The Final Sessions

I am approaching the final session of the longest D&D campaign I’ve ever run.

The players have made their way through all the challenges I constructed for them. The only thing left to do is confront the final villain and defeat him.

I’m reminded of something I wrote in high school, that people are attracted to stories that excite them regardless of how real those stories are. The world, characters, and stories I’ve built through Dungeons and Dragons aren’t real, but the outcome is as important to me as the outcome of other things in my life.

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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

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

The Other Room in D&D

D&D is typically played with everyone in the same room or on the same video call if you’re my group.

The DM plays out the action and all the other players interact with each other and the DM.

Sometimes a change is needed.

What if one PC scouts ahead and the DM doesn’t want the other players to share the information that PC gets?

You could trust the players to only act on information their characters would know, but its difficult to rely on that. It’s easy for the DM and the players to forget where the line between character knowledge and their own knowledge is.

The problem is easily solved by restricting such knowledge.

When a player scouts the next room in a dungeon without the others the DM will take him into the other room with his character sheet and dice.

The player then explores the room on his own.

If there’s a monster in there, he has to fight it on his own. He can still call for help to the others, but they won’t necessarily hear him.

If there’s treasure in the other room, the PC could claim it for himself and not tell the others what he found. Golden chalice? Sweet! Since the PC found it on his own, he doesn’t need to share.

At the end of this week’s session I took one of my players into the other room (separate video call).

His PC hadn’t gone into another room, but instead was taking a vacation separate from the other PCs.

Not as exotic as a fancy golden chalice in the other room of a dungeon, but it was still something we felt should be separate.

The other PCs wouldn’t know what happened there unless they are told. Additionally, watching it probably would’ve been boring for them and disruptive for the player whose PC was there.

That’s all for tonight!

-Mister Ed

How D&D Works With Absentees

Freshman Dorm Desk
A picture of me not sitting at my desk in my Freshman dorm.

So I wasn’t at my group’s weekly D&D session this week.

We play almost every Sunday, but last night I didn’t go because I really wanted to work on my Alexander paper.

So what happens when I can’t go to D&D?

Before we had a set time for our sessions every week, D&D rarely happened without me.

I’m the DM for my group, but I’m also the one most often organizing when, where, and what we play.

I’m not saying our group is an autocracy, I’m just usually the one making suggestions that the group approves of.

But we’ve had a set time for playing on Sunday for a couple months now. Everyone expects us to play then.

Fortunately, I’m not the only DM for my group anymore either.

One of my friends also DMs a campaign set in the pre-historical Aegean islands. The political scene of the his campaign parallels the accepted version of real events, but there’s a lot of freedom for the players to impact the world as well.

So when I can’t make it to a session, my friend runs his campaign.

What happens to a player’s character when that player can’t make a session?

There’s a couple of different options.

#1 The character can fade into the background and do almost nothing during the session. We’ve used this a few times and it works decently.

#2 Another player or the DM runs the character. I like this one best, but sometimes a character’s battle tactics are too complicated for someone else to pick up for just one session.

#3 The character is removed from the session for in character reasons. Maybe the character gets sick. Maybe he has to go home and check on his family for a few days. Maybe he has a business he runs in town. This option doesn’t break immersion, but it does cut the absent character out of any important action during that session.

I haven’t gotten the specifics from the group yet, but when I was gone this week they did #1 or #3. I’ll figure out what happened with my character next time I can make it to a session.

I won’t be playing next Sunday either as I’m doing some Easter stuff. I’ll do my best to have a D&D post ready for you on Monday though!

-Mister Ed

How Dungeons and Dragons Works Part 1

Sunday is the day I typically play D&D with my friends, so I am thinking about making Mondays into my “talk about D&D days.”

Last week I talked about the history of D&D and said a little about how I feel when I play D&D in contrast to video games. Today I’ll be talking about how D&D and other pen and paper roleplaying games work in practice.

First, a group of friends get together and decide they want to play. Typical group sizes range from four people to as large as eight. Most groups meet in person. My group meets on the internet using a program called Roll20 which I’ll talk about another time.

My group has six people in it including me. Out of the six players, only one is the Dungeon Master (DM). The other five are Player Characters (PCs). The PCs usually form a team while the DM plays against them. If D&D were a typical competitive game like Scrabble or Monopoly, then the PCs would cooperate to beat the DM.

Each PC designs one character to represent themselves in the D&D world. There are essentially no limitations in what you can design. When I first started playing I wanted to be a talking bat that cast spells. D&D does allow for this option, but my dad eventually convinced my nine year-old self to play a delinquent elf teenager. I’ve since played hobbit gladiators, dwarven drunks, and elf pirates among many others.

So the PCs each create a hero to play. The PCs control every aspect of that hero, how old he is, what his hair color is, how tall he is, how he fights, how he talks. Everything. But that’s only five people, what about all the others that inhabit the fantasy world that the heroes live in?

The DM creates and plays everything else in the world. If the PCs go to a city, the DM decides what that city looks like and what businesses are there and it is the DM’s responsibility to tell the players that information. The DM creates challenges for the PCs, the traditional challenge being a dungeon with a dragon at the bottom of it (The game is called Dungeons and Dragons for a reason).

The PCs could do anything they wanted. They could open a T-shirt shop together if they wanted to; however, most don’t open shops. D&D is most fun when fighting monsters or overcoming other violent challenges. My villains in my current world are vampires. There are also zombies, dragons, giants, ogres, evil wizards, and many other evil threats to the imaginary innocent people in my world. The PCs try to make the world a better place through their actions. The fun comes from how they decide to do that and the choices they have to make along the way as well as the thrilling action scenes that we play out.

That’s all for now, but more to come next week!

-Mister Ed