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Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ Category

Moving

I’m currently moving the blog to: http://dailyencounter.net

Categories: Ramblings

Are you using Companions (from DMG2)?

If so, check out this handy “Companion Sheet” by @Weem.

Nice and clear with space for 2 companions per page. I expect to be using them soon in my game.

Categories: Ramblings

Getting Motivated

Well the busiest week of the last 3 months for me at work just finished so I have time for DnD again. That said I have to admit it is hard to be motivated right now, but I found motivation tonight: nothing quite like learning that someone is getting use from your ramblings to motivate you to keep sharing them. 🙂

So I’ll be getting back into it soon, on the cards I have an article on languages, and part 2 of the Iuchiban Campaign series, then I hope to get a couple of actual encounters done again (yay holidays).

Categories: Ramblings

Absence

Sorry that I’ve been quiet for a while, a mix of things has combined to leave me high and dry for DnD ideas to share.

Fortunately I’ve discovered a little project for DnD that should keep me going for a while.

Categories: Ramblings

Updated and Lovin’ It

Well another month and another rules update from WotC for 4E. Now before I go on I’d like to point out that this update significantly affected my highest level character, a level 10 Str Cleric who just (ie in the last month) took Healing Implement at level 10 and has no Cha mod (currently hits 12 Cha at 11th). The character had an at-will go from providing a little healing to no healing turning it into a basic attack. This same character of course saw its other At-Will significantly affected by the last update as well, when Righteous Brand got its well deserved fix. I’ve been caught by a couple of other changes as well – I only get to play DnD at the local Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) events, so I do need to follow the rules.

Ok so now we have some idea of my situation I can safely say that I’m quite happy to see the monthly updates at the moment. Yes I hope that 4E 2.0 aka DnD Essentials later this year largely brings an end to them, but as long as the rate of rules production continues as is I would rather have monthly updates than long-lasting issues.

Here is the crux of it, in a home game if I had a player using my cleric build I would let the changes to Healer’s Lore and Healer’s Implement slide. The character isn’t a healing powerhouse and so my game isn’t badly affected. In contrast I’ve seen reports of clerics reducing combat to a farce due to the sheer weight of non-surge healing (18Wis/Cha Pacifist Cleric + Healer’s Implement, with Astral Seal and a magic item that boosts healing can easily be causing a surge value of healing for free every round!). So if I was confronted with this as a DM I would be pleased with the changes and would be talking to an affected player about what to do with his character and the changes. As a person who DMs LFR I’m even happier to see these changes – the above sorts of builds took already generally moderately challenging at best mods and made them a cake walk. I’m glad the changes happened because of what it means for LFR authors trying to create a challenge and so on.

The truth is I am more dissuaded from DnD due to the flood of new material into the game. I have more trouble keeping up with the books than I do the errata. Errata is free, books cost money I cannot spare at the moment. If it wasn’t for DDI I would likely have dumped 4e by now, or established a “no new books” rule late last year cutting PHB3 and MP2 from campaign access. But monthly errata doesn’t bother me anywhere near as much as known problems not getting fixed.

So I say bring it on.

If the fix doesn’t affect my own games currently I can adopt it no hassles.

If the fix affects one of the PCs in my own games I can assess:

  • Is the character causing a problem as it is now or not?
  • Will the change if implemented immediately adversely affect the character for limited effect on the game?

Once I’ve assessed the value of the change I can adopt it or house rule to stay the way it was before the change. It’s a pretty simple thing.

If the fix only affects things from behind the DM screen (monsters etc) I can adopt it no hassles.

I would rather have the game working better overall, both for me personally in my games and as a whole.

Categories: Ramblings Tags: , , ,

Not so Daily…

Well by now the few of you who have been visiting will have noticed I’ve very much slipped from “Daily” and the truth is that the sustained attention on DnD is hurting my ability to “keep up” with the DnD. I need a bit more flexibility in my gaming it seems to be able to stay a happy gamer.

As a result I am recognising that bi-weekly updates is a better target for me. I’ll be aiming for Monday and Thursday encounters, with the possibility of other ramblings in there as well on the other days of the week.

Now to start composing some thoughts after the weeks viewing… and some reading…

Categories: Ramblings

Testing, Testing, 1,2,3….

I write tests as part of my job, and in reading Chris Simms’ article over on Critical Hits that provided examples for how to (possibly) make a good submission to WotC I have been reminded how my job makes me see tests.

Having to write tests means having to think about them quite a bit and analyse how they are working and what they are for, and looking for details in them that are in truth applicable to a wide range of things, including gaming.

Then in thinking about the fact I hadn’t gotten enough done here this week it occured to me that there are lessons to be learnt from good assessment practice for writing and running a good game.

Be Sure What You Want

One of the first things about creating a good test is to understand the purpose of that test. You need to know what information you want the person being assessed to reveal to you. A simple (if absurd) example is if your test is about algebra then asking the students to “What is a tree?” is a bad idea.

Well this works with the process of designing your games as well.

The style of game you want should suggest the elements of the game mechanics you can use (with some luck) to you, and if it doesn’t movies (etc) of that style should provide inspiration for you to draw on to select those elements.

Some thoughts are:

  • Action Adventure: Skill Challenges, and set piece combats where the narative sets the PCs chasing.
  • Survival Horror: Hard and harder combats where the narative puts the PCs being chased.
  • War Stories: Lots of quests (aka Missions). Sill challenges. Run together encounters with high numbers of lower level enemies.
  • Epic Quest: Skill challenges, set piece combats. A narative that says “do X before Y”

Be Sure You Are Using the Right Tool

Once you have the goal of the assessment task you then need to choose the right type of task to learn what you want from the person you are assessing. Sometimes an oral is the right thing, sometimes an essay, sometimes a multichoice test, etc. Choosing the right sort of assessment instrument is critical to getting the desired information.

So in gaming this relates to choosing the structure of the campaign, and its level. The level of the campaign is probably the easiest thing to think about, and much like the style will suggest game elements, the narative of your campaign will suggest levels for the characters and a structure. The 3 tiers of 4E help a great deal with choosing the level of the campaign, heroic games are intended to be “local issues”, paragon campaigns are “national issues” and epic campaigns are “world issues”. Just looking at those and the story you want to tell should make it fairly clear what levels to choose for the campaign. What 4E doesn’t make clear through its mechanics is how to structure the campaign, though both DMGs have advice on how to do this.

Before talking more about structure there are two important concepts with level. Firstly it is possible to have a campaign that slowly builds from 1st level until the characters realise more and more that the scope of the threat is not just their home villages and so they must rise up beyond their boundries and strive ever higher, thus having your campaign cross every tier. The second most important thing to realise is you don’t need to play through every level earning every XP. If your campaign is just about the heroic tier it might be better to start the characters at level 4, and only have enough experience in the campaign to get to level 8, than to try and make the campaign cross from level 1 to level 10. Going from level 4 to 8 is between 30 and 50 encounters – there is plenty of scope for a big story in 30-50 encounters. So if that will make a better story do that.

Now there are a lot of ways to structure a campaign, but there are 3 most of us are familiar with, and using those familiar elements is a good way of shorthanding the campaign for the players so they know what is going on. The basic three are:

  • Ongoing Series: Episode 1 is the start, and the story develops sequentially through to episode 24. One of the most obvious TV examples of this is 24, but even midday TV dramas follow this premise.
  • Episodic Series: Each episode happens, and it may or may not relate to the ones that happened on either side, except that the characters were the same. The early seasons of ST:tNG were like this, and many many other TV shows are exactly like this, but for the last 10-15 years that has been changing so that this mode is less common. Still you can develop a campaign in this structure just fine.
  • Plotted Episodes: Each episode happens, and the main thrust of the episode is not necassarily tied to the ones on either side of it, but some plot elements tie to the underlying plots. Babylon 5 really exemplified this approach to a campaign, and since then many other shows have adopted this strategy to the point where it is the standard approach now.

Personally I’m partial to the last option. It means that if I read a module in Dungeon or somewhere else and I want to use it its really easy to drop it into the game. Have something background happen revolving around NPCs, toss in some relevant rumours, use a cut scene, and it has context to the real plot even if it has basically nothing to do with the plot. It also means that if I have ideas for say a 6 adventures where each is a couple of sessions worth of play I don’t need to worry to much about the levels of the players if I want to play from 1st through to 30th – I can “fill in” without having to “make it up”

Be Sure You Are Asking Relevant Questions

Some readers might well be familiar with criteria sheets for assessment, these are things that spell out what the marker will use to assign the grade for the task. Recently these have started to become specific to individual questions in tests where I work, and that means each question is graded and some are considered to only be of a certain standard (eg “this is a B question” – so the best grade you get is a B).

This is important for getting into the details of a campaign, now we are starting to come down to the nuts and bolts of what to do in the campaign. Before I continue I need to admit that I’m a strong believer in “level when its right”, rather than “earn every experience point” – we play fortnightly, and we manage 1 maybe 2 encounters in a session, if I followed the “xp rules” they would miss out on a lot of the fun of the game.

So that out of the way the “questions” of a campaign are the encounters – each encounter should (hopefully) be doing something and have a logical spot in the campaign (even if the players never see it). Not every encounter needs to be “critical” or “plot driven” they just need to make sense to the story of the campaign. Keeping an eye out for “well we need X xp so…” style encounters is a good way to make sure your story doesn’t get lost in the game.

A good example of this is the “dungeon crawl”; its a popular motiff of DnD but lets be honest how much of it really matters to your game? Unless the answer is “everything” consider changing most of it into a skill challenge, or just handwaving it away so that you can get into the important parts of it.

This is done all the time in movies. The hero learns they need to go to X place, the movie shows them leaving, then it shows the key moments of the trip – they find a clue, they have a fight, they meet a stranger, they arrive at the destination. You can use this in your games as well. Even when its a dungeon they are exploring – does every room matter? Probably not, so you can get rid of most of them – this is actually one of the powerful features of the “Dungeon Delve” product and format – every room matters. Now as a DM you can “add space” between those rooms if you want to, by adding more flavour text to describe the extra space – but you only need the meat the 3 encounters provide to tell the actual story. Think of each one as a “scene” (or a question) and everything else as “filler” that would end up on the cutting room floor.

Just remember that this doesn’t mean everything has to matter to your plot, what it means is everything should make sense when you have all the information. (Of course sometimes that sense might be just “its fun”).

Conclusion

Tests are about finding out what we know and what we can do and good ones are pertinent to both the person setting the test and the person taking it. This idea is useful in looing at a campaign and developing it, from the details of individual encounters, to the meta-campaign concepts like how your campaign is structured and so on. We all play for fun, and so the only question we need an A for is “Is it fun?”, the hard part is making the right decisions to get that A answer for the campaign – but when you are getting it right like that you will want to plan your game, and your players will want to be there to play.

The hardest part is not to get discouraged because the results are not what you hoped – just remember that happens to everyone and the trick is to keep looking for new ideas on how to make it better.

Categories: Ramblings