Category Archives: Uncategorized

D20: Advantage as Caution

This sounds like a pretty cool idea! I think we will playtest it in our group.

System sans Setting

The mechanic of rolling 2d20 instead of one is very helpful in both the newest edition of D&D (where it’s used for Advantage and Disadvantage), and for other games that use an uncurved die for a single roll. By rolling 2d20 (or even more), you’re essentially adding a curve to a roll whose results would otherwise be linear. Particularly if you read the dice independently, you’ve made the results much more similar to a dice pool or iterated series of rolls. This serves to reduce swinginess, by further reducing the chance of fluke successes or failures (I suspect most players are more likely to try rolls on their high skills when given the option than their low ones, so are going to have a roll swing into a failure on a high skill more often than it swings into a success on a low skill).

Ultimately, there are a decent…

View original post 394 more words

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 18, 2016 in Uncategorized


When Time Runs Out

Sometimes you just run out of time in a game session.

I know, I know…lotsa players really have no concept of this phenomenon. You start a game session, and you play it through to completion. Three hours…eight hours…fourteen hours…whatever it takes, you play until you are done. College students might be able to do this. Unemployed gamers might be able to do this. High school players might be able to get away with this on weekends, or if they have very permissive parents.

That’s not how it works for many of us. High schools players usually have curfews. Players with jobs need to get enough sleep to get up for work in the morning. Married players need to make sure they are giving enough time to their spouses and families. This is just respect for other people in our lives, and for the responsibilities of life.

So what do you do when you run out of time in a session? How do you make sure you don’t run out of time?

First, time management should be the primary responsibility of the game master. The players need to be sure they let the GM know if they have a hard deadline by which they need to quit playing, but the GM controls the pace of the game, and the GM knows what she has in store for the players. The players do not know these things. Therefore, the good GM will keep an eye on the clock and respect his player’s time constraints.

When the GM knows how much time she has, the good GM will be able to control the pace of the game. Keep the game on track. Limit distracting table talk. I know that players want to tell war stories about past glories, and things they do in my game might remind them of “that time when…”, but try to keep your current game moving forward.

Keep an eye on the clock as the game progresses. Know where you are, and what you still need to accomplish in this session. Sometimes I might modify on the fly what I have the players doing. I might not throw that second wave of hobgoblins on the table. I might decide that a minor side quest would be more distracting right now then useful, so postpone it for later.

A good DM is also going to spot good stopping points along the way. Sometimes right before a big combat that I know is going to take longer than the time we have, I will call the game early. At first, some players groaned about this, but they have seen that his usually works out for the best.

Sometimes you are in the middle of fast and furious action, and the time deadline is there. The temptation will be to blow through that time deadline and just press on. I would advise you to weigh that decision carefully. Deciding to push on through might have very significant unintended consequences later.

For instance, in my regular group, I have one high school student with a 9:00 curfew. This player has pretty strict parents who would not be understanding of blown curfews. I understand parents setting curfews. When I was heaviest into gaming, in high school in the early ‘80s, my parents always set a curfew. They were also firm believers in corporal punishment. When they said to be home at 9:00, they did not mean 9:01. And they meant 9:00 by their clock, which was always roughly five minutes fast. It was always safest to make sure I was home fifteen minutes early. I won’t get into what happened to me if I was late. I’ll just say that there were consequences.

I don’t think my player would face such serious consequences as I did, but he would have some consequences nonetheless. They might not want him to come back to the game at all. That would suck. A short sighted decision to blow a curfew could result in his not gaming at all—at least, not playing in my Wednesday night game. Everybody with responsibilities face similar consequences. A significant other might be looking forward to one of your gamers getting home for some together time at the end of the evening. What’s going to happen when that player comes home hours late? What if one of your players plays later than planned, and then sleeps through his alarm the next morning and is late to work? When I supervised a CCC crew, the biggest problem I had with gamers on the crew was when they would have an all-night session before a work day and then be pretty useless at work because they were so tired. As a boss, and especially as a gamer, I did not take pity on game-induced fatigue and made sure there were consequences. They learned how to game and be responsible to their jobs.

So as a DM, you need to be able to spot good stopping places, even in the middle of fast and furious action. Be aware that some spots are better than others. Be creative in picking those spots.

For instance, in high school one of our favorite RPGs was a World War 2 themed game called Behind Enemy Lines. I was running a game based upon the old Rat Patrol TV show. The players were a recon squad in North Africa. They had two jeeps with pedestal mounted machine guns. In one game, they got caught open in the desert by a flight of German Stuka dive bombers…and we were running up against my curfew. I went ahead and started the battle. The planes made a couple of strafing runs first. The jeep drivers started evasive maneuvers, flooring it and spinning madly through the sand, throwing up big old sand rooster tails. The gunners held on and returned fire on the Stukas. I had one eye on my watch the whole time. Finally, the Stukas made their bomb runs. The first drop was a clean miss. The second drop was a near miss on the lead jeep—and I was out of time. The bomb exploded just yards away from the jeep, the jeep tipped over, the two guys started spilling out—and ‘To Be Continued’ flashed across the screen.

This is called a cliffhanger ending, and I love them. They are especially effective for keeping motivation high to get back to the game. Nobody is going to want to miss that session!

I had to do this in the last session of my Wednesday night game. The party has been looking for the cousin of one of the party members. The cousin had been captured by goblins. The party finally found the old abandoned castle in which the cousin is being held. They managed to find a back door entrance, and they made it to the room in which the cousin is held. In the room were a drow and a bugbear. The party surprised the drow and bugbear, and battle was on. The drow was the focal point for the party’s attentions, and she got hit pretty hard in the surprise round. She drew a dagger and dropped to the cousin lying unconscious in a corner. It looks like she’s going to try to off the helpless cousin. The bugbear is battling the other half of the party. Another surprise is about to spring on the party.

And then we were at my player’s hard curfew.

“To Be Continued…” Heh, heh, heh.


Tags: ,

Ep 66: Bringing the Magic of Magic to D&D; If You Guild it They Will Come

This was a cool podcast by Dungeon Master’s Block about using Guilds in your fantasy world. They use guilds from a Magic: The Gathering setting to illustrate some Guild possibilities. The Green/Black guild was intriguing!

Listen here:

#MagicMark is back to talk with us about building Guilds for your D&D worlds and Campaigns. To delve in deeper into the MTG Universe, we will look at the plane of Ravnica and the 10 guilds that rule there. Patreon @DMs_Block Facebook Stitcher iTunes Intro Music in this episode is Dreams By Hired Beats is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Release:… License:… This episode edited by: DM Mitch

Source: Ep 66: Bringing the Magic of Magic to D&D; If You Guild it They Will Come


Tags: ,

AD&D vs. 5E: It’s a Harsher World Out There

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons players moving into D&D, 5th Edition might think that because their characters are beefed up in 5E, the usual adventurer-fodder of orcs, kobolds, and goblins would be even more of a pushover in 5E.

Not so.

Take your average orc. AD&D orcs had one hit die for 1-8 hit points. Orc guards had 11 hit points, and chieftains had 13-16 hit points. Most weapons are going to be able to kill your average orc in one swing. Guards and chiefs lasted a little bit longer. AD&D orcs inflicted 1-6 points of damage, or by weapon type. They had no other special abilities or talents not even guards or chieftains. The experience point value for beating one was 10+1/hp.

Orcs in 5E have 2d8+6 hit points, making them tougher off the bat, or maybe the ‘mace’ in this world. They are normally armed with a great axe, inflicting 1d12+3 damage. Ordinary orcs have two special abilities. The have the Intimidation skill at +2, which is rolled when attempting to influence anybody through “overt threats, hostile actions, and physical violence”. (5E Player’s Handbook, p.179) (This would be rolled versus NPCs.) They are also Aggressive, and can move faster than you would expect under normal circumstances. Orcs normally move thirty feet in a turn. As a bonus action, which is a free action in addition to its regular action, it can move an additional thirty feet towards an opponent it can see. I have seen this play out interestingly in games. The player said “I honestly didn’t think he could get to me there.” Oops. The experience point value for beating a 5E orc is 100.

Orc war chiefs are even tougher. They have 11d8+44 hit points. (Yes. You read that right. An average one will have 88 hit points.) They are also Aggressive. They have Intimidation +5. They also get multi-attacks, giving them two attacks per turn with a melee weapon. Once per day, they can also Battle Cry. “Each creature of the war chief’s choice that is within thirty feet of it, can hear it, and is not already affected by Battle Cry gain advantage on attack rolls until the start of the war chief’s next turn. The war chief can then make one attack as a bonus action.” (5E Monster Manual, p.246) The experience point value for beating an orc war chief is 1100. (I would imagine that this is so high because they are never encountered alone, but are always surrounded by a good sized band of orcs and are a force multiplier.)

Orcs in 5E are more Tolkien-ish than cartoon-ish.

These improved abilities apply to other creatures as well. Goblins have Nimble Escape, which means they can disengage from a melee without triggering an opportunity attack against them. Hobgoblins have Martial Advantage. They train to work together as a fighting team. Once per turn, they can inflict an extra 2d6 damage if their target is within five feet of a hobgoblin ally. Bugbears have Brute (one extra dice of damage for the weapon used in melee attacks—a morning star that normally does 1d8 damage does 2d8 in the hands of a bugbear) and Surprise Attack (surprised targets take an extra 2d6 damage from an attack). Yes, if you are surprised by a bugbear and he lands his blow, you are taking 2d8+2d6 damage. Even lowly kobolds now have 3d6-3 hit points and Pack Attack, giving them advantage on attack rolls if they have an ally within at least five feet of their target.

And if that is not enough for sadistic creative Dungeon Masters, you can give ‘special creatures’ abilities that player characters might have. Fighters in my group were really beating up on creatures with their Second Wind and Action Surge abilities. Then they met a band of orcs whose leader, while not technically a ‘war chief’, had maximum hit points for an orc plus the same Second Wind and Action Surge they had been using to run roughshod over poor monsters. Boy, where they surprised!

In all, 5E monsters really are new and improved over their AD&D counterparts—and they come with more surprises!

*Creature statistics are from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (TSR; 6th printing, January, 1980), and Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast; 1st printing, September, 2014).


Tags: ,

Streamlining Encounters

Here is a nifty form designed for D&D 5E that I found at Crit Games.

It looks like a character sheet, but it is designed to keep track of all of your many threads involved in a combat. You can keep track of three different types of monsters, and up to six of each type of monsters in each group. There are stat blocks for each monster type, boxes for that monster’s initiative modifier, attack capabilities, special attacks, experience points earned for defeating for the group, and hit points for up to six different individual monsters in each group.

The best part, the most handy part, is the numbered list down the left side of the page to write down everybody’s initiative roll. So cool!

My initial thoughts…

I am not sure how handy this would be for wandering monsters, because of all of the monster data that needs to be transcribed onto it. However, for planned encounters which you set up in advance of game time, I think this will be great! I currently have index cards with monster stats that I wrote out that I can just draw out of a box for my encounters. My cards even work great for random encounters, because I can just slip what I need out of the box. However, this sheet consolidates several monster types onto one sheet, and that initiative list is going to be handy! Right now I just list names down on a piece of scratch paper.

I can’t wait to try this tonight.


Tags: ,

The Sunday Board Game Blog #1: Asmodee Did What? And Other Cosmic Curiosities

The Sunday Board Game Blog #1: Asmodee Did What? And Other Cosmic Curiosities

Here’s a relatively new gaming blog. I enjoyed it, I thought y’all might, too. Especially VivaJava, a COFFEE game!

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 10, 2016 in Uncategorized


D&D Generations

I have been able to get a view of my kids and their friends from a vantage point that I don’t think many parents get: sitting around a table playing Dungeons & Dragons. I’m reminded of my sixteen-year-old daughter Grace’s observation when we took a road trip from our home near Redding, California to my home town outside of Chicago last summer. She was able to meet my old high school friends for the first time. We met some of them at their houses one-on-one. We had one pizza party with a small gathering of old friends.

She said, “You guys are just like us.”

I am happy to say that I think she was right.

It would be easy to say that we were just like any other group of kids not in the popular crowd. You know what I mean <wink, wink>. But that would be a cop-out. What was a typical group of kids like?

Our group in 1980 was a collection of teenagers—mostly boys, only one girl—who were smarter than our school grades reflected and did not fit in with any of the common categories of ‘jock’, ‘prep’, or ‘stoner’. We enjoyed movie and book fiction, but especially fantasy and science fiction. We were not overextended with school activities and had a lot of free time on our hands. We gravitated toward games. Sure, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was the mainstay, but we spent a lot of time playing just about any interesting non-mainstream game. Several of us loved historical wargames like Squad Leader, Third Reich, and Dawn Patrol. We continued the adventures of the United Federation of Planets in Star Fleet Battles.We navigated post-apocalyptic America in Car Wars. We ran campaigns of so…many…role playing games in addition to D&D! Gamma World, Boot Hill, and Top Secret, all from TSR. Twilight 2000 by Game Designers Workshop (GDW) was very popular with our group. Our go-to sci-fi RPG was Space Opera by Fantasy Games Unlimited.We all loved fast paced card games such as Nuclear War, Naval War, and yes, even Uno.

When we got together to play, our main goal was to enjoy a good time together. A ‘good time’ always involved insulting each other, and the raunchier the insult, the better.

I was the guy in the group with the strictest parents as far as securing permission to go anywhere. I couldn’t just say “I’m going down to the Pegasus. I’ll be back around dinner time.” Oh, no. With my Mom, I had to ask if I could go, and I had wait for an answer, and I was told what time to be home. If my corporal-punishment wielding Mom said 5:00, she did not mean 5:01…and the time was always measured according to her clock, which was always roughly five minutes fast.

Another guy in the group, Scott, had the strictest parents as far as the gaming life was concerned. They were religious and always had their suspicions about D&D. In 1980, unfounded concerns regarding D&D had arisen in some circles…circles that made a lot of front page headlines around the country. The game supposedly led to mental and emotional breakdowns, and even to demonic possession. I have to admit that Scott’s parents were cool enough to let him play, but they did not want the books in their house, so I kept his D&D books at my house.

My kids’ group in 2015 is made up almost exclusively of home schooled kids, which I suppose puts them into a special ‘nerdiness’ class all by themselves. Almost half of the group are girls. They wouldn’t fit into the ‘jock’, ‘prep’, or ‘stoner’ groups, either. They game to have fun together, which includes insulting each other, and the raunchier the insult, the better. Some of them have strict parents as far as both securing permission to go and religious parents not crazy about D&D.

I taught Josh and Grace to role play about ten years ago with West End Games’ Star Wars RPG. Josh was eight and Grace was six. Josh learned enough in a couple of months to start running his own games, even at eight years old. For a long time, it was only Josh, Grace and one other kid growing up on the hatchery in their gaming group. About two years ago, my kids were meeting all kinds of other home schooled kids in the Redding area, and Josh put together a Star Wars campaign of his own design using Wizards of the Coast’s Star Wars Saga rules. I had not role played with the kids since I first taught them to play, but I had been telling Josh war stories from ‘back in the day’ for years, so Josh had a great idea of the possibilities of running games. The Star Wars game was wildly popular with their group.

This year, I started feeling the storytelling itch and decided to get back into RPGs. I investigated and discovered that Wizards of the Coast was releasing a new D&D edition, 5E. I had heard about the D&D incarnations since the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons that we played in the ‘80s. I had heard mixed reviews of them from players, so I toyed with the idea of looking for the old AD&D books on eBay and sticking with the familiar. After researching some more, I felt comfortable picking up the 5E Starter Set. For less than $25, I could get a good look at the game before spending the $150 necessary for the three books comprising the complete 5E system.

Now I needed players. I could have just played with my kids, but I asked Josh, “Would your group be interested in playing D&D?” I got a big, “Oh, yeah!” for a reply. We got most of the players from his Star Wars campaign together to play the Return to Phandelver campaign that came with the starter set.

It was just like coming home.

Their gaming group was just like my old gaming group from thirty five years ago. The same non-lethal trash talking. The same immersion into the story. The same dreams of fortune and glory.

We played every Wednesday night last summer at our local game shop, Matrix Cards & Games in Redding. Then I found the Icewind Dale sourcebook, which is a campaign set in the same northern Forgotten Realms region that provided the setting for R.A. Salvatore’s legendary Dark Elf novel series. Josh and I love that series. I bought the book with the intent to run the campaign at some time in the future…and then I had a different idea.

I asked Josh if he wanted to run the Icewind Dale campaign.

So now we find ourselves running both campaigns simultaneously. We still play on Wednesday nights at Matrix, and we alternate our campaigns weekly. Most of the players are the same in both. A couple of players couldn’t commit to playing every week, so they picked one game or the other. We did pick up one different player in my Phandelver campaign, an older guy we met at Matrix. Well…he’s older than my other players, anyway. He’s almost half of my age.

And I get to play every other week in my son’s Icewind Dale campaign. How sweet is that?


Tags: ,