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!

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,

Preparing for your game.

So, you’re finally ready to play D&D. You’ve gotten your friends together, made your character sheets, purchased all the beef jerky your starting gold can get you, and you’re here to take on the world. But unfortunately for you, you’re the Dungeon Master, and everyone will be over at your place tomorrow for the first session! Whatever will you do!? Well, I never claimed to be an expert DM, and I’m sure that there are far more experienced people for the job. But it’s how I got my start in the game and it’s what I like doing best. I’ve had games derailed by everything from not having a place to game, to not having anyone show up, to doing a silly Jamaican accent (he was a Planeswalker. Can you blame me?). I’ll tell these stories some other day, I promise. Today we’ll focus on a better-case scenario. I run games using what I’ve referred to as “The list method”. I’ll have a basic outline of what I want to happen in a game’s storyline (e.g. travel between two in-game locations), and a list of stuff I want to add. I’ve given an example of that in a previous post, but I thought I’d start over. Here’s what I came up with.

  • Swarms of tiny demonic piranha-chihuahua hybrids called nits.
  • An island of giant, talking plants.
  • a necromancer blocking off all travel through a mountain pass with two giant zombie umber hulks
  • a man stranded in a town, with no money for supplies for the journey home and a bag full of oddities.
  • a telescope that allows you to talk to anything you can see in it as if they were right next to you.
  • A sword possessed by the spirit of the man who wielded it in battle,
  • A traveling magician who is essentially a less goofy version of Maurice from Beauty and the Beast

I’m going to stop there because, well, I’m tired. Having this list can do many things for a Dungeon Master. From the list above I’ve gained 2-4 recurring NPCs, a location, 2-3 encounters, and at least three chances for magic items. Each one of these, whether you use them or not, can lend itself to something new. I’m a very free-form DM. This lends itself neatly to my weakness: In the moment physical narration. Running battles tends to bore me because I’m not great at doing it. Aside from a few favorites like the zombie spellslinger fight, a lot of my combats consist of “….12. You miss him. He moves towards Steve….16. Steve is hit….”. It sounds lame because it is. I hope to improve on this in the coming months. It’s like Don Draper said “Just think about it deeply, then forget it…then an idea will jump up in your face.” When you make your list, what you’re really doing is planting seeds. Each one gives you a little bit more of the setting. In D&D, drawing players into a well-developed storyline through setpieces, items and NPCs? Pretty Fuckin’ Smart. A couple other things about my DMing. I have some rules I make people follow around the table.

  1. No Drugs at the table. No weed, nooo nothing, unless it A. Is medically necessary and B. Won’t get you really high. It’s not because I’m against the use of recreational drugs (which I am), it’s because of situations like this. I was running a game at a table at my local game store, Moondragon Games, when two of my players (one of whom knew the rule, one of whom didn’t) ducked outside for a few minutes while I was setting up a new encounter. I looked up from my mat and they weren’t there, I knew exactly what had happened. I ran outside to confront them, and the guy who knew the rule was being a huge douche about it. I herded them back inside, and the game progressed, and toking even helped the other guy concentrate on the game better. Why was all this bad thing? Because another one of my players, who was sitting next to them, spent the entire session like this:

She couldn’t handle the smell. Be considerate to the people around you. I’m no longer friends with one of those guys for this reason, as well as a few others.

  1. (yeah, there are two number ones, they’re both important) No Cell phones. Unless you’re expecting a very important, specific call, turn it off. Especially if you’re going to text at the table. Get the hell out. It’s disrespectful to divide your attention when it’s hard enough to get a game together as it is and everyone put effort into being here.
  2. Unless you don’t have a problem with jokes, make it clear beforehand how serious you want the game to be and make it clear that some “jokes” might be taken as your actual in-game intent.
  3. No laughing at the DMs  fake Jamaican accent.