It’s in the Small Stuff
Greetings! I have finally returned for another edition of One Die Short. The ODS site fell apart, and so I had to rebuild it, but it’s back and better than ever, and so am I. This week I want to talk about the little things in D&D:
In the above page from ODS, there are a few things I want to point out about the Half-Orc character, Matilda. She has a necklace, earrings and tattoos. These are supposedly inconsequential to gaming, and are little more than extra fluff to add some depth to a character. Those of us that like well-rounded and interesting characters never forget to leave out the details, but for a lot of people, these things get lost.
I don’t know if it’s generational, or a result of the ever-evolving rule system, but I know when I used to play AD&D back in the day, these little details were essential. I remember spending hours on my character sketch until is was just right. And then of course, being the artistically inclined one in the group, I was forced to draw everyone else’s character. I’ve spoken with other DMs that have expressed similar complaints recently, so why do these little things seem to fading away, and what can we do about it?
Some players love roleplaying and character development, and others just want to get in there, kill some things, and level up. It’s the latter players that tend to gloss over the more roleplaying heavy elements of the game, and it’s these players that often couldn’t care less about what color their tunic is, or whether or not their character likes to wear jewelry. If a piece of clothing or item isn’t magical, it isn’t worth their time to think about.
Personally, I love RPGs because I love ROLE-playing. Character development is important to me, not just for my own characters and NPCs but for my players PCs as well. I want to know their character’s motivations, likes and dislikes, and the location of ever freckle on their body (okay, even I’m not that bad). I want interesting PCs in my game – not just PCs optimized for dice rolling – and the solution I’ve come up with works well for me and for my more stats focused players. But best of all, it’s already built into the rule system.
Returning to the above page from ODS, let’s look at the necklace. Is it magical? No. Is it an important plot piece? No. It’s just there. One of my current players has a similar necklace that he has slowly been fashioning out of the bones of his enemies. I enjoy this, because it’s good roleplaying, and I like to reward players for good roleplaying. So, all I do is offer various circumstance bonuses, which become equipment bonuses, as they are usually a permanent effect. I say usually because even a bonus from an object might not apply to every situation. For example, a necklace with gnome skulls dangling from it is pretty scary, so I might grant +1 or +2 Intimidation bonus, unless you’re trying to intimidate a Hill Giant. A lot of us are used to granting circumstance bonuses, but most of the DMs I know tend to focus more on combat bonuses than anything else, and sometimes they get overlooked completely.
Here are some other bonuses I like to give:
- Diplomacy bonuses for dressing fancy
- Charisma bonuses for being well bathed and smelling nice
- Intimidation and/or Charisma bonuses for having awesome tattoos
There are a great many possibilities, so be creative with it. I think the circumstance bonus is one of the most overlooked tools of good DMing, and one we can use to add more depth to our game and our players. Sometimes a little bribery can go a long way, and really, what’s a +1 bonus every now and then if it keeps the DM and the players happy? Sometimes we get so wrapped up in game “balance” that we start forgetting to have fun.