D&D: The Tiers of Play for DMs

I made a post about the different tiers of play in Dungeons and Dragons. I mentioned that as the PCs progress in power, so do the monsters.

Today, I want to talk about how the tiers of play affect the Dungeon Master.

Contrary to what some people might think, the DM’s goal is not to kill the PCs.

The goal is to almost kill them.

Remember that scene in the Return of the Jedi where the Death Star is operational, the deflector shield is still up, Han and Leia are captured, and Luke is with the Emperor? The Emperor taunts Luke describing how deeply the Rebels’ plan has failed.

That’s the point the DM wants to get to with their players. Where all seems lost and only a sliver of hope remains. And then the PCs are miraculously delivered from their despair, defeat the villain and save the day.

The perfect encounter in D&D will incapacitate about half the players before the foe is defeated.

Designing challenges at the low and middle tiers is easy enough. A bunch of Orcs, a Troll or an Ogre. There’s plenty of simple bad guys that provide credible threats to the party.

With multiple enemies it’s easy enough to modify an encounter to get just the right challenge. If the PCs are having an easy time of it, reinforcements arrive. If the encounter looks as if it may overwhelm them, perhaps the enemies retreat. After all, the PCs have surely slain a few of their foes and those who remain may not be willing to die for their cause.

At the high tiers, encounters become a little more difficult to design. Most anything in the books can be thrown at the PCS, dragons, devils, giants,you name it. But it’s difficult to gauge exactly how challenging a monster will be.

At any tier it’s okay if an encounter is too easy, but the advantage of high tier play is that it’s okay if an encounter is too hard as well.

The monster kills two of the PCs and they have to retreat? That’s okay, they can just bring the PCs back from the dead, research the monster’s weakness, and return two days later to slay it.

Epic tier challenges have even more problems as the players can often just wish the encounter away. The DM needs to be firm about what can and cannot be wished away to prevent all future challenges from being trivialized.

As powerful as the wish and miracle spells are, they usually won’t entirely invalidate playing D&D beyond 17th level.

The DM’s job is to limit the scope of what the wish and miracle spells can do through careful interpretation. Additionally, the in game mechanics give severe consequences to using the spells. Finally, the players may limit their usage themselves as they don’t want to take the fun and challenge out of the game either.

Regardless, epic level challenges still need to feel different than the previous tiers. I’ve been DMing at the epic tier for awhile and have designed a few encounters that should hopefully prove useful for others in the future.

But I’ve reached the end of this blog post so I’ll talk about the design of those encounters another time!

-GoCorral

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Crafterton

Crafterton

Crafterton is town with a population of about 60,000 people, most of whom are Halflings. The town’s economy is based around factories powered by the strong wind blowing to the west towards Cecilia. The factories were once powered by wood fires, but the island’s forest has been severely depleted. Cutting wood is now only allowed during winter and even then only by government permit. Some of the more entrepreneurial Halflings import wood from the lumber port of Makotako, but most are content to do without.

The ban on woodcutting leads to many of Crafterton’s dishes being uncooked, heavily spiced, and/or soaked in acidic juices. All the newer buildings and furniture in the city are made from stone imported from Bradel Fields. Any of the city’s surplus tax revenue instead of being saved is spent on a restoration project. The City’s Commercial Council (CCC) once worked in line with the thief’s guild of Balin’s Holt to discover many new secrets that can help Crafterton’s factories and forests. This cooperation stopped after the Xorian occupation.

Crafterton’s factories do not use an assembly line, but put a bunch of people in the same space using the same large power machine to make many products at the same time. The power comes from windmills on top of the factories and from imported fuel for the bigger factories that use fires. When no wind blows laborers are hired to turn a large crank that keeps the machine going.

The factories produce everything. One of the more famous ones, Lindertur’s factory, makes houses and then exports them. The exportation of the larger commodities requires help from golems made in Havdrast’s factory. The fault in this whole system is that Crafterton has almost no natural resources beyond fish and good soil that is only being used for personal gardens. Everything has to be imported or magically created.

Due to the large demand for transportation many magical schools have opened in Crafterton about those disciplines. Most wizards in the city are conjurers. Bags of Holding, Portable Holes, and Heward’s Handy Haversacks are all produced in Heward’s factory. The Wayfarer’s Union, providing teleportation services, is also located in Crafterton.

Something even more preternatural than the rest of the city is the Factory of Ideals. It produces potions that twist people’s thoughts to a different prospective. The Factory of Ideals produces potions that make people fall in love, do evil things, do good things, and even release bodily waste in public. The factory is allowed to keep working for unknown reasons by the government. Most people assume bribery.

The CCC is a guild comprised of all the factory owners in Crafterton. They decide the amount people are taxed and where that money goes. They are in effect an aristocracy without representation. They are all very rich and have no obligation to the poor of the city. Prior to the Xorian occupation the public accepted this arrangement. Whenever the public was upset they would strike and start building up farms to live off of. The strike negotiations started quickly and the problems are always quickly resolved. This feeling of goodwill has changed since the Xorian occupation.

Crafterton was occupied by the Xorians in 437 BCE. A military governor, Commander Borgawitas, oversees the CCC now, preventing any possible seditious activity. Many of the factory owners have become Dragovinians and enjoy the benefits of integration into a larger empire. The common folk of Crafterton have easier access to goods with the removal of import tariffs, but their civil liberties have been seriously limited. Many of the Halflings have been forced to work on the restoration project without pay.

The hurricane floods of 401 BCE destroyed many of the smaller buildings of Crafterton and without the wind break of large trees, almost all the efforts of the restoration project were undone in one night. The CCC was quick to rebuild the factories, but the rest of the city has been left to languish. Efforts to strike are no longer met with concessions and negotiations, but whips and executions. Dragovinian animals are everywhere, watching the captive populace to prevent insurrection.

-GoCorral

Institute of Regenerative Cures

My class got to go on a field trip last week.

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All the joys of barely being able to see the tour guide when you’re at the back of the group.

I know! Field trips in a Master’s of Science program? How ridiculous!

It was awesome. We went to the Institute of Regenerative Cures in Sacramento.

I arrived early and waited out front with some classmates. Our tour guide arrived and we waited out front a little longer til everyone showed up.

While waiting the tour guide, who had designed the building we were about to go into, told us about his hobby, early television history!

After the primer on early television we entered the building and got a tour of one of the best facilities for practicing biology in existence right now.

The building itself was actually built a long time ago for the California state fair. It was the “women’s building.”

The brick exterior and columnaic entrance have stayed the same since the building was constructed to maintain the historical site. The interior has been heavily modified.

The building had no roof back in the day and was just an enclosure for a bunch of different events that you usually see at state fairs.

The building was sold to the University of California system. They slapped a roof on it, and used it to store records.

Our tour guide said that he was called in to turn it into a biology facility later on. Half the building is used for bio research while the other half is rented out to other companies.

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The entrance hallway with pictures of the cooler discoveries at the Institute.

The researchers in the Institute are working on a number of things. They researched a treatment for the “bubble boy disease” there. They’re working on using umbilical cords to create bone marrow for transplants, using Tal proteins to treat Huntington’s, creating HIV resistant cells, and helping people who can’t swallow to swallow are just a few of the things they work on there.

Where all the research is done!
Where all the research is done!

The tour guide also showed us the section that he was most proud of as he had designed it. A set of rooms for making the actual drugs and proteins to export to hospitals. Making the drugs requires extremely sterile technique to prevent giving someone who is already sick something that will make them worse. The rooms are designed to be extremely sterile.

To enter the rooms you pass through an airlock where you are required to cover every inch of your body in a disposable gown.

The airlock goes to a hallway with access to three separate clean rooms.

There is “negative pressure” in the rooms. That means that air is constantly entering the room from the top and going out the bottom. This is so that if any cells that are worked with in the rooms get into the air, they will be redirected to teh ground and sucked out through a grate in the wall instead of ending up in someone’s medicine.

The air is cleaned excessively to about 3000 times more clean than average air before entering the facility.

There is a lot of electrical equipment in the rooms that will require replacing eventually. To prevent electricians from having to gown up just to replace a lightbulb, all the eletricals are accessible from panels on the second story of the building.

It was pretty cool for a scientist like me to see the best possible place to do research in. The tour guide mentioned that he does tours of the interior of the super clean rooms for smaller groups. I might take him up on that at a later time!

-GoCorral

Bucket List

Around Thanksgiving last year I made a bucket list for myself. A bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you die (kick the bucket).

So here’s the list along with why I want to do each thing.

1. Finish my Things Fall Apart screenplay and attempt to turn it into a movie.
I read Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, in high school and one of my first thoughts upon finishing it was, “This would make an awesome movie.” I set out to find the movie and… there isn’t one. There is a TV show, but it was produced in Nigeria and I couldn’t find a DVD version available in the USA. I started a screenplay adaption of the book and also seriously considered going to Bard for college where Achebe taught while he was still alive. I’d still like to see a movie of Things Fall Apart and with no one else working on it as far as I know, it’s up to me! I would have to get permission from Achebe’s family at some point though.

2. Have kids.
Pretty simple American dream stuff here. I like children a lot. I want to have some of my own.

3. Coach soccer for my kids.
This was one of the big things that my dad and I did together to bound when I was a kid. He coached my AYSO soccer teams so I got to hang out with him a lot over the years. I’d like to have the same sort of bond with my kids.

4. Attend a dance recital for my kids.
While I played soccer as a kid, my wife did dancing. Since I want our kids to play soccer it’s only fair that they dance too. I can’t teach dancing, but I can still support my kids doing it by going to see them.

5. See Wicked.
People have been telling me how good this musical is ever since it came out and ten years later I still haven’t see it or the movie. I should fix that before I die.

6. Go to a secluded ruin in Greece.
I love ancient Greek and Roman culture. I visited Rome and Athens with my sister in high school. I got to see a lot of the still intact buildings while I was there like the Pantheon, Partheon, Colosseum, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I’d like to see other ruins that are in more secluded areas instead of being in the downtown tourist places of capital cities. Greece has plenty of secluded islands with ancient ruins in the Aegean, so I’d like to go to one of those. Preferably with my wife coming along.

7. Learn ancient Greek.
Part of the whole loving ancient Greek and Roman culture. There wouldn’t be much purpose to knowing ancient Greek beyond doing it for its own sake. I might be able to read the Iliad in the original language but I have a feeling that I’d still enjoy the translated version better because I wouldn’t need to look up what a word means every five lines. Still! I wanna learn ancient Greek!

8. Have a popular website/attached sites.
This site. The one you’re on right now. And/or the Twitch and YouTube channels I’ve started up.

9. Design something for a video game that is actually used in that video game later on.
I’d like this to be through merit along. Something like designing a champion for League of Legends that Riot Games actually uses in the game. That’s unlikely because A) Riot avoids using fan made ideas to avoid copyright issues, and B) I might not be good enough at designing video game concepts to pull this off. If all else fails a few of the larger rewards for video game Kickstarter campaigns allow you to create something for the game. If merit doesn’t pan out for whatever reason, I can always use money.

10. Buy a house.
More American dream stuff. Pretty simple. I think most people want a place to live that belongs to them and them alone.

11. Do a dance routine with my wife to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”
When I was in elementary school I went to a sleepover camp. One night there was a dance where all the kids and the counselors got together, danced, hung out, and watched movies. Two of the counselors did some sort of choreographed routine to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” that amazed me ever since. I’d like to replicate it in some way with my wife.

12. Finish the novel/novel series I’ve been working on called Light’s Shadow.
I had a recurring dream when I was a kid where I inserted myself into various TV shows and comics that I watched/read. I started writing a novel of it and I’d like to finish it before I die. I’d also like to publish it before I die, but given that the premise of the novel includes about a dozen copyrighted works, I doubt that’s happening. I might be able to put it on a fan fiction website though.

13. Finish the Gurutama campaign setting and create a PDF of it that I can upload here.
In the process of doing this one on here already. The end goal is to have something that resembles an official D&D campaign setting in one document. Illustrations, borders, page numbers, etc. The whole thing.

14. Invent a cool biology thing.
One of my idols is Sir William Lawrence Bragg, the youngest scientist to ever win the Nobel prize at 25 years old. He, along with his father, invented X-ray crystallography which was used to discover the double-helix structure of DNA and many other molecular structures. Unfortunately it is virtually impossible to get the Nobel prize at that age today. Nobel prizes in the sciences are often given ten years after an initial experiment as the Nobel committee waits for others to replicate the work of the original discoverer. Most people don’t have amazing scientific discoveries until they’re at least 25 years old which would make it difficult to copy Sir William Lawrence Bragg. I’d still like to do something of scientific significance. Hopefully something to do with endosymbiosis, but I’ll take whatever the world ends up giving me.

15. Go camping in Yosemite with my wife and kids.
My family did this a lot when I was a kid and I really liked it. Got to keep the tradition alive!

And there you have it. My bucket list objectives as of January 2015.

-Mister Ed

League of Legends Meta

I'm the blue one in the middle on the right. Yeti to the rescue!
I’m the blue one in the middle on the right. Yeti to the rescue!

My previous post outlining League of Legends was forever ago. I posted League of Legends Map Part 3 on March 22nd.

Today I’m going to talk about the League of Legends meta.

In the everyday usage of the word, meta means something that is self-referential. But meta means something different when you’re talking about video games.

The meta of a video game refers to specific strategies used to play against other people.

The meta of a game evolves out of the rock-paper-scissors mechanics that most games use.

The meta can shift so that more people are playing rock than any other symbol, but if that happens then inevitably more people will start playing paper because paper is good against rock.

Or maybe the game designers will notice that scissors is losing more games than it should on average. The designers give scissors a buff for fighting the other symbols. The buff results in more people playing scissors and then more people playing rock because it counters scissors and on and on and on.

So what is the meta of League of Legends?

Like I said in my previous posts, League of Legends has three different lanes that shape the map.

Each lane has a set of resources that give gold, the enemy minions. Killing minions gets you gold.

There’s also the jungle monsters inbetween lanes that give gold.

So four places to get gold, but five people on each team. Not quite enough to go around.

The jungle, top, and mid lanes are what you’d expect. One person in each collects resources from that lane.

In North America the current meta is a large champion who can take a lot of hits in top lane.

The mid lane usually has a champion that can’t survive a lot of hits, but can deal a lot of damage with their abilities.

A lot of different champions work in the jungle. The North American meta for League of Legends jungle champions has been shifting a lot lately, so I couldn’t say what really fits there. In the picture above I’m a tanky jungler who can take a lot of hits and slow the other team down by throwing snowballs at them.

The League of Legends puts two champions in the bottom lane.

Because there’s two in the same place, you can’t name the lane based on the position. Instead the two positions are called Attack Damage Carry (ADC) and Support.

The ADC is responsible for shooting arrows or bullets at people. They’ve got a lot of abilities that make their arrows or bullets hit harder or reposition themselves so they can keep shooting arrows or bullets at the enemy team, but that’s the gist of the role.

The support is supposed to keep the ADC alive and provide basic utility to the team as a whole.

For example, a friend of my is playing Nami in the top left of the picture above.

Nami is a mermaid support. Her abilities let her heal her allies, trap her enemies in a bubble of water, buff her ADC’s attacks to make them slow enemies, speed up her team, and create a giant tidal wave that pushes the enemy team away.

So if Nami’s ADC is jumped on by an enemy, Nami can trap that enemy in a water bubble to save her ADC.

If someone is running at her ADC, Nami can increase the ADC’s speed and allow the ADC to slow the running enemy with their arrows and bullets.

The support’s role is so focused around keeping the ADC healthy and alive that the support doesn’t even share the gold from minions in the bottom lane. It’s expected that the ADC will kill all of the minions and get all of the gold.

So that’s the meta in League of Legends right now. More League posts to come!

If you’re interested in playing League of Legends you can give it a try using this link. Feel free to message me in game if you want to play a little with me! My name is SoapySeahorse on the North American server.

-Mister Ed