Tag: NPC

RPG – Epic or Small

RPG – Epic or Small

As I’ve been thinking about finding people to run a new D&D game with, I started thinking, what sort of scope do I want for my D&D game? Do I want to do another epic story like the first season of Dungeons and Flagons where […]

The Death of a Bard

The Death of a Bard

The party rushes into a cavern. Red glowing eyes stare at them from the blackness and they stop quickly. The bard opens her mouth and begins to speak but is quickly cut off as the dragon reaches it’s long neck out and chomps down, swallowing […]

Do You Remember When?

Do You Remember When?

It’s the sign of a RPG going well, when the players in the game are talking about it afterwards. Do you remember when we did this? Do you remember when that happened? It’s what as a player or a DM you want in your game. So how do you make those moments happen?

Image Source: Wizards

First, I would say that you can’t truly make those moments happen. It’s going to happen naturally in your game, but you can try and encourage those situations. Whenever you have a huge aha moment, that might get remembered, but the ones that are going to be talked about are going to happen more organically.

Now, like any good organic garden, you still have to plan the seeds and tend it, this stuff doesn’t happen on it’s own.

So you can lay the groundwork, starting in session zero to encourage those fun moments. In session zero, when players are creating their characters, don’t just think about combat and what you’re going to do with that. Your character is a whole lot more than just swinging a sword for a lot of damage or shooting some crossbows for damage. And while you might have a martial character who really cares about combat, put ore into your character than that. They can easily not know social norms because they grew up with the sword being their best friend. Or maybe they have a very unique set fighting moves and sword preparation, but let your character be unique and don’t create Joe Soldier who has no personality except for hitting stuff with a sword.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Also, consider giving the character a signature move. Now, it might be in combat or it might not be. But in combat, maybe you are a rogue who uses a crossbow. So your special move is a dive and roll while firing and getting yourself in hiding. Or maybe you are a hopeless flirt and every single bartender that you meet hoping to get information from them.

Why would those things give you cool moments?

Because as the rogue, you roll behind the pillar and find a surprised enemy who is also hiding behind the game pillar, now what do you do? Or you are in a dark cave and you roll behind a rock outcropping and find that there are stairs going down, as you slowly roll and bounce down them. Or for the character who flirts every time with the bartender for information, it will be a running joke that they never get any good information and maybe you end up on wild goose chases (literally) because of some information that you’ve gotten. Or, what happens when the bartender flirts back, or when the bartender actually has some real information. The cheer that will go up around the table because it was actually worth it, people will remember those moments.

So, those are some things that are more player focused, what can you do as a DM?

First, keep combat interesting. While you don’t need to do something super special every time, make it unique from time to time. Also go with alternate objectives. Combat doesn’t just have to be about knocking heads. I’ll touch a bit more on alternate combat objectives, but if you want a good podcast on it, check out this one by Total Party Thrill. Alternate objectives in combat can be things like stopping a sacrifice from happening. Sure, you might lop off a few heads of the acolytes guarding the cultists, but will you get to the cultists before they finish their chanting in four rounds of combat. Or are you having to try and keep the villains away from the caravan that you were hired to protect. These alternate objectives will give some memorable moments and keep the combat feeling different.

Likewise, it doesn’t have to just be an alternate way to beat the combat, it can be a unique combat setting. Maybe you are fighting on a narrow ledge next to flowing lava. Now, you could give advantage for having the higher ground, because as Star Wars Episode III taught us, that’s important. Also, don’t take any more life lessons from Star Wars Episode III than that. That one has a clear idea of pushing someone into the lava, but you can make unique terrains. Recently I ran a combat where there were two different levels of the combat. A barbarian jumped down into a pit to fight some monsters while two other character stayed up top, however, some of monsters crawled up to them as well. That gives a combat moment that is different than it would have been before.

Then, there are ways you can do that out of combat. And the easiest way is to just have interesting characters. I need to be better at this personally, because a lot of the NPC’s, I’m coming up with them on the fly, so they aren’t always the most unique. Thankfully, I have a player who is good at giving me a lot to work with in terms of dialog and lies that he is telling the NPC’s, so that gives me time to build out the character that I came up with. But we had a fun situation, one time, that players will likely remember, where one of the characters had gotten to the shore of a pirate island, found a very flirty dwarf pirate captain, and they had to figure out as a player and for their character, how not to insult the pirate captain so that they didn’t lose their head. It ended up being pretty memorable, because fake in game flirting can be hilarious a lot of the time, just make sure everyone is comfortable enough with it.

What are some other ideas that you have to help those more organic moments of surprise and stories that people remember happen in your game? Have you used any of these before? Keep in mind, if you do use some of these ideas as a player or as a DM, there is no guarantee that you will have those really memorable moments, but some of these ideas might tease out more. And find what works best for your group, maybe you have modules that you like to run, and what your group really remembers is the big boss battles at the end, that is equally as good a memorable moment for your group, but figure out if it’s social interactions, weird combats, big combats, or shocking twists that your group remembers most and go from there.


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RPGs: Telling a Cohesive Story

RPGs: Telling a Cohesive Story

What I was getting at with last weeks articles about Dungeons and Dragons monsters was the idea of creating an overarching campaign that makes sense that isn’t just a bunch of random monsters thrown together and how you can turn that into a story that […]

Dungeons and Dragons: NPCs

Dungeons and Dragons: NPCs

Today, we’re back to where I thought I was going after the world-building article. NPCs, or non-player characters, are the people of note whom your players meet on their journeys. It could be the king of the land, a peddler along the road, or a […]

Dungeons and Dragons: Getting Started as a DM

Dungeons and Dragons: Getting Started as a DM

So you want to get started as a Dungeon Master? You’ve come to the right place!

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to make a couple of assumptions:

  1. You’ve already gotten the books
  2. You’ve already roped some friends into playing with you

So, with those assumptions out of the way, let’s hop into the first topic:

Image Source: Wizards
Image Source: Wizards

Where in the World are you going to start?

I capitalized “world” for a reason — this part is going to be about world-building. It is one of the bigger things that eats into a DM’s time, and how you set up your world will make a big difference in your game. There are countries, continents, oceans, cities, and all sorts of other things that you need to think about when creating a world. You then follow that up with who is ruling this country, who is the mayor in that town, who runs the bar, what are the guards’ names, and so on. Next, you’ll need to come up with about 100k different Non-Player Characters (NPCs). Which sounds miserable.

Or instead of starting from scratch, you could spend a bunch of time reading D&D books to learn the history and lore of the land, and once you have all the backstory down, you could lay your own story on top of it — for example, you could develop your own version of existing worlds like the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or Ravenloft. But again, this seems like a ton of work if you are just picking it up on the fly.

So what is one to do?

I’ve had luck with two different ways of world-building. I’ve used the Forgotten Realms as a base and placed my own city and my own little area on the Sword Coast and just ran a game that was completely unconnected to the rest of the D&D world but that was set in a place that already existed. I didn’t have to come up with what the land looked like; I could see it on a pre-made map. I was able to build out my own city creating a handful of different NPCs that the PCs (Player Characters) interacted with. This worked quite well, especially for a short game that ran for a handful of sessions. The players were in a limited area, and they were given solid direction within that area. If that game had been meant to go on any longer than just a few sessions, I would have needed to start studying up on the greater Sword Coast area.

The other way that I’ve done it (and the way I’m currently doing it for the world in Dungeons & Flagons) is to create a small chunk of the world as I go. I had only created the town of Green Sparrow in any depth, and knew some about the Lieth Barony. East Tadalia and Barbuga were both made up on the fly. Once I knew that the characters wanted to and were going to go to Barbuga, I sat down and came up with the seven pirate princes, and fleshed them out and drew a map of the island so I knew what that looked like. But even with this method, I still allowed Wizards of the Coast to do some of my work for me. For example, Chauntea is an actual D&D deity of nature, so I just piggy-backed off of that at some points.

Image Credit: Forgotten Realms Wiki
Image Credit: Forgotten Realms Wiki

Checklist Version:

  1. Start by picking an area where the players are going to start the game.
  2. Figure out what towns are nearby
  3. Figure out any important taverns/buildings in the town
  4. Figure out any important people in the town
  5. Make it a living world

Item #1: Keep this a small area. I’m going to suggest setting it on a coast; this makes it easy to create a reason for all the players to be together. Also surround it with wilderness on the other sides. You don’t have to plan wilderness so much; you just need to know the type of terrain for it, and now you have a large play area to start with. You can draw a map of this area if you want, but it won’t always be needed. However, it might be necessary as you get to larger places, just for your own reference, even if the players never see it.

Item #2: Keep your main town smaller-sized. Even if the characters are from the big city, it is very possible for them to be traveling up and down the coast. And with a smaller city, you don’t need to plan out that large an area all at once.

Item #3: Most coastal towns are going to have a number of basic things going on. Docks of some sort, inn/taverns, and a handful of shops, for example. Decide what the important places are, and just focus on developing those, or allow your players to create them. The Stacked Fishwench, our tavern in Dungeons & Flagons, was clearly made up on the fly, and I didn’t even have to give it a name myself. But the name of the tavern clearly implies a bunch about the place, so I just ran with it.

Item #4: Again, keep this simple. Create the captain of the town guard, a mayor, the major players in the town, and not many others, to keep the number lower — both to make them easier to keep track of, and so you don’t have to do so many voices. For example, you can have a standard NPC bartender who has a single voice across multiple towns; you don’t have to be a person of a million different voices like Matthew Mercer to run an entertaining game.

Item #5: Even though you might have only built up a small section of the world, spend time making it a living world. Know how your PCs might affect what is going on in the world, for better or worse. Know that if they leave one thing alone, something else might happen elsewhere. Give the players real choices to make in your world, and as the world grows, have events happen that your PCs have only heard hints about; that makes the story even more immersive for the players.

Most importantly, make the world yours. If you want to spend the time up front to build a huge world in which you know the inns and outs of every town, you can do that. Just know that whatever you come up with, the important thing is to have fun doing it, and to give the players an ability to make a difference in the world.

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