Monday, November 30, 2009


A few grab-bag ideas that have been rolling around in my head that I'd like to hear from any of you on...

-"Hey Chad, what's your cleric's name?" "Maurice." "What's his god's name?" "Chad." Chad has solved the cleric role-playing problem by declaring that he, Chad, is the god that his cleric follows. Is this Grant-Morrison-esque move interesting or repulsive to you as a DM, or both?

-1st level PCs suck at everything, except their armor class, which can be fairly decent. Have you noticed any implications of this in-game?

-When I run AD&D, the written rules make it hard to sort out how many spells a PC can know per level vs. how many they can cast in any given day. When I run 3.5, I have the same damn problem. I usually end up winging it, or feeling as though I just did. Am I just being lazy/forgetful and refusing to comb through the books or does everybody else have this problem?

-I've never run a large-scale hexcrawl. Those of you who do: do you just sort of write a few bits about each place and wing the details when the players get there, or what? (And yes, I've read those "how to build a hexcrawl" blog posts in Points of Light or Bat In The Attic or whichever.) Addendum: I am not asking you to tell me to go read something, I am asking YOU what YOU have done when you ran a hexcrawl.

-Post-apocalyptic sci-fi DMs--here's an idea: "anachro-anarcho-arachnids". Go!

-I assumed, in a dungeon I ran, that a group of 1st level PCs defeat a vampire and/or a medusa (both high-level monsters, run totally legit) (separately) on the condition that they expected to run into the monster and the monster didn't expect to run into them. And defeat them did. Am I being a soft-hearted monty-haul about this or is this pretty much what you'd expect?

-It occurs to me that the simple initiative system is a big culprit in these victories. If the PCs get initiative, they all get to go before the monster. So: if they win initiative, good for them. If they lose but then win initiative on the next round, then they essentially get to go twice before the monster's second action--still a pretty good deal for them. Essentially: if you outnumber the enemy, then simple initiative works in your favor, even if that enemy is more powerful than all of you put together. Knowing this, do you still like simple initiative?

-Golden rule for awesoming up your players: Fear of death is the mother of invention. Agree or disagree?

-It occurs to me that while the verb "to awesome (one's players)" is stolen from Jeff Rient's essay on the subject the actual approach he describes there emphasizes the carrot more than the stick. My opinion is: the carrot only works if the player's a hardcore gamer and will be back next week no-questions-asked. Casual players need the stick. Agree? Disagree?


  1. Chad-the-god is one of the best ideas for a cleric's deity I've ever seen. It would fit in really well in Planescape. It is a little cheesy, perhaps, but it's also so very clever that I wouldn't be able to refuse it.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I like group initiative, rolled once at beginning of encounter. Alternating after that. I dislike going twice in a row.

    If players get jump on critter they totally deserve a full round of beating on it. If they just kind of run into each other I see winning initiative less as who gets to attack first (although, that can be part of it) and more of seizing the strategic, well initiative. Opportunity to think "oh shit!" and run safely away. Wait and see what the other side does with option to interrupt/interfere if it's undesirable.

  4. The upside is, Chad is now an NPC under your control.

    Intelligence Table II on page 10 of the PHB sorts out the spell stuff.

  5. No, it doesn't--

  6. Also, that table does NOT distinguish between total number of spells known vs. number you can use per day.

    Is the number the same?

    If so, if you know two spells, can you use one spell twice in a day and not use the other?

    I know what Jack Vance would say ("no"), but I can;t find it in the rules.

  7. For a hex crawl Ben Robbins lays out the how to here:

    Ben's posts are really the best on how to run a hex crawl.

    I just draw a map, set up regions, create random tables for each region, make more maps then go. Details come from play with input from everyone.


  8. RE Chad the greater deity - awesome.

    RE 1st level PCs' AC - The biggest in game impact is if you do not allow them to buy magic items. In which case the acquiring of treasure is only for XP as while they may be able to buy more stuff, they can't really buy better stuff. So go ahead and give them mounds of treasure.

    RE AD&D spells - no idea.

    RE hexcrawls - read X1 Isle of Dread, the Wilderlands boxset, and the actual Points of Light books along with Ben's West Marches.

    RE low level PCs defeating high level monsters - No you are not. I have run many sessions where the PCs carefully prepared for a single encounter against an opponent that clearly outclassed them.

    RE Initiative - I love the simple initiative but I roll every round.

    RE Fear of Death - it is the mother of invention. However, I find that players who are only familiar with the latest editions do not have this fear. Instead they get pissed off if their character dies.

  9. RE: Hexcrawls: I mapped out the area map and then plugged in a series of existing dungeons (mostly cribbed from One Page Dungeons, old modules, etc), so that my area map became a framework for synthesizing existing/legacy modules.

    Re: Initiative: I use individual initiative for the very reason you describe. I will arrange it so I'm rollling the same # of initiative dice as the party - i.e. 5 PCs, I split the NPCs into 5 groups and roll initiative for each group.

    Re: Fear of Death: Essential. Kill early, kill often.

  10. Chad the god - initially repulsive, but I would see how he plays it over a couple sessions. It's a compelling idea (I'm tempted to steal it), but I'd be worried it would be disruptive if the other players aren't interested in engaging with the game on the same meta-level.

    Spells known/per day - in 3rd Edition, sorcerers knew a limited number of spells but could cast more per day; wizards were more limited per day but could know any number of spells. In the older editions the number of spells known was constrained by how many the magic-user had scribed in his or her spellbook(s), but I don't have a rulebook handy to verify.

    Fear of death + carrot/stick – First, I was going to ask how you instill the fear of death in your players as it seems a number of people in your group have limited experience with D&D. Is fear of death the default? It’s been too long, I’m sad to say, since I’ve played with new, un-jaded players to remember. I wonder, however, how motivating fear of death can be in the long term. Which kind of brings me to the next part, that the less-hardcore players actually are more motivated by the carrot than the stick. Like, if it was my first time running D&D for someone, I’d make sure they got a big helping of awesome to entice them back in the future. I’d be more confident that the hardcore players would tough out the stick (i.e. character death or whatever) than the people just dropping in. Ensuring the new players have fun is the way to get repeat performers, or at least give them a positive experience about which they can tell their friends. No one wants her 3-HP character killed by a fire beetle the first time out.

    Hm, in my head that last part was more coherent before I typed it. Hope it makes sense, but regardless the "Fear of death is the mother of invention" notion has merit, especially in the bigger picture of play. I have to mull over it more.

  11. Maurice is in for quite the disappointment the first time he casts Commune...

    Some referees allow characters to be present as NPCs even if their player is absent from a particular session. If Chad isn't there, would Maurice still get spells as an NPC? I'd say no... the god can't answer the follower's prayer!

    OD&D and AD&D deities have stats and can be killed on their home plane. What if someone wants to kill Chad in the game?

    Who decides Chad's alignment?

    If you're playing AD&D, there is a chance for divine intervention (DMG p111-2)... how do you argue that Chad doesn't intervene if Maurice calls?

  12. I love that your player is a god! I think that's something that's going on in Gene Wolfe's Wizard Knight with the denizens of lower worlds worshipping the higher ones, which is to say that Chad should be aware that his behavior will be mirrored by Maurice and his disciples, for good or ill.

    I hadn't thought about lethality being a huge part of the attraction for new players but you have convinced me it's so. Wrote about this at - sorry to make you chase the link, but for some reason the top Google hit for "playing d&d with porn stars" is also a post at nerdNYC and I want to keep their bots going back and forth along that channel because it makes us NYC nerds cooler by association.

    - Tavis

  13. "-Golden rule for awesoming up your players: Fear of death is the mother of invention. Agree or disagree?"

    I completely agree. If you want players to play intelligently, there has to be a real fear of PC death. If not, players tend to resort to the ol' standards (e.g., "I swing my sword.. again") rather than trying to out-think the monster or overcome the trap. I play 3.5 D&D and I've had bad-arse monsters taken down due to frickin' mundane magic items (tanglefoot bags, etc.). I doubt the players would have resorted to such tricks if they thought they could simply pound that creature into submission.

  14. Refering to taking out a vampire and/or medusa.

    In my experience a single tough monster can rarely take on a reasonably sized party if the party can arrange the fight to bring all of thier powers/attackers to bear each round. The inverse is also true, with many inferior foes being extremely dangerous to a party. The absolute most nightmarish foes are things with 3 attacks (claw/claw/bite) and of 2 or 3 hd which also attack in packs 2 to 3 times as many as the PCs(ex: ghouls & raptors), vs. 6-11th level characters - these creatures make short work of mid-high level parties unless a mage or cleric can remove most of them.

    My greatest complaint is that a single tough monster is usually worth far more XP than many small monsters even though they are significantly easier to defeat.

  15. Forgive me my ignorance but I've played games for 30+ and I have no idea exactly what a 'Hexcrawl' is.

    Isn't any adventure using a hex map a hexcrawl? Not being much of a D&D fan after 85' I feel I'm missing something.

    Also, regarding the Golden Rule of Awesomeing Up - You'd think so but sometimes the players fall back on the tried and true methods in emergencey situations. Why risk a bad roll while trying something crazy that could get me killed when I can just do what I'm good at - the same move with my best weapon I always do.

    I call that the 4E Effect.

    That said, (most of) my players are prone to taking a chance and trying something crazy whether its needed or not.

  16. As far as spells: I always give a couple of extra bonus spells and allow the "spell slots" to be shifted around as long as they don't go beyond the per day limit.

    On the vampire and medusa: You are a softie. A vampire being surprised? Now, I will say that I have made quirky vampires, like Sarga, who is trapped by folklore and myth regarding his kind (like having to count how many straws are in a broom before he can enter a home, for example), but my vampires are more Udo Kier ("Blood for Dracula") and Nosferatu, less Brad Pitt or Gary Oldman. However, vampires don't get old by being taken by surprise, they are ancient and they play dirty.

  17. Hex crawl: I use 1 hex takes 1 day in my game and make sure to have the six surrounding hexes contain something interesting. As the game progresses I might draw more of the map without filling it in, or I might start fill hexes that aren't close to the player's current position because of some inspiration. Generally I try to have stuff for the next 1-2 sessions. More planning ahead carries the risk of wasted time and reduces my flexibility.

  18. i think i can agree that fear of death is a very important factor in making the players act out characters. however i have some problem as to how to make new (to dnd in general and to my dm'ing style) players fear death? how do you achieve that? are there any tricks you use?

  19. The name of the hexcrawl game is improvisation. I take the line or three of randomly spouted out text and imagine a living location out of it..often to the PC's detriment.

  20. For squidman above, how do you make new players fear death? You kill a PC. Honestly, it's that simple. Once the players realize it's an honest to goodness possibility, they will be wary. Granted, I'm not talking about some random, look-how-tough-a-DM-I-am death, but if you let the dice fall where they may, a PC is going to bite it sooner or later.

    Another tip... occasionally roll the dice in *front* of the screen. That will remove the temptation for you to fudge and will remove that safety-net feeling a player might have thinking you will fudge a roll.

  21. Frost, I know that's the best option, but as I'm about to run a game for people who never played d&d before, I'm afraid that "accidental" (caused by a random roll of dice) PC death might result in them not returning to the table for another game. I think it's pretty difficult to enjoy your first game, when the character you've put time and heart into creating get's killed by kobolds.

    On the other hand maybe the first-timers liking their character a lot enough of a motivation for them to fear the character's death...

  22. Squid and Frost (great name for a module)--

    I say--like Frost--let the dice fall on new players. HOWEVER, once someone's at 0 h.p., they probably won't die (at least not in my game). They're just unconscious and will need healing or they'll die.

    They'll think they're dead for a second, then be grateful when i tell them they aren;t, then be bored waiting to get healed, then be glad they're healed, then realize that healing is a limited resource and be more careful next time. That usually works.

  23. "When I run AD&D, the written rules make it hard to sort out how many spells a PC can know per level vs. how many they can cast in any given day."

    In the AD&D Players Book (1978) the table in on pg. 10 is for the number of spells a wizard can know

    On pg. 26 of the AD&D players book (1978) the number of spells you can cast per day is given.

    If you are using OSRIC the page numbers are pg. 16 and 17 all in the wizards section.

    Just for the hell of it on pg. 17 of the 1974 edition of of Men & Magic is a table on spells per day which is different then the AD&D table