By - May 25, 2015 - Leave a comment

Lessons from Memorializing D&D characters »

DeathHappy Memorial Day from all of us here at & we hope it was a good ‘long weekend’ for everyone.  Previously we’ve written a somewhat solemn tribute to those in the Armed Forces, past & present.  Since we’ve talked about death so much lately, (and my unlucky Halfing Bard just got swallowed by a Dragon) this year for the holiday we’re going to jump right into the D&D aspects of memorializing characters.

Keep a tally: You’re doing this not to have a Toughest DM Record, but to help provide yourself with actual feedback about the difficulty (lethality-wise) of how you referee your games.  Write down the Level of the PC(s), how exactly they died, & what they might have done to prevent it. This is useful information to everyone.  If there are any obvious repeating patterns, try to adjust your approach.   A bunch of kills by poison would suggest that the party needs to look for or buy magic/alchemical items to help or otherwise improve their Fortitude saves.  Being constantly zapped by Touch attacks means they need better Dodge bonuses or Force armor effects.  Without having this documentation you won’t know if there are actual problems, & without fixing serious problems the campaign can quickly become unfun.

Help the frequently dead:  If there is anyone in your group who seems to continually lose characters, then they could benefit from some suggestions.  Certain editions of D&D are far more tactical than others, & its quite possible that players who die often simply aren’t being strategic enough.  For example, they might have 3 Ranks in Acrobatics yet are not Fight Defensively despite that +3 bonus to AC.  Or they might not remember the various conditions that cause AoO, constantly provoking free attacks.  Assist these Players both in-game as well as out with things that might help them not die quite as often.  Perhaps an NPC fighting tutor grants them with a much-needed lesson, or you provide a real life player aid/tutorial.  Nobody wants to constantly be taken out.  Too much death for a particular player kills more than character, it kills their fun.

Use Hero Points: I know that we’ve recently written about the Pathfinder rules for Hero Points.  But talking about character death is the perfect moment to plug this official Paizo variant again.  There are also Old School AD&D Hero Points, as well as Unearthed Arcana Action Points, & Savage Worlds Bennies.  But basically, you want to have some sort of game design mechanic in place that can allow the minimization of randomness at critical moments.  There is a strategic way to spend these, but unless you want your group only miserly hoarding them for the Cheat Death benefit, reward Hero Points or their equivalent to encourage roleplaying, great in-character actions, & contributions/service.  At the least, they serve as a cushion for bad rolls.  However, with RAW for Hero Points, “When a character dies, she does not lose any hero points she has accumulated. If she died with no hero points remaining, she gains 1 hero point when she is brought back.”  This can help them avoid a similar fate in the future.

Death is vital: I’ve spoken before about how its important to have genuine death in your games.  Reward without risk isn’t worthwhile reward.  But also the importance of it for the sake of the collective storytelling.  An adventure where none of the good guys dies is an unbelievable adventure.  Not to mention boring- you don’t have to go to George R.R. Martin extremes & have a Red Wedding, but even Tolkien killed off Fíli and Kili.  If a character does die, hopefully their death has some meaning for the group.  Perhaps even a lesson for all of the players.  Try to have the death scene be dramatic, & the afterward not be anti-climatic.

So those are some of the things related to memorializing a dead D&D character.  What ones could we have included?  Any tips on character death from your experience DMing?  Tell us in the comments below.


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By - May 21, 2015 - 1 Comment

In honor of Letterman: Top 10 Funniest Things PC’s Said »

ls_topten_20090616Tonight, David Letterman (along with the help of the irreplaceable Bill Murray) read his very last Top Ten List.  In homage to Dave & the countless laughs he caused, here is a D&D list of the funniest things Players have said.  It’s based on the Dragon magazine article by Gregg Sharp appropriately titled “The Last Word: Adventurers say the darndest things before you squash them,” from January, 1988.  Despite having no illustration as well as being buried at the very end of the issue, it nevertheless brought us such timeless gems as, “I go up to the lich and try to pick its pocket.”  And, “Nothing ever happens on the first level.” And, “Does a 3 save?”  Plus who could ever forget the karmic, “What? No, I wasn’t reading your module. I was just looking at the pictures.”

This meme of course caused Dragon’s readers to write in their own Last Words where we were later treated to “We don’t need to post guards at night. We’re too powerful.“ from #134, then “I’ll snap the staff!” & “Who’s the chick with the spiders?” from #138.

The version is from December 2007, & remains our reigning champ when it comes to reader responses.  Racking up an inconceivable 143 Comments, we’ve gone through each & every one of them to bring you the absolute Ten Best.  We’re using comment names to identify their owners.  And also because we wouldn’t otherwise get to write such things as ‘TroublesomeBard.’  Here we go.

10. “I’ll offer him 2 gold pieces for his daughter’s honor.”  by Rob on August  11, 2010

9. “Which way does the giant fall?” by Donk on December 27, 2007

8.  “I can’t get rid of the cursed sword so I might as well use it.” by Mike on March 30, 2008

7. “How deep does the lava look?” by Shadowrunner, July 11, 2010

6. “Ok, fine, I’ll help you kill it.”  by Origami on March 15, 2010

5. “We’re all the same alignment here.” by Dr. Strangelove on January 24, 2009

4. “I’ll hold it off.  It won’t be able to hit my AC.” by AlgaeHydra on March 14, 2009

3. “Oh Yeah, YOU and what army?!” by Maelifisis on June 07, 2008

2.  “That thing is made of water…I drink the water!” by Scion on January 10, 2008

And the #1 Funniest Thing Players Said Before SHTF:

What do you mean you ‘need more dice for this one’?” by child of a smart orc and stupid illithid, (no, we’re not making that name up, how could we?!) on May 21, 2008

Take a bow guys, you did Gregg Sharp proud.  Ok, any of those 143 comments should have made the list instead?  Got any ‘Last Words’ from your own games?  Yell at us below.


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By - May 18, 2015 - 7 Comments

8 ways to make PC’s somewhat ‘super’ with Hero Points »

got2So Superheroes are pretty much everywhere & are only going to become more widespread.   In addition to the plethora of these movies that have already come out, (seriously, we kept losing track trying to count) there are almost 30 confirmed release dates just through 2020.  It would be silly to imagine that as these films continue to permeate our culture, their influence won’t further impact gaming.  But in a way, some of that heroic impact is already available for use in D&D games: Hero Points.

Now at least in Pathfinder, Hero Points will make most characters more Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D heroic than amazingly awesome Avengers heroic.  But they are a mechanic that will help characters accomplish impressive things at important times- a characteristic common to all hero media.  Simply put, they give players a small measure of control over the randomness of critical die rolls while at the same time providing a mechanism for the GM to offer a useful in-game award for super role playing or for making real life helpful contributions to the group.

Here’s the link to the full rules of the Paizo version: …but we’ll go through the 8 possible uses for this official option as well as the reason why that particular use will better your game.

1) WHAT- Act Out of Turn:  “take your turn immediately. Treat this as a readied action, moving your initiative to just before the currently acting creature. You may only take a move or a standard action on this turn.”  WHY- allows players who have come up with a time-based plan to try to go when they need to go to get that plan to happen.

2) WHAT- Bonus: “used before any d20 roll, get a +8 luck bonus. If used after, this bonus is +4.  Grant 1/2 this bonus(+4 before, +2 after) to another character, as long as your character can reasonably affect the outcome.”  WHY- rewards risk taking as well as selflessness through teamwork.  Possibly both on a single crucial roll!

3) WHAT- Extra Action:  “gain an additional standard or move action this turn.”  WHY- assists in allowing cool tactics or possibilities that require some oomph to make possible.

4) WHAT- Inspiration:  “petition the GM for a hint about what to do.”  WHY- the easiest way to unstick a stuck party & get the game moving again.  If you allow only 1 use of Hero Points, allow this one as it will help you help your players, which in turn only helps you.

5) WHAT- Recall:  “recall a spell you have already cast or to gain another use of a special ability that is otherwise limited.”  WHY- solves the classic case of player frustration at having used a character resource when it would have better been utilized later on.  Let your players do a MtG untap & watch their unhappiness at a mistake fade.

6) WHAT- Reroll: “reroll any one d20 roll; take the results of the second roll, even if worse.”  WHY- a replication of a casino table, trusting in Lady Luck for an all or nothing shot.  Memorable drama from a die roll.

7) WHAT- Special: “attempt nearly anything that would normally be almost impossible; cast a higher level spell, make an attack that blinds a foe or bypasses its DR, use Diplomacy to convince a creature to stop attacking.”  WHY- encourages creativity, by letting the player put forth possibilities that might not otherwise come up in the games.  Their imagination is still in check by GM, but as long as their Special use has a basis in background, it should be considered.  i.e. the Try to Say ‘Yes’ goal for GM’s

8) WHAT- Cheat Death:  “spend 2 hero points to prevent dying; be left alive, with negative hit points but stable.”  WHY- powerful, but balanced since the rules only allow for a maximum of 3 Hero Points (not counting spells or magic items).  If like us you feel that constant Raise Deads/Resurrections are removing tension from your campaign yet want the PC’s to have a safety soul net, then Cheating Death is a workable option.

So those are the 8 uses of Hero Points.  What do you guys think- is your game ready for some of their uses?  Or do you feel that heroes are already everywhere & becoming cliche?  Tell us in the comments below.


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By - May 6, 2015 - Leave a comment

Revenge of the 5th: Ideas from Star Wars for D&D games »

vaderWe all love Star Wars, & let’s face it, Lucas letting others pilot the spaceships have given everyone a new hope that we will once again cheer when John Williams comes out of the speakers and giant words start marching across the movie screen.  In the meantime, there are at least 3,720 ideas you can mine from the various SW movies for you D&D games.  In honor of May 4th or May 5th holiday, here are 4 we liked:

Power is not Force

In the original film, there’s a great scene in a Death Star conference room where Darth Vader is force choking an Imperial Officer (Conan Antonio Motti) for disrespecting him & his ‘ancient religion.’  Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, aka Governor Tarkin (1 of only 12 Grand Moffs) orders, “Enough of this – Vader release him.”  And Darth complies.   Now there’s a ton of speculation/analysis as to why Vader did this; i.e. was he actually obeying a command or simply being diplomatic.  In any case, the stereotypical BBG is a supped up villain with tons of HP, rocking ability scores, & all sorts of deadly power.  Not to mention some sick weapons or attacks. Basically, they’re a Vader.  But a real BBG could also be a Tarkin.  Hardly a threat in direct combat, but still a threat with what they could do.  And that, is actual power.  Not the dog, but like Leia pointed out the one holding the leash.  Create some BBG’s who hold leashes yet still instill fear & make PC’s cringe at their foul stench.

Have your own version of a black Stormtrooper

In the new trailer there is a quick shot of actor John Boyega, which caused parts of the Internet to lose their minds.  Setting aside the ‘clones of Jango Fett’ argument, let’s  assume that yes, there are in fact Imperial soldiers with darker skin.  Yes, it was somewhat unexpected- which is a good thing.  So model something in your games after that.  That is, have an element that initially appears one way & than reveals itself to be something else.  An actual example of this in official D&D is Thaqualm.  Who’s Thaqualm you ask?  Why she’s a Lawful Good Monk 8 from the Book of Exalted Deeds.  More on point, she’s a redeemed illithid aka a mind flayer.  Meaning that per D&D canon, there are LG brain eaters.   And if there can be time traveling LG aberrations that originated from the Far Realm and there can be black Stormtroopers, then what else can there be?  Find something equally surprising & surprise your players with it.

Bounty Hunters are the DMs kind of scum

Probably one of the coolest scenes takes place on the Star Destroyer, Executor during Empire Strikes Back.  Vader is hiring an eye candy of various bad-ass bounty hunters offering a “substantial reward” to the one who finds the Millennium Falcon without any disintegrations.  The idea being that the Empire was too big/slow to capture the smuggler, so to catch a thief hire a bunch of thieves.  In D&D, the PC’s can quickly rise in power to the point where the Town Watch or even local militia isn’t a threat.  So if the party breaks or even bends any laws, various NPC bounty hunters could be sent on their trail.  After all, most adventuring parties are loaded with treasure and magical items.  But make the hunters fearless and inventive rather than scream cowardly as they ineffectively fly into things before dropping into monster mouths.

If you have a Death Star, give it a thermal exhaust port

It gets mocked all the time, but the two meter wide opening with a shaft leading directly to the reactor system was crucial to the movie’s plot.  Without this Achilles’ Heel, the fully operational  weapon could indeed crush rebellions in swift strokes.  Basically, if there is going to be a Sauron, there has to a One Ring and then a Mount Doom to chuck it into.  If you make up a crazy monster, give it SOME weakness, even if not immediately obvious.  Whether by research or trial by error, let the PCs eventually discover it.  If they can’t figure out for themselves, then make the D&D equivalent of many Bothan spies, die to bring them that information.  But if they waste too much time, then feel free to have some metaphorical plywood put over that opening to cover that .1% weakness.


Ok, that was a quick take on how things from Star Wars can help your D&D games.  What else should make this list?  Let us know in the comments below.

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By - April 30, 2015 - Leave a comment

Ideas from Game of Thrones, ‘The House of Black and White’ »

PreviewIt’s a great time to be a Geek.  Marvel movies & TV are out everywhere, while Star Wars movies & TV are coming.  Meantime the Game of Thrones series continues to rock on, even when changing from the books.  We’re back looking at ideas to mine from the show’s 5th season, and hopefully posting this a week+ after it aired will let more people feel like we aren’t spoiling anything.  (Spoiler alert, there’s a House in this episode that is black and white.)  Without further adieu, here are just some things from S5E2 that could help your D&D games. 

“Bunch? Whats a bunch?” WHAT HAPPENS: Two of the characters are in a tavern & could possibly run into conflict with an armed retinue.  They’re trying to gauge what to do, but a crowd of guys are in their way.  It takes a few seconds to come up with even an guesstimate of possible opponents.  HOW TO USE IT: Unless they’re only facing a few, don’t immediately tell the party an exact number; use descriptions such as ‘crowd’ or ‘mass of figures’ or ‘several dozen.’  If someone wants to take time to actually count, then set a reasonable DC for a Perception check along with a suitable time.  Make it harder/longer if the figures look similar or are moving around.  If using minis, only put a few onto the board to demonstrate relative position.

“But Mr. Horse, I wanted to go that way!” WHAT HAPPENS: The aforementioned two characters hope to avoid a bunch of now angry opponents & have to make a dashing escape so they attempt to flee via horse.  All goes is well until the trail splits, with one horse going where its riders wants it to while the other goes where it wants to.  HOW TO USE IT: At least at lower levels, PC’s are reliant on non-magical means of conveyance.  If this means traveling via four legs instead of two, Ride checks are always in order, especially during combat or a chase.  And not just in the initial opening round but for every round of the combat or chase.  Circumstance bonuses/penalties should be applied, with failed results causing the rider to be at the mercy of the animal, doing what it wants to do.  Don’t let PC’s treat Ride as a given, particularly on mounts that haven’t been battle trained.

Non-Valyrian sword, meet Valyrian sword.”  WHAT HAPPENS: A superior blade chops right through a normal one.  HOW TO USE IT: Sunder.  It doesn’t come up as much as it should especially in a game with masterwork crafting or materials such as star metal.  If you want to introduce a bad guy your players will really be terrified of, then create one that has Improved Sunder & wields adamantine weapon(s), then chop away at their favorite magic item.  They’ll be far more scared of losing their stuff than their hit points.

We do not mutilate little girls for vengeance.”  WHAT HAPPENS: One character wants to send someone back to her mother.  Piece by piece. The other character explains that’s not how their group does things.  Cue setup for future conflict.  HOW TO USE IT: Remember that at least in D&D not all Evil is the same.  Neutral Evil is selfish, Lawful Evil is evil but with standards + a code, & Chaotic Evil is the Joker as played by Heath Ledger.  Make sure players can see the difference in the bad guys  by having different Evil bad guys behave differently.  And consider how ‘Team Evil’ really is always differently teams, all scheming to further their own individual goals.

“What do you call it in the South?”  WHAT HAPPENS: A deadly disease is discussed, & it turns out to have very different names as well as treatments depending where you are when you’re suffering.  HOW TO USE IT: Different places will have their own terms for things.  Equipment, spells, classes, even races could be called something entirely else from what its labeled in the PHB.  When the players are strangers in a strange land, they’ll have to adapt to the local lingo to get what they want.

“All your books and you still don’t know.”  WHAT HAPPENS: Someone is chastised for being friendly & trusting an outsider.  HOW TO USE IT: Intelligence is knowing a tomato is a fruit, Wisdom is knowing not to put it into a fruit salad.  (And Chaotic Neutral is doing it anyway)  If a PC has a high INT but a low WIS, they should be roleplaying their character as book smart/street stupid.  For every minus to a mental ability score, they should be doing each game night that demonstrates that shortcoming.

“Nothing’s worth anything to dead men.”  WHAT HAPPENS: Approached by local ruffians, a smaller character warns them off with something that could serve as a catchphrase.  HOW TO USE IT: D&D is an RPG, so insist that if a PC is making an Intimidate or Diplomacy check, that they say what their character says.  Give particularly memorable dialogue a circumstance bonus for their efforts.  Then document these with a Quote Board.

Ok, there was actually a lot going on in this episode- we didn’t even talk about what was happening in Mereen which by itself could have been an article.  But how did we do with what we did?  Any of these mined ideas going into your games?  Let us know in the comments below.

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By - April 13, 2015 - 2 Comments

Ideas from Game of Thrones season 5 premiere »

GoT S5Another Game of Thrones season, another army of ideas for your D&D games.  And although HBO GO recently became available via Apple products, (coincidentally in time for the premiere) if like me you don’t have an iPad/iPhone/iInput you can still watch (legally) via an Amazon app called ‘Sling Television.’  So what can we borrow from GoT S5-1 for D&D? {SPOILERS, duh}  Here’s some thoughts I had- in order- while watching the episode twice.

  1. good bad guys have good backstory  A young Cersei is already showing signs of Cerseiness but apparently had someone who was a genuine friend to her.  And you have to be a friend if not a BFF to go into a witch’s den, & then not leave when said witch tells you to leave.
  2. if you’re going to be ‘God’ act Godlike  It would be a intriguing character background if a PC had a prophecy about them, especially if this happens.  As the DM, if you could make such a premonition later actually ‘come true’ it would be something to WOW your player with.  Particularly if said premonition had been paid for in blood & was not predicting the sort of positiveness coming from fortune cookies.
  3. sorcerous power is serious  Melisandre, aka The Red Woman, shares with Jon Snow a noticeable feature of her abilities; her skin radiates the heat from being in service to the Lord of Light.  Shouldn’t all spellcasters & soothsayers have some tell-tale sign of their otherworldly abilities?
  4. gay people exist, even in fantasy worlds  This episode has more male butts than female boobs.  Yet how many famous homosexual characters from fantasy RPG’s are there?  (seriously, I don’t know, yell at me in the comments below).  You don’t need to push a gay agenda on your group but never having any gay folk in your game world just isn’t realistic.  I’d suggest making it a part without making it a big deal.
  5. Dragons stuck in a dungeon become angry Dragons stuck in a dungeon Too many modules stick monsters into various rooms without considering the ecology of the place.  A Dragon (or really any monster) that can’t escape it’s confines would likely slowly grow insane.  So unless you want to roleplay an insane monster- which, hey might be awesome- make sure there are appropriate entrances/exits for them to enter/leave.
  6. honor means burning rather than bending  There are those who put principles ahead of person, & would literally die for their beliefs.  Even if its a horrible death.  And this episode had that, with Mance Rayder being burned alive but not before giving gracious last words.  Honor, duty, & sacrifice shouldn’t just be words on a character sheet.  If a PC is properly playing a knight or simply someone of Lawful alignment, then their words matter.

Ok, I’m sure that even after catching it twice, there were other ideas from ‘The Wars to Come.’  What did I miss?  What didn’t I write right?  I’ll be adding more to this piece as I watch it again, but let me know in the comments below.

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By - April 5, 2015 - 7 Comments

Killing off Raise Dead »

Miracle MaxPicture this in your mind.  Rapier in hand, Darwidian dashes forward, desperate to get in front of the gigantic demon and protect the party’s vulnerable spellcasters from hideous claws.  But he mis-steps.  The pincers are a feint, and the clever monstrosity has really been looking to snare him all along.  Panic fills Darwidian’s face as the thing’s mouth elongates to an impossible degree, its dripping jaws reaching completely around the rogue’s torso before snapping shut.  His body falls wetly into two equal pieces, a gurgling scream abruptly cut off.

Ok guys, just bring me back when you’ve Teleported us to the capital city and found a high enough level caster.  I’ve got enough money in gems to cover the costs.  Sorry for that dumb move, I always forget about AoO.”  Darwidian’s unperturbed player then closes down his license of the group’s Hero Lab software, opens up a pinball game on his iPad, and proceeds to quietly occupy himself for the remainder of the evening while the rest of the group goes right on with the adventure.

So this more or less literally happened in my last gaming session.  Our party unluckily was fighting not 1, but 2 glabrezu thanks to their 20% summoning ability.  The Rogue tried to protect the Cleric & Wizard, but in the process of moving to engage the enemy, instead got sliced/diced.  He died pretty early in the night, then nonchalantly played a video game the rest of the time.  Why?  Well he knows his character is coming back, and, after a few thousand extra GP, with no worse the wear.  No reason to break a sweat, let alone be upset about it.  And a rather routine revival of characters is pretty much the case for every edition of D&D.

Think about that for a minute.

Dying, without it being permanent.  Granted, our world doesn’t (apparently) have genuine magic, but the last person even thought to have returned from the dead has a religion based around him.  (It would explain why we place a ridiculous value on diamonds though)  And while there’s certainly a small fortune of GP required to complete the task, even that isn’t always something DMs mandate.  Here’s an argument from designer Sean K. Reynolds against including the diamond component:

“For people who can teleport across the world, literally travel to Hell and back, and conjure deadly fire and stone out of thin air, death is a trivial obstacle. In terms of game math, the 5000gp cost for the spell also encourages metagaming, which is bad. See, if you have a party of 3 live PCs and one dead PC, they have two options:
  1. Scrounge up 5000gp (either from the dead PC’s stuff or from a group donation) and have the dead PC raised. Net result: party has 5000gp less than before and two more negative levels than before.
  2. Leave the PC dead, divide his stuff among the PCs or sell it, have the dead PC’s player bring in a new character (who has full gear for his level, and no negative levels). Net result: party has X more gp than before (where at worst X is half the expected wealth for a character of their level) and no extra negative levels.
In other words, it’s better for the party to bring in a new PC than to resurrect the old one. Which is lame. In a “roleplaying” game that barely encourages roleplaying at all, costly PC death actively DIScourages roleplaying someone who’s compassionate about a fallen ally, and ENcourages you to be a mercenary metagaming player who’s only interested in the wealth and damage output of the group. I don’t like the expensive material component for a spell that is critical and necessary to the typical game experience, and I don’t use it.”

Now obviously this is completely meta-gaming rationale.  In some settings, high Level PCs might be the only available movers & shakers around so equal replacements aren’t an option.  But supposing using the Pathfinder version of Restoration (which restores 1 negative Level for $1K) there is still an undeniable logic to what SKR is saying here: just bring in a replacement dude, dude.  Send in the clones, ala the Paranoia RPG, to save spending several thousand gold plus make up a revised version of your character that is better suited for the adventure & doesn’t mistakenly take the stupid spells/feats/skills you inadvertently picked along the way.

At this point some people are probably shaking their head at how they definitely make the Raise Dead process more believable (i.e. ‘realistic’) either with limiting the number of times it can be done based on Constitution or rolling a percentage against a constructed chart or requiring a short side quest to locate the necessary diamond/caster, and involves roleplaying.  But really any of these just delay the inevitable re-do, and these re-dos completely diminish the specter of death.

What’s the answer?  Well in July 2014 I wrote a piece about how Diablo III had some ideas for D&D games.  The third one being ‘Hardcore Mode’ where you only had 1 life instead of constant respawns.  A single existence, that’s it.  In Hardcore Mode, you’re mortal. Die, you die.  And really this is what makes the game tense and therefore exciting- the possibility of it ending.  Rather than effectively inserting another quarter to start over, that character is dead.  If we apply this mortality concept to D&D the stakes become much more significant, the stress of combat palpable, and the risks rewarding when successfully overcome.   So let your players know that you’re kill off Raise Dead (although admittedly Reincarnation can be fun) for the good of the story part of the RPG and leave coming back from beyond the grave to the undead.  And Jesus.

What do you think- too much?  Was SKR right about ignoring the diamonds? How do you handle character death/resurrection in your game?  Shout at us in the comments below.

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By - March 26, 2015 - 11 Comments

Multiple motivations for your D&D games »

MaximusWhat if every player character in a one-off adventure came with a backstory featuring their own individual goal? Designing such a module or convention game where different members of the party possessed their own unique motivations is challenging for the writer yet can reward everyone with memorable roleplaying.  You want to allow players to really get into being a pre-rolled character and stay true to their temporary roles.  However at the same time as a Dungeon Master you need to keep an eye on the overall game.  Here are 2 ways to balance the realism of personal plans within a group that still needs to work together and the 1 challenge that this story structure presents.

Initially, it is imperative to give each character a compelling reason to join (and then stay) with the others that goes beyond the ‘You all meet in a tavern,’ cliche. For instance, you have a party that forms because they are trying to break a criminal kingpin out of a maximum security prison. One of the characters may actually be doing this because they have an ulterior motive of trying to kill him as revenge for something the kingpin did to their family.  Another may be trying to genuinely save him so as to demonstrate loyalty and perhaps rise in rank in the organization.  And another may desperately want a specific item or piece of information from him that is crucial. Thus all the characters may be subtly making different decisions throughout the adventure due to their true motivations and yet they all have the impetus of getting to the crime kingpin.  Shared goal, different reasons for that shared goal.  And ultimately, an exciting resolution of these conflicting goals.

The 2nd way to balance diverse motivations in a party is to make the encounters challenging and require a diverse array of skill sets. Even if characters have a compelling reason to stay together, there might still be points where one feels another member is not important to their own ends. So a well-written adventure tries to make each character necessary for the party’s overall success. If the players can be made to realize that they will not be able to complete the mission without the whole team, they will be left with the choice of staying together or risk failing. Skill based challenges, from traps to puzzles to a certain type of knowledge that requires different classes, ensures that the characters must rely on each other.

Finally, the 1 main challenge with the structure of individual goals is that secret motivations might cause your characters to split up or need to speak with NPC’s or you in private. The key to these meetings is balance.  If different players are constantly going off and having private and separate interactions it will hampers game play and slows down everything for everyone else.  Success is to keep the whole party engaged and interested even when talking to certain people individually.  So pass notes, but pass notes sparingly and perhaps have them pre-made to speed this part up.  And don’t take too long if you do have any one-on-one conversations; NPC’s time is important!

Several friends and I formed a team we named Redeemed Revenant to design a game that utilizes these principles: a 5th Ed D&D convention style or 1-shot adventure called Khatogon (Cat-oh-gone). It is designed for four 4th level characters and we think it’s criminally fun.  Check out our Khatogon Adventure if you want to see more.

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