D&D – Scheduling and Player Counts

June 14, 2010 1 comment

I was hoping to play in and DM several sessions of D&D this weekend and write a report on them, but since scheduling  conflicts got in the way… here’s a post about scheduling.

Smaller groups are easier to schedule. That’s pretty much a given, but it’s worth mentioning. Also, younger groups are easier to schedule, back in Junior High and High School getting together every Friday wasn’t an issue in the slightest, no one had any real commitments.

The group I play with now is a subset of the group I played with in Junior High. There were 10 of us then, and while we actually managed to meet every Friday, getting anything done was a nightmare. We’d get through about one encounter per four to five hour session.

Now there’s six of us, so at most we have five players and a DM, but more often there’s three to four players.

At least with regard to the group I play with, three people is the ideal group size.

It’s worth mentioning the difference between 3.5 and 4th Edition here, 3.5 assumes a base group of 4 while 4E assumes a base group of 5. I don’t have nearly as much experience with 4E, so maybe three people isn’t enough, but just in terms of how the players interact with each other and the game world, three is the sweet spot.

First, everyone must contribute. There’s no room for a dead weight on a team of three and it forces the players to work together. In addition, because there’s just three of them it’s easier to get everyone’s opinion and work out a plan. Second, the players all feel important, because they’re working together and everyone is contributing, no player feels left out. Third, there’s a smaller gap between turns. This may not seem like much, but when you only  have to sit out for two other turns instead of four other turns it’s easier to stay involved.

Finally, as a corollary to the above, things get done. Players are much less likely to get distracted when they’re forced to cooperate and work to win the encounters, and there’s less down time for them to zone out.

So three person groups are pretty cool, but there are of course advantages to larger groups.

The primary advantage is in scale, a bigger group can take bigger challenges head on. If the players in your group don’t like coming up with inventive, non-combat solutions for taking on or at least weakening a significant foe, then they will be better served with the extra muscle of a larger group. While it comes down to personal preference, a larger group allows characters to specialize more, rather than the necessity of versatility that comes with the three person group.

I enjoy playing versatile characters more than specialists, and all this advice on group sizes is quite subjective and heavily based on just who is in the group.

As with anything D&D, the best judge is player interest. If the players are leaning in to the table, discussing their plans passionately and cheering/cursing the dice as they roll well/poorly, then they are interested, and whatever the DM is doing must be working.

D&D General – The Dungeon Dash

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I stumbled upon this adventure idea while looking for inspiration for a one-shot session. Essentially, it’s a race between multiple teams to clear as many rooms of a dungeon as fast as possible. The dungeon itself can be in any context that fits, but for this example I borrowed the provided hook, a powerful caster creates an illusory dungeon to provide entertainment to the people of the world.If you wanted to include this in a campaign world then charging an entry fee could prove quite lucrative for the mage and allow him to finance his research with minimal effort once if the mage makes the dungeon sufficiently reusable.

Any layout is fine, though it should be symmetrical for each of the teams participating. I again borrowed from the source of this idea and used the Iron Tomb map as a preset distribution of challenge levels. The harder the room the more ‘flags’ the party gets for success.

Then I set up a balance of ‘trap’ and ‘monster’ rooms and started statting out any of the rooms the players could conceivably reach. The Iron Tomb map only has 25 rooms, and of those only about 14 are likely to be entered by the players. Even if they got to one I didn’t anticipate, I could’ve just swapped the contents as needed.

Essentially, a ‘monster’ room was a straight up fight with a monster. A ‘trap’ room had some sort of twist. Climbing across ropes above a pool of shark infested water, fighting spectres on a tilting platform, and so on.

The whole thing is on an in-game time limit. I used 20 minutes for the rest run, but the Iron Tomb is a small dungeon and the entire area was clear in 7 minutes. 10 minutes would be good. It keeps the players on the move and stops them from just spamming wands of cure light wounds between rooms.

For the other teams I just decided on what order they each visited rooms and assumed they cleared all of them, except for 1 team I decided would get eliminated in the toughest room on the map. Because the dungeon is primarily illusory, they aren’t actually killed, and thus are motivated to try again.

For further context perhaps this wizard signs up with the local adventurers guild as a trainer?

I’ll be running another Dungeon Dash this weekend, and I highly recommend it as either a one-shot event or as some spice for a campaign. Just beware, if you add it to a campaign your players might not want to do any more standard adventures!

Source: http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Dungeon_Dash_%28DnD_Variant_Rule%29

D&D 3.5 – Campaign Postmortem/Player Focus… Again

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I just wrapped up a relatively short 50 hour campaign last night. It was a low-magic, anti arcane setting and all around much grittier than standard D&D fare. The DM asked us for honest feedback, and before I dig into what I told him… more DMs should ask their players for honest feedback.

As a player I would sum up my experience in a word as confused. The campaign focused on a set of powerful artifacts, and we didn’t have a clue what any of them did until the very end. Mainly because the DM said, here is what they can do.

Players, especially when there are massive gaps between sessions, have a hard time putting 2 and 2 together unless you say, here’s a second 2 and here’s an addition symbol. And an equals sign. WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

If, as a DM, you have to err on making puzzles/mysteries too easy or too hard then always make them too easy. From a player perspective it sucks to crank away at a problem and have to ask the DM for the answer. I’d rather bypass a challenge too easily than get stumped for forty-five minutes. I am pretending to be a genius wizard after all.

From a DM’s perspective, I’d rather not spend two hours coming up with a complex and intricate set of riddles only to have to spell the answer out for the players.

The DM is not the enemy. If the players beat a challenge too easily the DM hasn’t “lost” just because the players “won.”

Coming back to player focus of a different kind, we as a group were constantly overshadowed by the NPCs around us. They controlled the world and we never had much sway with any of them. We couldn’t trust anyone, and while that can make for an interesting campaign, the players need at least one reliable source of information unless the entire campaign revolves around deception. In a relatively standard campaign they need an ally they can actually trust.

In our post-apocalyptic epic group, that ally was Vecna. That was a fantastic campaign because while we were dealing the demon princes of the Abyss that we knew were actively plotting against us, we also knew we could count on the god of secrets to provide support. Plus, as a god Vecna had a variety of restrictions and thus we, as a group, were important. We could do what no one else could.

In the low magic campaign that just concluded… we ventured into a sphere that rendered all who entered it insane by voluntarily becoming insane ourselves through a potent ritual. After wresting an artifact from a dragon in a most perilous escape we saw one of the NPCs we had been working with simply waltz up to us. Literally right after we left they found an easy way to enter the sphere. They also planned to use the artifact for their own ends. We were basically presented with helping them and getting screwed or helping the dragon and then getting screwed from the other end. We took option C.

There was a group of celestials stranded on the material plane. This artifact could not only restore the planar  connections but restore the balance of magic. We decided to help the celestials and try to restore the balance.

We were summarily trounced. Cue bad ending.

A lot of this is personal preference. I like cinematic endings. I like happy endings. I like heroes. That’s why I play Dungeons and Dragons. My approach, which is not necessarily better, would be to fudge the rolls in the players favor. Let them win. Make it close, but always let them win.

It was really nice to be able to have this conversation with my DM. DMs? Ask your players for feedback. Players? Give your DMs honest feedback.

And everyone? Try to have fun.

Categories: 1

D&D – Player Focus

March 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I just finished a 6 hours session of D&D and it inspired to write about one of the biggest issues in my group. Focus.

From my observations there seem to be two things that get the group into the game. Deadly peril and the spotlight.

Now obviously, the spotlight can’t shine on everyone at once, otherwise it would just be a bright day and not a spotlight… and keeping the group on that razor’s edge of death is difficult to maintain.

A partial solution, at least in so far as combat is concerned, is to axe the initiative system. In the next group I run I plan to keep initiative for surprise rounds and round 1, then switch to alternating players/monsters. The players all decide their actions as a group, as well as what order the characters will take them in. Rather than singling them out and saying “Ok Jim, what are YOU doing?” the DM can turn to the whole group and say “Ok gang, twelve skeletons stand before you, what do you do?”

Ideally, cooperation ensues and everyone has a blast. Furthermore, the DM can narrate an entire round at once.

“Bob slices two deep cuts into the Slaad, leaving it exposed for Terry to stab his shortsword into the base of its spine.”

Fun times.

The issue is how to pull players in during the down time. Partially it helps to monitor the group, see who is engaged and who isn’t… but what this really emphasizes is how truly cooperative D&D is. Players are as much responsible for mood as the DM, possibly even more. Being a good player is tricky because you’re equal parts actors and audience. Different players enjoy different ratios, and it’s unlikely a group shares the same preference.

So as a DM, watch your players, see what they like, see what they don’t and try to engage them as best you can. Rather than trying to spread the spotlight time, look for ways to spread the spotlight itself, get your players working with each other as much as they work with you.

As a player, just go along with it. Work with other players, work with your DM, and maybe even consider talking to each other? I brought up the issue of focus with everyone in the group, even though I’m just a player, and asked them what would make them pay attention? What do they want to do? I talked to my DM about it, and that lead to this blog post. D&D is an interactive game, so if you aren’t already… start interacting!

Categories: Dungeons and Dragons

Writing – Motivation

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

This post is written in the context of writing, but motivation is important in any aspect of life.

What pushes a person to do something? I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but I can share what I know about why I do the things I do.

Deadlines and schedules are surprisingly important. As a teacher of mine said, “Give a student a week to write a paper, and it will take them a week to write it. Give them three weeks and it will take all three.”

So if you’re searching for a way to get something done, set yourself a schedule. Be realistic though, don’t expect to go from slacking off to 3 hours a day, every day. It’s important to note that with schedules, a stop time is as important as a start time. Possibly more important. Tell yourself, I’m going to start writing at 8am, and I’m not going to stop until 8:30. Then I will take a break until 9 before I write until 9:30. Or smaller/larger time increments or breaks. Whatever works for you. Experiment.

I read Niel Fiore’s The Now Habit and one of his main points is the importance of ‘Guilt Free Play’. When you procrastinate, you aren’t getting this. So you spend hours or even days not being productive and feeling terrible about it… and then when there’s no other option available you burn through the project at the last minute. The solution?

Set up that schedule. Promise yourself 30 minutes of quality work on whatever needs to be done. Then you can play, relax, or do whatever. Be sure, be absolutely certain you stop after 30 minutes. You can add another 30 minutes if you feel inspired to do so, but don’t do it immediately after the first set. Give yourself a break. They’re important.

When working, it’s important to maintain your flow. Music helps, and if you’re only working for 30 minutes you can set up a playlist yourself or just pick a variety of songs to shuffle. If you have anything… unusual in your library I would recommend avoiding shuffle, because going from your favorite band to say, a cover of Silent Night composed entirely of farts will probably break your rhythm. If you have others in your house, go to a private room, close your door, and get cracking. It’s only for 30 minutes.

You should also try to figure out when you’re most productive or creative, depending on what needs to be done. I find I’m most creative in the mornings and late at night, so I try to keep my schedule free around those times.

That’s what works for me. Some people are more social and can work in front of others, but it just really gets to me. I can’t even handle having an open door.

Everyone has strange habits, figure out what yours are and how to exploit them for maximum productivity.

Categories: Writing Tags: , ,

Brace Yourselves, It’s Twitter

February 18, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve started up a twitter account. Hopefully the small time investment will be result in frequent updates… as opposed to this blog.


Again, I find myself questioning why it is so difficult to ‘work’. Is it just me? I really do think it should be easier to flip a switch and enjoy whatever the situation is. Maybe that’s a skill to learn, and I just haven’t picked up on it.

Food for thought.

Categories: Nonsense

D&D Campaign Hook – The Dawn Of The Dead

January 27, 2010 2 comments

Blatant title plagiarism aside, the idea for this group first started forming during a discussion about ‘monster characters’ and a believable evil group.

The Hook: The PCs take on the roles of the first sentient undead on the continent/planet/plane/etc., awakening in either a small tomb together or in a massive tomb in separate rooms. Backstories can be standard amnesiac origins or fully fleshed out, in either case typically ending with a “why am I not dead?” Or even a mage who completed the necessary rituals to become a lich, but as a consequence ______ (the ritual took many years to take effect, his mind was utterly destroyed, it made him a lich… in an alternate reality, etc.)that resulted in losing all levels and possibly _______ (memories, personality, whatever). Fill in the blanks as needed.

So the group wakes up, undead and alone in the world. The less they know about the world the better, but at least one of them should have some information about the local area or they should be able to glean something from their tomb. Perhaps a gravekeeper stops by, giving the group an opportunity to stretch those evil muscles. Or good muscles, since it’s all relative. Slay those foul living abominations and all that.

The players can then escalate their actions as appropriate, start a few cults, overthrow some small towns and eventually topple the human lands. Or maybe open a haunted house.

The great thing about monster groups is that level adjustment is relative. If the players are all playing LA +4 races, then no one needs any level adjustment, the DM just scales up the encounters as appropriate. If starting out as full undead isn’t appealing there are rules in Libris Mortis for scaling most of the mainstream undead with levels. If that isn’t enough, there is always necropolitans.

In either case, the campaign actually has a lot of potential for horror. The players are alone in the world, they have no one to depend on but themselves and any living allies aren’t likely to be long term if the players are planning on eradicating all life. At low levels especially there is a plenty of opportunity to play up atmosphere and to let the players have some fun ransacking a town instead of defending it.

Also, playing a lawful good wight paladin? Awesome.

The other regular DM in my group has decided to run this campaign after the Spelljammer one I am working on. We, the players, have decided we are going to take over the world.

It should be a lot of fun, and I am looking forward to it.

Plus I’ll likely be playing a lich from level 1, making things even more interesting.