Tag: Role Playing

My First D&D Character

My First D&D Character

Now, this isn’t actually my first D&D character, I’m still waiting for a chance to roll up one, forever a DM. But I want to talk about some things to think about when creating your first D&D character and how you’re going to want to 

Friday Night D&D – Tower of the Gods Session 4

Friday Night D&D – Tower of the Gods Session 4

We were back after a couple of weeks off into the Tower of the Gods campaign. A quick recap, Bokken, Barrai, and Thrain took the test of the Tower and ended up with new powers, and got into Strawgoh, a school of assassination and dark 

Pillars of D&D (Part 2: Combat)

Pillars of D&D (Part 2: Combat)

Dungeons and Dragons is built upon three pillars, Combat, Social Encounters, and Exploration. Now, these pillars don’t always evenly share the load, nor should they. I talk some about why and what the basics of these pillars are in Part 1. But now I am diving into each of the three pillars starting with what’s often the biggest pillar, Combat.

Combat is often just looked at as swinging your sword, shooting an arrow, a spell or two and you beat the bad guy. It’s a chance to roll dice and use most of your character sheet that’s focused towards combat. And that’s certainly some of what you’ll be doing. It does give you a chance to show off your character and what everything on the sheet says that they can do. But when it’s just that, even though it’s the generally the pillar supporting the most weight, it can be a fairly uninteresting pillar, unless you’re just there to be the best fighter that you can be.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Instead, combat should be part of the story, not a break from the story. Though, there may be times with random encounters that a combat doesn’t have a big story element to it, it should always be informing something going forward. Even a random encounter should be used to highlight how dangerous an area is, if there’s a chance of an encounter popping up. It should be a reminder to the players that the world isn’t safe, and while it might not progress the story, not getting in a long rest is going to stress out the players.

So, to build up Combat as a pillar you can do several things to keep it from just being the same thing over and over again, or from feeling like combat for combat’s sake.

  1. Make the Combat Encounter Important To The Story
  2. Use Alternate Combat Objectives
  3. Use Smart/Engaging Monsters
  4. Don’t Over Use Random Encounters

1 – Make The Combat Encounter Important To The Story
Already started talking about that a bit, but this is one of the biggest things that you can do to make combat interesting. I ran a one-shot recently where the players had to fight a group of bandits. Now, that wasn’t all that interesting in and of itself, they were just level 1 characters, the bandits didn’t put them in that much danger. However, they found, in the merchants wagon that had been stolen, some interesting documents. Combat was simple, but the documents are now something to lead them further into a story if we decide to continue that game. It’s nothing massive in terms of changing up the combat, but it makes the combat feel like there was a reason for it greater than just killing the bandits. And that bandit fight, since there was a new player to D&D, was mainly to give them a bit of all three pillars not because it was going to be super exciting, but because it was a combat. Only because there was a payoff at the end did it make it all that interesting.

2 – Use Alternate Combat Objectives
This one is one of the biggest, possibly as big as it being important to the story, things that you can do to improve your combat pillar. Not all combat has to be about killing everything. And most of the time you don’t want to kill everyone is because of some story reason. An example of this that you see in Video Games as well as RPG’s is the escort mission. Technically your goal is to get Ms. X from point A to point B without her dying. Now, you can do that by killing everyone you encounter, or you can do that by sneaking herself and your self around. That’s easier to avoid most of the combat in an RPG that way, but you still may have to fight to create a path for Ms. X to get through to complete the mission. Or it could be that someone might escape with something you want if you don’t get through their goons in a certain number of rounds. Or you may need to kill the High Priestess in a certain number of rounds before she can complete the ritual and summon a monster, end the world, whatever it might be. While the players are still using their combat skills throughout, it is going to feel like it’s different than just a hack and slash until everyone is dead.

Image Source: Wizards of the Coast

3 – Use Smart/Engaging Monsters
You can always just do combat as mob of goblins attacking and then mob of bandits rushing in and attacking, and then mob of hobgoblins and so on as the players go up in levels, but that’s going to cause the combats to feel similar. It is kind of a blank canvas fight where you have two sides meeting in an arena or an open field, rushing at each other, fighting, and then one side wins when the other is dead. But goblins, bandits, and hobgoblins should all be smarter than that. In fact, even animals will often attack more intelligently than that. If they are facing off against an Owlbear and it takes down one of the PC’s (player characters), that Owlbear is probably going to try and take that body somewhere safe so it can eat it, not attack the players. So allow the monsters to do smart and interesting things, like run away. Now, maybe the players will shoot the fleeing goblins in the back and none will make it away, but what happens in your story if the goblin escapes? Do they come back with more goblins, do they try and set a trap after a straight forward assault doesn’t work, do they move on somewhere else and now the players are responsible for goblin infestation somewhere else? You can do a lot of interesting things, not just in combat, but after combat with smart combatants. Even in combat, the PC’s are in a bar fight, have whom ever they are fighting hide behind tables after flipping them over, swing from the chandelier (there’s always a chandelier), take a drink in the middle of combat or spit alcohol into a PC’s face. Basically no intelligent combatant is going to just rush straight in to their demise, so don’t run them like that, make the players have to get creative in their combat to beat them.

4 – Don’t Over Use Random Encounters
I already talked about this some, but random encounters generally have more of that animal stalking you while you sleep, rushes in for a kill, and then gets slaughtered, or dragon shows up randomly now PC’s need to run away or turn into ash. However, there are reasons to use them, and that’s because you want to show off what the players might be coming up against on the mission that they’re on currently. Or that the players might need to run or be worried about going through a certain area. I, in the Dungeons and Flagons campaign, used a few giant random encounters, they were meant less as combat but to show the players that they were taking a very dangerous route, shorter but more dangerous, to get to where they wanted to go. But if you’re making the players set-up traps, guards, and anything else they can do to protect themselves each night and it’s more about survival of the night than progressing the story, that might be too many random encounters, unless they are very meaningful.

So, I said I was going to give some examples to steal. Things you can do in your campaign, or interesting combats that you can possibly work in. And I’ll admit it, combat isn’t my specialty so these are going to be a little bit vague. That’s also so you can adapt it to your own game as well.

Combat Encounter 1 – Death of a Salesman

Set-up: The shop owner the players always go to has had something important stolen from his shop, in fact something that was very important to an important client that they’d ordered in especially for that client, the PC’s need to get it back. If not the client will have the shop owner killed.

Combat:
I’d set this in a thieve’s guild or some sort of organized crime set-up, give the players a house to explore and kill the bad guys in the rooms. But since the shop owners life is on the line, they can’t just kick the door down. This is a sneak from room to room and kill as quickly and quietly as possible so that the MacGuffin isn’t moved somewhere else.

This is a chance to do a longer combat where the players never really drop out of combat because it’s such a contained space. They might never be fighting more than two or three thieves or guards or whomever at the same time, but it would ratchet up the stress. Also, with there being a MacGuffin for them to get at the end, there is also an alternate objective. And they are fighting on the mob or thieve’s guild’s home turf, so their combatants would be smart in what they do.

Outcome: Either they get the MacGuffin or they don’t and the shop owner dies or is seriously injured. I’d also use this moment to let them find, no matter what, some information that helps them on their main quest.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Combat Encounter 2 – The Witches Circle

Set-up: There is a coven of witches (hags) who the players need to deal with, mainly because they’ve kidnapped someone for a sacrifice or an animal. This works well for a one shot, stop this thing or something bad happens.

Combat:
I’m throwing undead in here, I think that the witches have raised zombies or skeletons and the players need to fight through those to get to the circle of witches to stop the spell that they are trying to cast.

The witches themselves are in a circle, and killing a witch just makes the circle smaller and the spell have less of a chance of going off. But the main goal for the players is to stop the spell and rescue the person, let’s say not animal in this situation. So the players are going to need to fight through the undead, kill some witches, and all of this should be timed. Give them a certain number of rounds, and after that the spell happens.

Outcome: Either the players save the person, or if they don’t and they haven’t killed any witches, the spell goes off without a hitch. But for each witch from the circle that they’ve killed, say there are ten to start, there is a chance, and an increasing chance that the spell doesn’t go off. So I’d set the target number as rolling at or under a 20 to start, every witch that’s killed, subtract 2, and if all are killed, that means you’d be rolling to get under a zero, but if there are five of the ten left, that means if the witches roll over a 10, the spell fails, though the person still dies.

Combat Encounter 3 – The Beasts

Set-up: Players are out exploring on their way to some mission and they start to notice a presence stalking them. But not just one presence and not just once, several over several times.

Combat: This is an animal ambush, I’m thinking use something like Dire Wolves if that’s an appropriate level for your PC’s, and make them a little bit smarter. Have the wolves run in and out of the shadows and of the woods biting at players, make it so that most of the players clear shots at the wolves are going to be reaction attacks, so pretty mundane attacks. And have the Dire Wolves, beasts, focus on the smallest character first. Not the weakest, it might be that you have a gnome fighter so they can handle it better, but whatever looks like the smallest prey to the beasts, once the beasts have taken their prey down, the smallest prey, they’re going to try and leave with it.

Outcome: Players defeat the beasts who are clearly hungry or the players lose one PC to the wolves.

You can see how in none of these are the players just fighting for the life of their party. Yes, in the first encounter, they might very well all die, but that’s not the only losing condition. For both the Death of a Salesman and Witches Circle, the bad outcome isn’t death of the player characters, it’s death of someone else. In the last one, it’s about losing one player character. So even though they’ll be fighting, we have all sorts of different styles of whom their fighting, the end goal of the fights, and how they should go about fighting.

And that’s what good combat can really be in a game, instead of just hacking and slashing. Now, I don’t think that hacking and slashing is always a bad idea, but it can be lacking and it more so can get old. So be creative as the DM and create interesting combat encounters for the story that aren’t always just about killing everything.

What are some of the best combat encounters you’ve taken part in, either as a player or a DM?

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Dungeons and Dragons: High vs Low Magic as a Player

Dungeons and Dragons: High vs Low Magic as a Player

I’ve previously posted about this (You can find it here), but that was from more of a world building aspect, if you’re playing in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, and your character is magical how does that affect how you might role play your 

Win with the Min in D&D

Win with the Min in D&D

Yesterday’s article was about min/maxing a character. Just a quick recap, this is where you make the ideal build for your character so that you are the best at whatever area of the game you want to be in and have the most optimized build 

D&D to the Max and the Min

D&D to the Max and the Min

If you’ve been around pen and paper RPG players or computer game RPG players, you might have heard of a term called “Min/Maxing”. This is the practice of putting together a character that is the most efficient for what you need in a given game.

An example of this would be a fighter in Dungeons and Dragons who knows that they want to tank. The two primary stats for them are going to be strength and constitution. With more strength, they’ll be able to do more damage on their attacks and be more likely to hit. But constitution for the tank is the biggest thing. Constitution helps bump up hit points and makes it harder for that character to be taken down.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Now, that’s a simple look at what Min/Maxing is in D&D, but it goes beyond that, and there are some reasons to not find it that great in your game. Most of the time it is going to be fine and good if a player does that in the group, the concern is that you have someone min/max into an area that another character is supposed to be better at. Maybe the fighter in our example also puts points into Wisdom and now they are better at perceiving than a class that naturally would want wisdom is, and the fighter is now stepping on the toes of another character. Fighter isn’t a great example for this, but classes that get expertise like Rogue and Bard can have this issue if a player min/maxes over another character specialty.

But let’s look at some of the positive things that can come from it as well. If you are smart about your min/maxing as a party, you can have character who cover all the bases that you want. You can cover attacking, social interactions, sneaking, healing, etc. and be good at all of them because you and the group have min/maxed the skills of the group. This means, you aren’t ever going to feel inadequate when trying to do something, if you are there as a whole group. And, if you are in a combat focused game, everyone can focus on doing more damage and hitting more consistently by min/maxing as well.

I will also add, that if you are min/maxing, it’s good to have the whole group doing it. Sure, one player character can be min/maxed, and that would probably be fine. But if you have four of you at the table and three of you are min/maxing and the other player isn’t because they don’t know how, I’d recommend helping them min/max, or if they don’t want to, don’t fully min/max your own character so they don’t seem like they’ve fallen behind or can’t keep up with the rest of the group. I’ll go back to the saying that I learned from The RPG Academy, “If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right”, and that means fun for the whole table.

But let’s talk about how you go about min/maxing a character, because, it can be fun to play that extra powerful character in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. When I go through this, I’m going to be using my fighter example where combat and tanking in combat is their most important thing.

The first thing to look at is what class you want to play. In this case, we know we want to be a tank and we want to hold up well enough in combat. We have a few options, we could do barbarian for their D12 hit die, but the limitations on armor puts the barbarian more into an attacking role, whereas fighter has more armor options can use a shield which will bump that armor class up even more.

With that figured out you want to think about what race you are going to want to take. In our case, we have a couple of different options. The Half-Orc has +2 to strength and +1 to constitution to start with, and that would allow us to create a good combat character. The Mountain Dwarf, however, has +2 to both strength and constitution, which is just better. However, the Half-Orc, in it’s favor, has a trait called “Relentless Endurance” where, when it gets knocked out or down to 0 hit points, once per day, it can go back up to 1 hit point and keep on fighting. That is useful, but I’d prefer the extra hit points that we’ll be getting from the Mountain Dwarf.

Now, going back to the class, we have some features to look at, at the first level. The main one being the fighting style we can get at first level. We have a lot of different option. Protection would be interesting, because we’ll have a shield, but defensive is even better for us, because it gives us a permanent boost to our armor class.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

Finally, because background doesn’t give us that much in way of bonus to this fighting min/max build that we’re doing, let’s put our stats together. We’ll use the standard array as not to make it confusing, but that gives us a 15 and a 14 to place. I would place the 15 in constitution, giving us a 17 to start with in that stat, and then a 14 in dexterity, actually, versus strength. The reason for this is that we have a 13, which will give us 15 in strength, but only would have given us a 13 in dexterity. With the 14 in dexterity, it means that our initiative is going to be a +2 instead of +1 for our die rolls, and we still have a +2 to hit, which isn’t bad. It also gives me two odd numbers, so at level four when I get to go up a level, I can take my strength to a 16 and my constitution to a 18, and improve both of those stats to a +3 and a +4 respectively.

But wait, I forgot one last thing, we get our equipment as well. Now, I could have gone shopping for this, but standard equipment works out well for us here. We get chain mail for armor, and we can get a shield that are going to make us hard to hit as well.

So let’s look at some of our key stats. At level 1, we’d have 10+3 HP, so 13 hit points isn’t bad at all, but more importantly, we have an armor class of 19. That is extremely hard to hit. So while, maybe, a lucky hit would be able to take us down, but unless the monster is rolling with a decent modifier to their attack, it’s going to be hard for them to hit us. Our fighter is set to run into the fray, take on attacks and slowly deal damage to the enemies.

And you can do this with any class or any character type that you want, whether it is for combat or not. But should you, that’s the question, I’ll be talking about why you might not want to or why I generally don’t use the most min/maxed characters out there.

How do you play in a video game RPG or D&D? Do you like min/maxing, or have you ever run into an issue with it?

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You, Me, and NPC – Building Interesting NPC’s in D&D

You, Me, and NPC – Building Interesting NPC’s in D&D

I’ve been busy with my top 100 list and Halloween for the past couple of weeks, so I haven’t written much about Dungeons and Dragons. Today I’m getting back to it and look at creating an NPC for Dungeons and Dragons. This is a topic 

Playing Your D&D Character – 301

Playing Your D&D Character – 301

The last part of playing your D&D Character, there is no 401 for this course. To me there are three main parts that I wanted to talk about. The first was figuring out how to be in character and staying in character as much as 

Playing Your D&D Character – 201

Playing Your D&D Character – 201

We’ve started going down the route of playing your D&D character, in 101, we talked primarily about how much you should stay in character, and the expectations of being in character and differentiating in and out of character should work at the table.

In 201, I want to take it more into actually playing your character, bringing your character to life at your table, so it has a different voice than just your voice.

Image Source: Wizards of the Coast

I think it’s something that is pretty easy to do, have a character that sounds like you, acts like you, and thinks like you. And I don’t think that is a bad way to role play, sometimes, but there is much more that you can do beyond that to really play your character in Dungeons and Dragons and not just play yourself.

So, why do I think you shouldn’t just play yourself or your idealized version of yourself?

For me, I see role playing as an opportunity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world from a different perspective. Now, I don’t mean that you should play a racist jerk because that’s different from who you are, you’re probably going to be annoying everyone at the table, but playing a character who has issues with another race and using that are an opportunity for your character to grow, can work well if done delicately. But even beyond that, you can play someone who has a different view of religion than you do, a different view of politics, of money, or murder hoboness than you do. Or in a different vein but equally as challenging, it can be an opportunity to play an extrovert when you yourself are in introvert, or vice-a-versa.

Image Source: D&D Beyond

That’s the theory on why you might play someone different than you and I encourage it, but how do you go about doing that and doing it in a way where it isn’t a stereotype?

I think a good starting point is to create a character who has a tick of some sort. It could be that they are extremely scholarly, or maybe they have a catch phrase (keep it short and use it sparingly), or some default fighting style (every character should have one), but more than that, something that you can always do as your character in a role playing situation. Or something that is interesting about them. In a one-shot game at a convention, I played a monk dinosaur who was observing the other dinosaurs in the tribe and using it as an anthropological study. When I needed a role playing hook, I would lean into that. Or in another game, I was playing a mage who dressed like The Dude from The Big Lebowski and did drugs, so when I needed a role playing hook, I’d channel that.

These are pretty simple hooks, but they gave me a way to always step back into the character. Another way to think about it is to compare it to learning an accent, or doing an accent. Most of the time there is a phrase or a word that you can use to do your version of an accent. It’s that thing that allows you to step into the accent, in the same way, these ticks or hooks are ways for you to step into playing your character. It sounds weird, but it’s going to be a faster way to role playing your character and a good way to jump start it. It also makes it easier to step into role playing someone who isn’t just like you, because you have that way to change your mindset.

I want to address one more thing about these hooks before I talk about combat again. And that is the idea of using an accent or silly voice for your character. This can be used well to keep yourself in character. Such as whenever you are speaking in that voice, you are in character, and when you aren’t, you are out of character. However, there are a lot of people who aren’t great at doing voices. If you’ve listened to Dungeons and Flagons, you can tell that I will do voices for NPC’s and monsters when I’m running the game, but I have a pretty limited selection of voices that I can do. So don’t feel pressure to do this for your character, and don’t compare yourself to Critical Role when doing voices, they are professional voice actors, they literally make a living doing voices.

Image Source: Encounter Roleplay

Now, I want to circle back to combat for a split second. I talked earlier about having your move. The default thing that you go with when you play your character. It’s important to have this a character not just for role playing, as it will become your characters thing, but also for the game, so that you can make combat go more quickly. I know for a lot of people, myself included, I prefer the role playing aspect of the game, versus the combat aspect of the game. And combat, if not done well, can end up being a longer part of the game than the role playing. So, the signature/default move for your character is there for two reasons. One, it does give that hook to get you into the mindset of your character in a combat. Two, and as importantly, it means in combat you are ready for your turn. If you know that you can always roll two attacks with your great sword, when it comes to your turn, you are ready to go. Sometimes you’ll do different things, but if there is nothing obvious and different to do, you can take your turn fast. That’s why I think it’s something that should be required by the Dungeon Master and players at the table to hold people to having that default move.

Now we’ve talked a bit more about how you can get into character and play a character who isn’t just like you. Next time I want to talk more about creating a direction and arc for your character within the game that you control.

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Playing Your D&D Character – 101

Playing Your D&D Character – 101

Alright, so now you’ve started building your D&D character, let’s talk about playing your D&D character. Dungeons and Dragons after all is a role playing game, so you need to take on the role of your character. For this, we’re going to assume that you’ve