I’m back, and I’m DMing…5th Edition D&D

So, it’s been an exciting few days for me. New shift at work, made some new friends, I find my blog has been up for a year now (which isn’t extremely depressing…), and I finally got to try D&D 5th edition in earnest. You guys ready for a long rambling story with no pay-off? Good! Let’s GO!

I had three players, and one of them had bought the latest starter set, so I was stuck running that. It was a perfect storm of mediocrity. Not the game itself (although….meh…), but it was 5 AM when we finally got rolling, I was buzzed (maybe a little drunk), and I had a whole group of newbies waiting eagerly for me to teach them a game I was only passingly familiar with.

Because I had nothing prepared, and was not familiar enough with the balance of the game to make stuff up, I decided to try the module included in the starter set. I usually do not like using modules because I find they make it hard for me to improvise, but I’d heard good things about it from my friends, and I’d watched a little bit of ProJared’s playthrough with his buds. So, I put on my best DM voice (which was weakened from an ill-advised attempt to sing Tenacious D a few hours previous)  and cracked open Lost Mines of Phandelver.

At a glance, it looked like a really well structured adventure But I hadn’t the time nor the patience to read the whole thing. The pre-made characters that came with the starter set are tied to various places and NPCs, giving your characters a more immersing experience. Given the lateness of the hour, we only made it most of the way through the first dungeon, the Cragmaw Cave before everyone went to bed. Actually, we WOULD have had more time, but the players ended up killing all the goblins in the opening encounter, ignoring a non-scripted goblin that I added to get them to follow it, even so much as leaving them a trail of goblin blood to follow. Instead, they made it to town, rested for the night, delivered the goods they were escorting, and only then remembered that the two dead horses they’d found belonged to Gundren Rockseeker, their dwarven friend who hired them.

They doubled back, found the trail of blood, and followed it to the Cragmaw Hideout. They spooked a goblin guard by killing the other one, and then followed him inside, where he ran straight through the wolf kennel and up the natural chimney to Klarg’s lair. After taking out the wolves, Our halfling rogue and our dwarven cleric (Tealeaf and Thoradin, respectively) shimmied up the shoot to an encounter with Klarg, the bugbear “warlord”. The rest of us took the long way around,  getting a nice bath when the alerted goblins opened two sets of floodgates to try and wash us out of the cave. after a brief and fiery encounter, Klarg was dead, and so almost, was our halfling.

At this point. I figured we needed to go to bed. We called a break for the night, and resumed, sans one player who had an errand to run. I took over Thoradin for him.

This is where I ran into a couple of problems. The way this dungeon flows, you can go wherever you want. east to Klarg, or west to the goblin living area, where an important NPC is being held prisoner. the way the adventure is written, the “right” way these events go down is west first, meet Klarg’s traitorous second in command who promises to pay you with Sildar’s (the NPC who was guarding Gundren) life if you kill Klarg for him. At this point, Klarg was already rotting away on the other side of the cave. I wasn’t sure how this should go down. I didn’t want to force another battle. The potions we found in Klarg’s stuff weren’t enough to bring everyone up to fighting readiness, and I didn’t want anyone to die on the first dungeons. I got the group to trade a whopping 600 copper pieces to the new chief for Sildar’s life. Specifically, the dwarf threw the chest with all his might at the wall, and all the goblins lept for the coins while we made haste to safety.

The game stopped here. I had trouble motivating my players to talk with the NPCs, and on top of that, I couldn’t find where in the module it explained what happened to Gundren, who has dissapeared, and I wasn’t feeling well. I want to play more with this group, but I want to play a system I’m more comfortable with. I had my remaining players create characters for 3.5. I managed to set up enough of a story that I can now actually prepare for the next session. I’ll let you know how that goes. Until next time!

Goblin Interstitial: The most powerful DM tool at your disposal.

So, throughout my tenure as a DM, I’ve garnered a few tricks of the trade that make my job just a little bit easier. I’m feeling charitable, so I’ll let you in on the biggest innovation in gaming since the to-hit roll. It may seem a little crass, but the sheer brilliance of it will blow your mind.

Are you reading intently by now?

Steal anything you can get by your players. And a few things you can’t.

I occasionally challenge myself to see just how much I can do to stretch immersion. If you wanted to say, slip the entire plot of Fight Club into your game. Do it. I have. It’s actually really easy, depending on how subtle you are, and just how many in your group have seen it. If I were to approach my players with “You hear the sounds of a scuffle around the corner. If you choose to follow it, you find a young half elf exchanging blows with apparently no one”. That immediately draws the whole group in. As soon as they learn that his name is Tyaldur Denn and that he runs the soapmakers guild/laundry, the players who have the movie fresh in their minds might get a little suspicious, and when he invites them to a secret club that meets in the laundry basement, that’s when the rest of the alarm bells will go off. The subtlety comes in when you space out this information, perhaps even over a session or two, at that point, by the time the jig is up, they rest of the players will look at you with a collection of looks that either say “this man is the cleverest guy on the planet”, or they’ll look as if you just told a really bad pun (and who doesn’t secretly love puns?). Either way, by this point, you’ve still given them an interesting set up, and from there, you can decide whether or not to stick to the movie, or throw them a curveball (hint, use the curveball. Keep those sons-of guessing). You’ve got whole universes of fiction to pilfer. Your players can’t have read all of them.

RPGs are the best medium for idea stealing. It’s not like anyone’s going to sue you over adding Gollum to your D&D game. Have some fun with it. Some call these “references”, or say they were simply “inspired by” a certain work. I say I just stole an entire dungeon from the ending scene of Freddi-Fish 3, and I’m extremely happy about it. Who the hell remembers that game besides me? They aren’t going to notice. Plus, saying I stole something of that type makes me feel like Carmen Sandiego. She stole locations too. and she loved it. Don’t you want to be like Carmen Sandiego? No? Liar.

If you’re not too amazed by my DMing savvy, and aren’t currently preoccupied scraping your brains off of the wall behind you, leave a comment or find me on twitter at @GoblinGilmartin and harass me. I don’t mind. I’ll get back to movie reviews shortly. I just need a LOT of time to recover from that last one…

Proper Party Put-together.

I’d like to make this little impromptu post to address a concern I’ve had. As you may know, I’ve been slowly growing weary of D&D. I don’t WANT this to happen. I love D&D. I love the stories I get to tell, the decisions I get to make. It’s amazing. But I’ve had to deal with a lot of…interesting players. It seems to be a growing trend that players always fall into one of three categories: People that build characters for versatility, People that Build characters for their Special Little Snowflake (SLS) status, and for the purposes of this article, the people who do it “right” (remember folks, cum grano salis I’m only one man). Here’s my issue. At it’s core, D&D is a game about creating a team that works well together, has adventures, faces dangers, and generally cracks skulls. 

When I see a party that ultimately looks like this:

I say to myself “What’s the point?”. You’re all basically playing the same character. There’s little variation, there’s no real stand outs. Everyone is functionally the same. You can all do magic, you can all use magic items, and you all have a lot of points in Dexterity.

And when I see a party that looks like THIS:

Just…Are you freaking kidding me? It creates a case of “If everyone is special, then no one is.” They probably bicker, because each player has so lovingly created a unique and tormented backstory that strives to dominate the narrative. And believe me. This game will be narrative heavy. All the players will talk in character in low tones, growling at each other.

“But Goblin!” I hear you saying. “This type of party can totally work well together”. In a perfect world, yes, sure. But we live in a world of selfish, broken people who have a hard time empathizing with others. If you didn’t want to deal with this type of person, you’re in the WRONG hobby, Dave.

Here’s my argument. D&D is a team game. A good team is made out of individual pieces that work together. checks and balances. Not everybody is going to be great at everything, and not everybody should. Playing with different strengths and weaknesses means you actually have to do this crazy little thing called relying on others.  The best part of playing a more traditional party, doing it “right”, is that each archetype, those being stuff like Cleric, Fighter, Thief, Wizard, all have dozens of interpretations, each one with its own bailiwick of abilities and outlooks on life. Simply amazing opportunities for role-playing. Try them out next time, instead of making that CN Dragon-blooded half-demon Hadozee soulknife-necromancer you’ve been thinking about, consider seeing what kind of mileage you can get out of an Elven Wizard. You may surprise yourself,

Food on the Table

Okay, that was weak. I was tired and on my way to work when I wrote that last “update”. Let me try again.

I’ve even got a good topic. Food around the table.

We’ve all heard the Mountain Dew and Cheetos jokes, right? Well, as far as they go, I prefer Doritos, and the Dew? It has to be Code Red. Code Red is my DM fuel, in the most literal manner. I’m currently not of drinking age in America quite yet, but if you want to talk alcohol….I dunno. Ask your parents. I once tried to teach a room of drunk people how to play Munchkin, and it went about as well as trying to put a cat on a vegan diet, with similar results.

I’m well acquainted with snacks, and I’d like to share a few tips and ideas:

  • If you’ve got a fancy-shmancy expensive game mat like I do, it’s probably a good idea to limit the messy foods. stick to small, handful-style foods, like M&Ms, Skittles, pretzels, or chips. No dips though. Expensive game mat, remember?
  • These will probably get me laughed at, but if you’re of a healthier bent, then nuts, raisins, trail mix, and my personal favorite, dried fruit (pineapple especially, but trust me when I say that eating more than a pound of the stuff in one sitting? Not a great idea.). IF you spill any of these, you probably won’t ruin any character sheets.
  • If you want to get a little more creative, you can tie in the foods you eat into your game. Smell and taste are your major memory trigger senses. If you’re running the game, and the PC’s are traveling over a long distance, serve them up something that might be a part of their rations, aside from the dried fruit and nuts mentioned above, people tended to take foods that wouldn’t spoil on long journeys, and this meant preserved foods like pickles, dried meats like beef jerky and smoked fish (As a former Alaskan, that means salmon). If your PCs are in a tavern then you can try simple stuff like cheese and bread and pickles (a cheap plowman’s lunch). If you want to put in the effort and make it a party, meat pies still might be a little messy, yet historically accurate.

Fun fact: in D&D or one of the spin-off video games, you might have seen an item called an “Iron rations”. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, assuming it was something like beef jerky or something else with a high iron content, but after looking a little into it, Wikipedia tells us:

The first attempt to make an individual ration for issue to soldiers in the field was the “iron ration”, first introduced in 1907. It consisted of three 3-ounce cakes (made from a concoction of beef bouillon powder and parched and cooked wheat), three 1-ounce bars of sweetened chocolate, and packets of salt and pepper that was issued in a sealed tin packet that weighed one pound. It was designed for emergency use when the troops were unable to be supplied with food. It was later discontinued by the adoption of the “Reserve Ration” but its findings went into the development of the emergency D-ration.

Sounds less than appetizing to me. Why, you ask, is something  that was invented in the 20th century found in a medieval fantasy setting? Remember, the first D&D players were wargamers, people who studied the culture and tactics of wars throughout history. Gygax, a huge wargamer himself, probably borrowed a little something from that to add to his games.

If you’d like to share your typical gaming fare, leave it in the comments below. Until next time!