.  I’m tempted to order a second backup one for when this one finally goes.  Yeah, that’s how much I like these screens.

Oracular Dice – I’m following Delta’s Item #3 here, and whenever I don’t know the answer to something immediately I give it chances on a d6 and roll.  I’m finding it is really easy to make up chances on a d6 on the fly, and some of the stuff this has led in the game has been really fun.  I expect to lean on this even more as we continue to play.

Wandering Monsters – Why did I ever dislike this concept?  It’s fantastic.  I roll for them now whenever the party is traveling through wilderness or in the dungeon.  In the wilderness I vary frequency (1-3 times per day) and die type (1 on d6, d8, d10) based on the danger level of the area the players are in.  Last night the players set up a trap for some monsters in a dungeon they knew were going to be by in three hours and laid in wait.  I started flipping my turn counter, rolling a wander monster check for each turn that had to pass (18 turns for those counting).  Though it seemed inevitable one would show up, many of the players felt the tension as I flipped the turns, and everyone hooted with laughter when after 15 some hungry lizard men finally showed up, approaching the party from the opposite direction.  (“Shh, the hobgoblins are coming soon,” one player quipped.)  I think the players are now taking the lesson to heart, realizing that a dungeon is no place to hang out for long periods of time.  Hopefully they will get a similar sense of what wilderness areas are also too dangerous for such, which I think will really help breathe some life into the setting.

Turn Counter – Somewhat related to the above, I love the way my manual turn counter gives the sense of actual passage of time.  I don’t think the party realized how long 3 hours of game time was until I started flipping through the turn counter.  It’s nice to have a way to give them that sense of time passage quickly without have to just convince them verbally.