Okay. Rant time.
I've been doing this gig for a while now. I've devoted hundreds of hours to cultivating my craft of storytelling, rulings, incorporation, and character growth. I've written thousands of words on my campaigns, I've written music for them, I paint my own materials and build my own sets. I reflect daily on how to be a better storyteller and a better teacher on every side of the table. I'm not perfect, no DM is, but I think I'm doing pretty damn good.
Every encounter I've run, even if difficult, has multiple ways to win. I never railroad, and I'm always open to creative solutions. Even a suicide mission has a way out (though it may be a bit dishonorable, still a way out).
Players who have played with me for years...are still questioning my intentions. Like I haven't been making this my LITERAL JOB for LITERALLY YEARS or anything. And I'm not talking like questioning my rulings, no; that's welcomed, we can discuss that stuff. I don't want my players to be scared of bringing up elements for discussion. What I'm talking about can be summed up into two main requests.
Wait and See
If I have continually given you scenarios where there are multiple ways to solve them, do not assume that THIS scenario is somehow a railroad. I have NEVER navigated a party to a no-win scenario. Enemies have been tough, but even those that feel "unfair"...have a puzzle. There are ways around and through everything I set up. Always. That's how I've always done it; it leaves room for the players to kick ass in unexpected ways, and that's great.
If the fight hasn't begun, and you haven't seen the literal character sheets I'm working from, how can you make ANY sweeping conclusions about how it's going to go...unless you're assuming that I'm trying to kill the party, which, if you have ever read this blog or listened to anything I do, you know would be ludicrous. Challenge? Yes. Kill unfairly? NEVER.
Also, until the conclusion of the plot arc...maybe don't pass judgement on it. You might think you're the smartest cookie in the box, but that doesn't mean you're right. And just because you're presented something "unfair," doesn't mean it's impossible. Take a deep breath and figure it out - that's part of what makes this game work.
AND we've already established that CRs are mostly BS so...what's your problem?
Try. See what happens. You might surprise yourself.
Maybe give me the benefit of the doubt...because that's what I've always done for my players (maybe even to a fault).
Trust Me (I don't have to tell you my secrets so you can feel better)
Wait, didn't that guy get away?
Was he on the ship?
You don't know.
Can you just tell us?
So I can stop worrying about it!
...Then definitely no.
But he literally killed me last time!
And we threw him in lava! How did he survive?
Yes, isn't that interesting. There is indeed a reason.
Really? Is it because he's impossible to kill?
...No. There's a reason, though.
Yeah? What is it! Tell me or I'll keep complaining and insulting your style of DMing, checking to see if you intended to paint our entire existence as a no-win scenario because you suck, and questioning your every move!
...Commence minimal spoilers to appease whining...
Now, the above scenario applies to only a few conversations that have prompted this post, but dare I put forth a radical idea: NOT KNOWING THE OUTCOME OF SOMETHING CAN BE EXCITING. Not everything gets wrapped up in a neat little bow; loose ends are a part of storytelling, and that tense uncertainty is a GOOD THING in a narrative, especially a cooperative one.
Do you REALLY need to know that you DEFINITELY killed that guy and he's never coming back? Or could you be excited if he ever returned? Could you rejoice in discovering IN PLAY why he seems immortal? Solve the mystery, damn it.
I have players that jump at the chance to figure this stuff out...and a tiny percentage of others that seem annoyed if they don't know everything - like they were somehow entitled to. And if they didn't know, then it "just wasn't fair."
Grow up. Put on your big kid pants and deal with the fact that you may not know everything. Mystery is a part of storytelling, hell it's a part of LIFE, and I don't feel like giving up my mysteries or loose ends because you're whining for them.
If you're not sure you're going to win because your level is too low, or your perceived enemies have too many hit points, or he has too many spell slots, or he's resistant to my damage type, or his AC is too high (saving throws might suck, ya' know), or no one took healing spirit.
Figure. It. Out. These are challenges, not impossibilities. If you've learned anything from me, it should be that I'm not a jerk GM. I kill my darlings, I'm happy when you win, I just want you to have a good time and feel satisfied.
Not all problems will be solved by mechanics and probability alone. This is a game that promotes creative problem solving. So do some problem solving! Don't throw up your hands and say "I can't because my character blah blah blah blah - I've heard enough.
I'll help you if you get stuck, but I ain't doing it for you, and I'm pretty sure that's how people like it.
Enough with this baloney sandwich.
I'll see you at the table.
In the time before the great pantheon of the gods, these gigantic creatures lurked in the primordial oceans and the underground seas. They reached out with their superior minds and enslaved the burgeoning lifeforms of the mortal realm, pushing dominion that made them like gods. Until the true gods took notice, smashing the aboleths' empires and freeing their enslaved beings.
Such an insult has never been forgotten.
General Knowledge - Aboleths in 5th Edition
Aboleths have ancient, flawless memories, and pass on their knowledge from generation to generation. This quality keeps the insult of the gods fresh and alive, perfectly preserved in their minds. They are also treasure troves of ancient lore. These entities play the long game; calling eons of planning to bear, patient and intricate.
Gods in the Lake
Ancient aquatic beings, Aboleths dwell in the deep recesses of underground lakes and rivers, and unknown depths of the grand oceans. They often reside in the Material Plane, and the Plane Of Water, but can show up just about anywhere with an underwater abyss. In these deep lairs and the lands that surround them, Aboleths are like gods, demanding worship and obedience from those that live nearby.
They also add the experiences and knowledge of all they consume to their eternal memory, creating a lust for knowledge with all they come in contact with. An Aboleth wields its telepathic powers to read the minds of creatures and know their desires, and they use this power to easily gain the creature's loyalty. While in its lair, an Aboleth can augment its telepathy, creating the illusions of such fulfilled desires for its loyal servants...but it is still just an illusion.
Enemies of the Gods
With flawless memories, and connections eons long, the Aboleths forever recall the slight of the gods. Their fall from power is written in stark clarity, for Aboleths never truly die. If an Aboleth's body is destroyed, its spirit returns to the Elemental Plane Of Water, where another body is coalesced in a month or two. Ultimately, the Aboleths dream of one day overthrowing the gods and regaining control, and dominion, over the world.
They've had eons to plan, and they never forget. Truly, they are a great danger to the cosmos.
Aboleths are a race of malevolent, eel-like gargantuan Aberrations with frightening psionic and psychic abilities.
Fish-like amphibians of immense size, often reaching 20 feet or more (6.1 meters) in length and many weighing up to 7,000 pounds. Though, as an Aboleth's body can live indefinitely if not destroyed, there are some cited at 60 feet in length, and others weighing upwards of 12,000 pounds. They resembled a bizarre eel, with long, tubular bodies, as well as a tail at one end and two fins near the head and another along the back. Aboleths' mouths are lamprey-like, filled with serrated, jawless teeth.
Aboleth underbellies were often orange-pink, while their topsides were typically sea-green. A little bit back from the head were four long tentacles, two sprouting from across each other on the top, and two more of the same on the underbelly. Their heads were triangular-shaped, with a spherical, beak-like nose. Above the nose are their three eyes, each one set atop the other. Tendrils and a few shorter tentacles dangle from the bottom of the head. Four blue-black slime-secreting orifices line the bottom of their bodies. The creature's blood is green and thick, oozing like sap.
Aboleths breathe through a thick gray mucus, which covers their body and which they exude from four pulsating organs along their body as they move. If robbed of the ability to exude this slime, an Aboleth would suffocate in water or on land alike. As such, an Aboleth had to take care of its mucus. Out of the water, an Aboleth's membrane-like skin dries out quickly, but this did not prove fatal in and of itself. Instead, the Aboleth would eventually enter a state of suspended animation, called Long Dreaming. During this process, the so-hampered Aboleth formed a tough, waterproof membrane, like a calcium deposit shell. Over enough years, this shell would grow harder than steel, forever entombing the dreaming creature.
Aboleths In Io
I admit we haven't seen many Aboleths in the campaigns I've run, though their influence has been felt. The first one encountered by a group was in the Halls of Pandemonium; a discarded, corrupted psionic entity - a far shadow of its former power. They ripped it apart, with little understanding of what it was and why it was there, whereas in reality they had released its body from an endless cycle of torment by the ancient dragon, Narizguun.
As the world continues to clarify, especially in the Fourth Age (where the Pirate campaigns reside), the Aboleth is a creature that has always had influence in the world of Io. Its power stretches to the depths of the world's memory, pulling strings and making plans. A creature of the long game, eternal and dangerous...perhaps some villains have taken notes. ;)
See you at the table.
Thoroughly afraid of the water.
The Stuff Of Legend...
Some entities in fantasy have stood the test of time. They are either so old or so powerful that they have outlasted every adventuring party that has sought their ruin, or already stand amongst the gods and devils that rule the multiverse. Ancient dragons, demon lords, aberrations that rule the Underdark...these and so many more fill the world of fantasy with legend.
Legendary Resistance / Legendary Actions
Many legendary creatures are tougher than your average beastie, and show that in their Legendary Resistances. Three times per long rest, if a creature with this feature fails a saving throw, they can choose to succeed instead. This pisses off my players to no end, but this is a great mechanical representation as to why these things have survived as long as they have. An ancient being wouldn't be able to be charmed by one unlucky roll out of the gate; it has some fortifications against that.
Conversely, legendary beings are often, but not always, solo endeavors. In other circumstances, such encounters can feel a little...one-sided. As a party of 5-7 warriors gang up on a single creature, that's usually 5-7 swings on it before it gets its turn.
Legendary ACTIONS provide a pseudo-set of extra turns each round for a Legendary Creature to use, simulating its great power and rebalancing the economy of the encounter.
At the close of another creature's turn, not its own, this creature can spend 1-3 Legendary Actions to perform certain tasks, attacks, or powers, as dictated by their stat block. Some powers burn only 1 LA, while others can burn 3 at once, especially if the creature is attempting something very powerful. Sometimes it's a movement or an extra attack, or a bonus spell. Whatever it is, stay alert! There's a reason these things are legendary.
But to be clear:
Legendary Resistances only recharge during a Long Rest, but...
Legendary Actions return at the start of the creature's turn EVERY ROUND.
So you might force some saves and use up their resistances...but they're just as dangerous with their Legendary Action economy.
A Creature's Lair
Location, location, location...
A Legendary being often has a place it calls its home. A "lair," if you will.
Such a place tends to grant them superior bonuses to their defenses, like a homefield advantage, and often pose great danger to an unprepared party.
A Lair in a Legendary encounter acts on an Initiative count (often count 20) like a character, but you can't attack it or defeat it. Maybe you're fighting in a volcano, and a wave of extreme heat hits you; or a pulse of necrosis randomly strikes someone within range of the dark altar of the Lich. And many effects get worse the longer the fight goes on, so entering a Lair with a clear strategy will help keep your party alive and (hopefully) end this encounter quickly in your favor.
Pro Tip: If ever you can engage a Legendary Creature outside of its Lair, do so. Those homefield advantages, coupled with its already frustrating extra actions and resistances, make these fights particularly nasty.
Other Special Traits
Powerful creatures, not just legendary ones, can often have extra special abilities to be aware of that set them apart from your average hobgoblin or bulette.
Some monsters have the ability to cast specific spells as part of their features. These spells, unless otherwise noted, are always cast at their lowest level. If it's a cantrip, we can assume the creature's challenge rating (CR) as its level if we need to determine damage (unless it's otherwise noted).
Innate spells often have other restrictions, like "target self" or "Reaction only."
A monster with the Spellcasting feature is considered to have a spellcasting level and an arsenal of spell slots, as if they were a player class. Such a creature can choose to cast spells at higher spell slots, just as a player might, giving a large bredth of caster flexibility (and making them very dangerous).
Psionics is a form of spellcasting that allows a monster to cast spells using only the power of its mind. This tag can be attached to both Innate and standard Spellcasting, and carries no additional rules, but other parts of the game might refer to it.
Assume, though, that a spell cast using Psionics does not require components. ;)
And there you have it!
Next time, we delve into the depths and visit one terrifying little beastie. I mean it, this thing's the stuff of nightmares!
See you at the table.
Everybody settle in and get cozy. We're about to share some deep stuff on gender, personal identity, sexual orientation, and personal expression. The following deep dive is an exploration of distinct characters I've played, others I've observed behind the screen, and a small look of the current state of D&D and how it affects and empowers us.
How Playing A Woman Made Me A Better Person (and many other things)
Gender-bending is a foregone conclusion when you are a Game Master. Unless you're running a completely male or female world (I mean...why?), the assumption follows that if you are playing as every character that is not another player-character, you will undoubtedly play a character that is the opposite sex that you are.
And we've all seen some cringe-worthy elements come out of this with newer DMs. A dude that plays all the ladies like lascivious harlots with high-pitched voices (because all women CLEARLY sound like THAT), or an awesome dudette playing all the men similarly but down two octaves. I get it, we're learning, and their range will (I hope) increase.
I'm happy to say I came from the middle when it came to voice. I was blessed with a love of the theater, and I adore trying out new voices, dialects, and accents. Some I've blended into regional accents for my fictional world, and that took some time! It's great to look back, and when I play ladies, they run the gamut of high to lower pitches. Most tend to sit in soft palette, and elevate slightly. But...it's not about the voice.
Characters are EMBODIED. A lot can change by a simple shift in posture and position. How a person moves, in face and body language, is even more important than how they sound. A shifty urchin looks shifty (regardless of gender), and a stoic knight is no less stoic with feminine features; both can also be seductive, or monstrous, or terrifying. Their actions and body language speak more than any masculine or feminine features would at their base. A lot of it ties more into the variables of communication, interest, and an alignment of style.
I'd be lying if I said gender DIDN'T play a role, but for me, I find it a little more complex.
I think I played Vanora to feel sexy at a time in my life that I certainly didn't. As frame, many of my men were shy and awkward (like me), or far too exuberant and annoying (like a cartoon version of what not to be), and my women, though cool, had what I thought was lacking in personality. Now, Vanora was not flirtatious; she was confident. Not once did she hit on anyone in the game, but I knew she could rock it if it came up. She was sensual in her movements, almost animal-like (Aasimar Shifter, Pathfinder), and I wanted to experience an otherworldly perspective, separated yet powerful, and highly feminine. And the perspective was...neutral. In fact, it became a piece far more about characterization; the subtle aspects of a person - their flaws, ideals, and the deeper shifting layers of emotional sand. It was a lesson in HUMANITY most of all. As the campaign fizzled out, her lessons reformed in the creature known as Lorelai in Gray Owls, except ten-fold, and much more complex, dangerous, and alluring.
And I end up playing a lot of women in my games, and not to feel sexy. Actually, I'm very proud of the women of Io in every age. I find I play them like people, rather than women or men, which might sound silly to some of you, but I think that that's the best way for me. Instead of gender first, it's always character. There's no sexism in Io (at least not in any frame that is acceptable), so a good leader is a good leader, regardless of gender. A ruthless tyrant is still a tyrant, whether it a man, woman, or anything in between. Yet, my players have had little trouble identifying who I'm playing and when (there is a family of strong women that all sounded a little similar early on, but I've adapted), and usually grasp their gender quickly.
In a lot of ways, playing women helped me consider people as people. I didn't want to box myself into tired narrative cliches or tropes, so to break free I played a person who just happens to be female, male, or something else. Their gender is secondary to their personality. What a concept to consider, yet I do believe - as a clearly heterosexual man - that women hold certain extra powers over those that would be interested in them, and the same is true for any gender that interests another.
So of course this swings toward orientation, at least at first. Love is love in Io; you love whom or what you want (as long as you're not hurting anyone), so the societal pressures that surround one's orientations that we feel so viscerally today...don't exist here. And it doesn't define someone's prevalent or lack of partners. Let's take Cecil, a high-elf bard of the court in Gray Owls, who, despite being married to probably one of the most frighteningly-powerful women I've ever played, has to play the field of information, favors, and rapport in order to sway the odds in the favor of his family and his assets. Cecil is a listener, first and foremost, and can flip on a dime whether to be masculine or feminine and all levels between as the situation allows so he can make the other in the room feel the most comfortable...whether that's manipulative or not. But for me, it forces me to wait and pick my moves carefully, embracing whatever side I need to and being open to multiple possibilities; a perspective of a tactically sound mind who will wield physical and mental intimacy to position others is a thing of beauty.
Contrast this with Obidia Skurr, the Master Slate Duelist of Feathertongue, who is concretely gay yet classically masculine, and chooses partners rarely, if at all. He never uses his sexuality overtly as a tactic; it is a subtle piece of himself that he chooses to save for only his most vulnerable times. A private person; willing to help, but only willing to open himself up to those that truly matter, yet he is pursued for his mystery. (Not the mystery of his orientation, mind you, because that doesn't matter). Whereas Alejandro Esuarve, definitively pansexual, can't get anything in bed due to his aggressively abrasive and annoying personality. Neither is a commentary on either orientation, and such an orientation is secondary to who they are as people. Whom we choose to love is really only a small piece of who we completely are, and we can choose to wear that intimate choice on our sleeve or express it only in the quiet, special moments. Neither is hiding, and both are completely normal. And yet still I can play the strong and masculine Lyla Ironwood, who (at this point in the campaign) hasn't expressed any shred of sexuality or interest in anyone, and still get hit on by the party's Barbarian, even though he knows she can rip his heart out. People are interested in who they're interested in, and each of those is a layered person (which I dare say is MUCH more attractive). ;)
Too often, we find ourselves in camps of judgment, across picket lines of which fun is most "right." We view one side in a given context, and omit others, yet we forget key powerful facts of the human identity. A person using their sexuality as a weapon is empowering and a person wielding a great sword in a huge battle is also empowering. The existence of one does not belittle or negate the existence of the other. And you know the best thing? That can be the same person. True agency is having a say in how you portray yourself in every given moment; a badass soldier can be a sexy seductress, and a sexy seductress can be badass soldier, and people WANT TO BE BOTH at different times, and run the oscillation between many others. The ability to pivot to what is most appropriate given the situation is an adaptable skill that so many desire, yet have little practice in. Wouldn't it be great if we could feel strong AND sexy? They're not exclusive, people.
I guess my main point in exploring this deeply is that, similar to my post on Boundaries, I build and play characters from a state of ideal representation. I'd be silly if I didn't reference the cruel fact that we fight for empowerment and representation because of a long history where it was taken from us, and how cool would it be if the core aspects of ourselves could be expressed without the barriers we have to punch through today. If I want to look good, I will. My choice to be fabulous. My choice to fight. My choice to breathe. My choice to express myself however I see fit.
And I choose unhinged Druid Assassin who believes she's descended from a long line of Tabaxi, despite being human. :) That fun is not wrong, and I'll probably learn something from it, too.
When Players Pursue Identity Through Gender and Orientation
I expect it at every one of my tables now; especially the one-shots. One of the gals is going to play a guy, and I'm totally down. Maybe it's just to be different, gain a new perspective, or to practice their own identity. Yeah. Practice.
So much of what we do at each table involves communication, problem-solving, complex fantasy cooperative storytelling...and social interaction. I'd be an idiot if I said my characters were not related to me SOMEHOW, as each will undoubtedly represent or be manifested from an aspect of oneself. They may grow and change, but, actually, so are you (the player). Each character we play is intrinsically tied to a piece of us, and will affect us in ways we may not have planned for.
Which is why when I witness players step outside (or inside) their comfort zones with new characters or explorative decisions I internally squee with glee. You now get to experience, in a safe and imaginative space, actual feedback on character choices, orientations, responses, communication... And if you offend, or miscommunicate, or cause a mass genocide - it's okay, because this is a game, and you can try again. That's one rep. Take the feedback, apply where you can, and we'll continue to grow together.
And 5th Edition has done quite a lot for representation. Couple this with Io's world, and my players have a lot of opportunity to explore themselves (as theme and appropriate for each age group in campaign, of course) in the shoes of each character. Maybe you're a girl that's figuring out if you like girls...so you play a guy character and try flirting out. Or you play a girl character who is bisexual, or lesbian, or pan. Who knows? Maybe you're a guy that would like to see what happens if you play a girl; will your perspective change, your thoughts, your motivations? What if your character is asexual? What does that mean, how would I play that? What if I'm a boy, and I identify as a girl? How do I explore that?
How does the group react to your bend, or your orientation? Do they support you, reject you, or are just uncomfortable? Are they uncertain, and need to consider a few things for themselves?
Maybe they're actually decent people and accept you for who you are, and try to help wherever they can. :)
I'm happy to say that I have players that decided, through their experiences pursuing an orientation they were uncertain of, to come out to their family and fight for agency in their own life. They used their character to harness the warrior inside, and actually fight for what made them happy. That's the beauty of this game; it's an opportunity to find your Sword and Shield, and rise above the walls you built around yourself. It is a forge, and when building yourself, you can always start over. You can always rewrite your narrative; tell yourself a new story.
And what we're seeing, more and more, is how little it actually matters at the table what sort of orientation, gender, or identity you wish to pursue. Those aspects of yourself (as long as they don't hurt others, and respect each other's boundaries) will be accepted at my table, and many others. However, those aspects are only tiny pieces of a much greater YOU.
What becomes possible when we expunge the social gender norms present today in what separates the expectations of a boy or a girl or the spectrum between, and embrace only the commonality of character and the sliding gradient of alignment point to point; decision to decision? Then, we are only measured by our actions, not solely by our gender, and we are but people drifting together. Sometimes we have a heading, others not, and either way, the journey is our own as we grow and learn and love together.
Forever pride. Forever human.
See you at the table.
Last week we took a look at the multitude of Monster Types, now let's take a look at the terminology surrounding how they MOVE and how they SEE.
A monster with a burrowing speed can tunnel through sand, earth, mud, or even ice! Bad news on a tactical map, but the monster can't burrow through solid rock unless it has a feature that says so.
Climb speed lets the creature scale vertical surfaces using all or part of its movement, and they don't have to spend extra movement in order TO climb.
Monster with fly speeds can use that movement to, you guessed it, FLY. And some monsters have the ability to Hover, making it difficult to knock them out of the air. Any decently smart creature with a fly speed (and a breath weapon) should be feared on a tactical battlefield.
Well, these are getting simple. Creatures with a swim speed can swim their speed! And they don't even have to use extra movement... Who'da thunk? Good to note, though, that a swim speed can only be used in a liquid; a semi-solid material, like mud, does not support a Swim speed (Burrow would be more appropriate), but in the same vein a Burrow speed does not allow you to swim (without costing extra movement as normal).
A monster with Blindsight can perceive its surroundings without relying on sight, depending on the radius. Creatures without eyes, like an ooze or grimlock, will usually have this sense, as do creatures that might use echolocation (like a bat) or something with heightened senses (like a dragon).
A naturally blind monster might also use this term to indicate the MAXIMUM RANGE of its perception.
A creature with darkvision can see in the dark within the specified radius. Just like with player characters, they can see in dim light as if it were bright like, and in darkness as if it were dim light. And, just like PCs, the monster can't discern color palettes, only shades of gray. Expect creatures who tend to live underground to have this special sense.
A monster with Tremorsense can detect and pinpoint the origin of vibrations within its specified radius, provided that IT is not in contact with the same ground or substance. No, it cannot be used to detect flying or incorporeal creatures. Expect monsters that tend to burrow, like an Ankheg or Umber Hulk, to also have this ability.
A popular thing among high-level players, a creature with Truesight can see (out to a certain range) in normal and magical darkness, see invisible creatures and objects, automatically detect visual illusions and succeed on saving throws against them, and perceive the original form of one who is a shapechanger or someone transformed by magic. Furthermore, the creature can see into the ETHEREAL PLANE out to the same distance. A few ancient or psionic creatures might have this ability, but it is much more rare.
This is a magical ability that allows a creature to communicate mentally with another creature within the specified range. The contacted creature doesn't need to share a language in order to communicate, but it needs to understand at least one language (so the Google Translate has something to do). A creature without telepathy can still receive and respond to telepathic messages, but can't initiate them.
A telepathic monster doesn't need to see the contacted creature and can end the contact at any time. The contact is also broken if the two creatures ever exceed the range of the sense. It often goes without saying, but contact is broken if the creature is incapacitated.
Note: A telepathic creature within an Antimagic Field or another location where magic does not function will not be able to send and receive telepathic messages.
Sometimes you smack that enemy really hard and it does nothing, or you hurl a particular potent concoction, roll real bad, and deal double damage...or you find yourself somewhere in-between. There are reasons why and these are the terms you need to know going in.
When a creature is Vulnerable to a damage type, it is assumed that the type deals twice as much damage to it. Some DMs will have players roll twice as many dice, or, for speed and efficiency, simply double the number rolled. Whatever the method, the creature can be considered "weak" to this type, and will therefore suffer more when dealt it.
A very common term among the monsters in 5E, a Resistance indicates the creature will only suffer half of the damage (rounded down) dealt to it of this type. It can be expected that many Fiends will probably be resistant (if not Immune) to fire damage.
An immunity indicates that the monster either cannot be affected by the named status effect or suffers no damage (even if an ability might punch through a Resistance otherwise - ahem, Elemental Adept feat - cough) from the indicated type. Powerful undead can be Immune to necrotic damage, or a large fiend Immune to fire damage, or how a construct might be Immune to being poisoned.
A trait often reserved for older, more powerful beings, (the Yuan-Ti Purebloods also enjoy this at level 1 in Volo's Guide To Monsters) a creature with Magic Resistance rolls with Advantage against ANY MAGICAL EFFECT THAT REQUIRES A SAVING THROW. Any. Magical. Effect. Yeah, that's awesome...or terrible, depending on which side of the screen you are positioned. :)
Next time on Dragonball Z
Legendary Creatures, Lairs, and what the heck that all means.
See you at the table, sipping on my coffee.
...Gods I need more coffee...
There are a plethora of creatures that dominate the D&D multiverse. Some haunt your nightmares, while others inspire your dreams. They pour from beyond the stars and leak from the depths of the underworld. And I love them all.
And, not unlike Pokemon, there are many different types (though I wouldn't recommend catching all of them).
Aberrations are creatures that are utterly alien. Many of them have innate magical abilities drawn from their psionic mind rather than the mystical weave of the world. Iconic Aberrations are Aboleths, Beholders, and Mind Flayers.
Beasts are non-humanoid creatures that represent the natural part of this fantasy world's ecology. Some of them have magical powers tied to the complex natural weave, but most are unintelligent and lack any frame of society or language, aside from pack dynamics and simple ideas. Beasts include all varieties of ordinary animals, dinosaurs, and the giant versions of animals (yes, there are giant deer; don't hit them with your cart).
Celestials are creatures native to the Upper Planes. Many of them are the servants or hands of deities, employed as messengers, voices, or agents in the mortal realm and throughout the planes. Celestials are good by nature, so the exceptional celestial that strays toward the fallen path is a horrifying threat. Obviously, iconic Celestials are Angels, Couatls, and Pegasi.
Constructs are built for the job, not born. Some are programmed by their creators to follow a simple set of instructions, while others are imbued with sentience and capable of independent thoughts and feelings. Iconic constructs are usually Golems, but there are others native to the plane of Mechanus, like Modrons, that were constructed by the raw will of other powerful creatures.
Here they are, ladies and gentlemen: the staple of the game. Large reptilian creatures of ancient origin and tremendous power. True dragons, good and evil, are highly intelligent and have innate magic. Also in this category are creatures that are distantly related to true dragons, but are less intelligent and much less magical, such as Wyverns and Pseudodragons.
Elementals are creatures native to the Elemental Planes (Earth, Fire, Water, and Air, usually). Some creatures of this type are little more than animate masses of their element, including creatures simply called elementals. Others have biological forms infused with elemental energy. The races of genies, including djinn and efreet, form the most important civilizations on the elemental planes. Other elemental creatures include Azers, Invisible Stalkers, and Water Weirds.
**DM Note: The elementals in Io are considered one of the Primal Forces responsible for the birth of the universe, so the four main Elemental Planes have transitional planes (making 8 in total), and thus there can be "hybrid" elementals, but that is unique to my world.**
Fey are magical creatures closely tied to the forces of nature. They dwell in twilight groves, mystical bogs, and misty forests. In some worlds, they are closely tied to the Feywild. Some are also found in the Outer Planes, like Arborea and the Beastlands. Iconic Fey can include Dryads, Pixies, and Satyrs. There are also very powerful Fey, called Archfey, that can rule over the Feywild and may make deals with mortals in exchange for arcane power (see: Warlock).
Fiends are wicked creatures native to the Lower Planes. A few are servants of deities, but most labor under the leadership of archdevils and demon princes. Evil priests and mages sometimes summon fiends to the material world to do their bidding (but such tethers of subservience are often haphazard). If an evil Celestial is a rarity, a good Fiend is almost inconceivable. Iconic Fiends are Demons, Devils, Hell Hounds, and Rakshasas.
Giants tower over humans and their kind. They are humanlike in shape, though some have multiple heads (Ettins) or deformities (Fomorians). The six varieties of true giant are Hill Giants, Stone Giants, Frost Giants, Fire Giants, Cloud Giants, and Storm Giants. Besides these, creatures such as Ogres and Trolls are also considered giants.
Humanoids are the main peoples of the D&D world, both civilized and savage, including humans and a tremendous variety of other species. They have language and culture, few if any innate magical abilities, and a bipedal form. The most common humanoid races are the ones most suitable for player characters: humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings. Almost as numerous, but far more savage and often evil are the branches of goblinoids (goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears), orcs, gnolls, lizardfolk, and kobolds.
Monstrosities are monsters in the strictest sense - frightening creatures that are not ordinary, not truly natural, and almost never benign. Some are the results of magical experimentation gone haywire (like owlbears), and others are the product of terrible curses (like minotaurs). They defy categorization, and in some sense serve as a catch-all category for creatures that don't fit into any other type.
Oozes are gelatinous creatures that rarely have a fixed shape. They are mostly subterranean, dwelling in caves and underground spaces and feeding on waste, carrion, or creatures unlucky enough to get in their way. Black pudding and gelatinous oozes are probably the most recognizable.
Plants in this context are vegetable creatures, not simply ordinary flora. Most of them are ambulatory, and a few are carnivorous. Most think of the shambling mound or the treant, but fungal creatures like the gas spore or myconid also fall into this category.
Once-living creatures brought back to a horrifying state of undeath through the practice of necromantic magic or some wicked curse. Iconic undead include walking corpses, such as vampires and zombies, as well as bodiless spirits, like ghosts and spectors.
Before we delve into our individual monsters, we'll first identify and define what makes them special in how they move and sense, and then understanding what makes some of them LEGENDARY. After that, we'll start moving through nearly 30 years of lore. Let's get cookin'.
I'll see you at the table.
...With a cup of coffee.
Hey everyone! I took April off to do some birthday cleaning, figuratively and literally. Those of you that follow me on social media know I just completed an online "garage sale" / 10-year purge recently, and the energy that such an endeavor released has been monumental.
It's amazing how much clutter we allow into our lives, and how many things we hold onto that weigh us down. Enough. Is. Enough. I feel lighter, stronger, and more motivated than ever. Here's to my next year. :)
It was only just May the 4th, and any nerd worth her salt knows what's up. It seemed a no-brainer for me to run a very special kind of game, and in preparing it, and running it last night, I've made a few key observations on how it's changed over the years, how my style has changed, and how I prefer to run my games in this system.
Saga Is The Best Version, don't @ me
I've played the original D20 Star Wars (where Jedis are broken beyond reason), the West End variations (very open and creative), and the most recent Age Of Rebellion and all its various extra settings (weird dice and conceptual misalignment, still good, just weird). But what I've always returned to is Saga Edition.
Star Wars as a property has a problem when it comes to their tabletop settings and systems. They don't maintain support on older systems, actively discarding and going out of their way to forget they even existed. Everything's out of print (or hundreds of dollars), resources are fan-made only (well done, chaps), and everyone pushes the new stuff down your throat. Now, I understand a business model where you have to push the new products out...but Saga was SO GOOD. I don't want your new edition with new rules and weird dice; nothing was broken, so why fix it?
But WHY is Saga so good?
Well, it took the best of the giants at the time, Pathfinder and 4th Edition D&D. Now, the latter was getting panned, and the former heavy on the rules with lots of floating modifiers, conditional effects, and active rolling. We've talked about this already.
But Saga took some of that weight and just made it static. You have Defenses, not bonuses. You use skill checks in combat, and numbers aren't *as insane. Let's get into it.
There's no AC in this game. Instead, enemies will be targeting one of three static defenses: Fortitude - your constitution and strength to resist poison and getting thrown around, Reflex - your dexterity and ability to dodge, feint, or parry, Will - your mental clarity and focus. Now, in Pathfinder, these numbers would be bonuses to opposed checks against a Difficulty Class etc... But Saga takes a page from 4th Edition and keeps these numbers as static defenses. These are the numbers your enemies and you roll against to hit them and cause damage and debilitating effects, which is much faster and cleaner.
Perception and Initiative can be treated as static as well (rolling in a clear "passive Perception"), but my players prefer rolling for Initiative for familiarity and that possibility of striking first. Rolling with crazy bonuses IS fun, don't take them all away!
In 5th Edition, there's a proficiency bonus that increases every few levels; in Pathfinder, you've got skill ranks - points you distribute each level to offset your weaknesses and augment your strengths. In Saga, you get an automatic bonus of 1/2 your total level rounded down automatically added to ALL OF YOUR SKILLS. Then, like most systems, the appropriate attribute modifier is applied, maybe you've got a training bonus (+5), and that's it. Most of what you "distribute" by selection is done at character creation. After that, the numbers take care of themselves.
Feats and Talents
The bread and butter of Saga Edition is found in their Talent Trees and Bonus Feats. Let me explain.
There are only 5 Heroic Classes to play in the game.
Jedi - Noble - Scoundrel - Scout - Soldier
But each of these Classes has *at least* three different Talent Trees, and each class is awarded a Talent selection every odd level in the Class. These Talents can give passive or active bonuses, special powers, penalty removals...tons of cool stuff, and it's all very straightforward in how it operates (again, going back to targeting one of those three Defenses, or offering an easy bonus/alternative combat choice). Some Talents require others in order to be taken (Talent "chaining"), but it's never too alarming; the connections make sense and are easy to do.
And Talents fulfill other requirements later, like Prestige Classes (Bounty Hunter, Jedi Knight, Ace Pilot, etc.), but you can always take levels in another class to gain access to another Talent Tree. Multiclassing is fully supported and encouraged because, at the end of the day, your character ISN'T just a Noble, or just a Jedi, they're a complete person with various skills and, ha, talents. Leia may have started as a Noble, but lord knows she has Talent with a blaster and we KNOW she's force sensitive. There are no "capstone abilities" in each class, just an ever-expanding web of Talents.
Now, Feats suffer the same problem they do in Pathfinder, but instead of 2000+ of them... We're under 75 easy. And so many of them streamline the choice down to the player. Take Power Attack, a Pathfinder staple, for example: trade melee attack bonus for damage. Except, the player chooses how much to take away every time. I want to deal an extra 10 damage? Take a -10 to the roll. Only 5 damage? Take a -5. You choose the level of risk; that's an interesting choice, and we don't need compounding Feats to work through that.
Feats exist to help specialize the player, each class offering Bonus Feats at ever even level in a Class from a select list that makes sense. On top of this, each character gets a Feat from the big list at 1st, 3rd, 6th, 9th, 12th, 15th, and 18th level...but the amount of required chaining is either nonexistent, or only 2 or 3 in, and the bonuses along the way make sense. Yes, using a lot of Feats take some getting used to when you come from 5E, but at least this system flows a lot easier and is much simpler to digest. And since I come from the other end, I'm happy to teach the transition. :)
The Force and Destiny
The Force operates in two big ways in Saga: in the form of Force Points (a D6 added to a roll) and Force Powers. Jedi and other Force users collect powers in their Force Power Suite to wield within the world, slowly expanding the suite as they take Force Training (a Feat taken multiple times, based on your Wisdom).
Now, as per Raw, the Powers you have count as one use of said power, and this is where I split from RAW and flow toward my own preferences.
+ The Powers in your suite are treated like spells known and prepared. It tracks that a Force user that uses a Force Push would be able to push multiple times; they wouldn't forget how just because they already did it once.
+ Some Powers require the use of Force Points to work, while others can be augmented by the Force (using points), but most don't require burning them. Your pool only increases and replenishes every LEVEL, so no.
+ Most Powers take a Swift action in combat. I've seen Obi-Wan swing a lightsaber and shove a stack of droids in the same turn, so you guys can do it too. Force Lightning, on the other hand, may take a little more oomph in the action economy (unless you're a certain skill level in the Sith traditions).
Destiny Points function much like inspiration, but I add a nice big D12 instead. It's not *just* a re-roll, it's a possible value (you pick how you want to use it).
AND - Because my setting is in the Old Republic, when the Force is prevalent and surging, I added a mechanic to wonderful effect last night.
Your Force dice and Destiny die can Ace. Acing is a mechanic utilized in games like Mekton, Deadlands, and the entirety of Savage Worlds (probably a ton of others, but those are the ones I know). Anywho, if you roll the max number on a die, you roll again and add the two values together (Ace again? Keep going and keep adding). And because you can add a Force die to anything, a punch to the face might send someone through a wall...and isn't that awesome?
So, in short, Saga Edition functions like a streamlined D&D in space with laser swords and wizards.
It was so good, and it reminded me why I liked this system so much and why I miss it so terribly.
Get ready for a resurrection - we've got more stories to tell.
See you at the table.
For all the math involved in Pathfinder, they certainly had their creative character concepts down.
When Vigilante dropped, where the player has a literal alter-ego to manage, I was getting excited. When alternative classes were introduced, like the Antipaladin or the Samurai, I knew we were on to something special. The third in the latter's introduction is the Ninja.
The Ninja introduced an interesting concept (at more for me than the others). Though it was an alternate class for the Rogue (makes sense), its progressive powers were an uneven split between Rogue and Monk through the introduction of Ki, with added Ninja flair in the form of Tricks. This seemed to open the door for Pathfinder to introduce Hybrid Classes - classes inspired by and borrowing from two main core classes as "parent classes."
One such that springs to mind for 5E conversion today is that of the Skald.
What IS A Skald?
In Pathfinder, a Skald is a hybrid between the rage-filled Barbarian and the charismatic musical Bard. A Skald wields music and rage together to bolster her allies with courage and mettle, and crush her enemies with doubt and fear.
Now, when I present this idea in conversation in 5th Edition, I am too often met with the image of a half-orc barbarian picking up instruments he doesn't know how to play, playing them badly, then smashing them against foes (with the Brawler feat, to boot). The image ends up being more like:
Which I must admit, is pretty cool from what it looks like... But the whole thing's often played for comedy only, unfortunately. The awesome artistic rendition above serves well in a Battle of the Bards scenario, which is intended to be silly and over the top.
But this concept should be fueled by the power of both classes; not a bard who's bad at barding, or a barbarian who just happens to be (hilariously) a poet. Take for example this image instead:
Now THAT'S a Skald. A warrior who fuels their talent with rage and power, spreading that sonic force to its allies. It fills them inspiration and power, not comedy at its absurdity (which still has its place in certain games, don't worry). So how do we build this guy?
1) Attributes and Distribution
Something John and I discuss often when we try to build multi-class concepts is the problem of too broad a spectrum of necessary attributes in order to be effective, and this concept does not convert well out of the gate. We've got three of six (arguably four if we're going strength) that will be essential to our build, and that's Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma (duh). Normally, I'd say Strength too, but we'll be spreading thin - we're going Dex Barbarian already.
Race: Tiefling (Charisma bump is nice, and I'm sick of the Half-Orc Barbarian trope)
Standard Array: 15-14-13-12-10-8
Welp. You don't need to be smart to sing.
INT: 9 (+1 Racial)
CHA: 14 (+2 Racial)
This tweaks my nerves a little bit, as I often want one stat at its highest possible run as early as possible (my gut reaction is to put the base 15 in CHA, then +2, for a total of 17...but then we're left with slim pickings for our DEX and CON scores, and we need all three decent to make this work). Not to mention we won't qualify for Barbarian multi-classing without at least a STR of 13.
2) Class Selection Order
This might feel tricky, but our taking a look at what we get up front makes this decision for us.
Barbarian First: Light and medium armor, shields, Simple and Martial weapons
Barbarian Second: Shields, Simple and Martial weapons
Bard First: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords; THREE skills; THREE instruments
Bard Second: Light armor, ONE skill of your choice, ONE musical instrument
Now, take into account that by going into Barbarian later I STILL get unarmored defense, so as long as I have a Shield (which I will), I'm still fine. Barbarians get all weapons regardless, so Bard makes sense up front for skill versatility and a plethora of instruments with which I can sing my wrath.
4) The Need For Home-brew
The most glaring issue up front here is the fact that you cannot cast spells or concentrate on spells while raging, but my solution is pretty simple: ready? You can cast spells while raging, and you add your Rage damage to your spells (where applicable, like a spell that deals damage). In order to do this, you must have at least 1 level in both Barbarian and Bard.
Instead of a brand new archetype, or building a new feat structure, sometimes a little flavor swap and rules switch is all you need. This way, we still support the benefits of both classes.
Now, this build REQUIRES a home-brew allowance, which makes it contingent upon your DM's allowance, but since you're not delving into Unearthed Arcana territory, this feels very smooth. And I don't feel that it is exploitive in any way.
Giant thanks to John Tanaka for helping me streamline my thought process on this one.
More insanity on the way.
I'll see you at the table.
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This past weekend marked the beginning of something, and I would be lying if I wasn't the best mix of terrified and exhilarated.
I was invited/demanded/reserved-my-spot-immediately-following-the-last-one to attend a cool little shindig at Questers' Way called Quest Fest. At the close of every official semester, we hold a weekend event on Saturday and Sunday where we invite local artists and small businesses to take up space in the center and sell their wares, along with big deals, free classes, and our fantastic D&D Dinner Theater for charity on Saturday night. It's always a blast, but this time...something was different.
For one, I wasn't working. Well, I mean, not for the center. I was one of those local artists. And after having a YouTube channel (to middling success) for years now, becoming a professional dungeon master, and beginning to step into the very complicated and rewarding lens of painting miniatures just over the last year, it is a singular experience to be fully transitioning into legitimately selling my wares like some sort of underground fantasy resource.
I don't really have a business, mind you. I'm just a dude with a Patreon trying to make his way in the universe by providing good stuff for my fellow gamers that isn't going to break their wallet, and I'm happy to meet you where I can if it means you get more playing at your table. And it was that level of wheeling and dealing (and being on my feet, actively engaging with nautical tons of kids and adults) that I wasn't expecting.
I. CRAVED. IT.
It was beautiful. I had parents bringing back memories of when THEY played, kids lighting up as they imagined unlimited worlds unfolding before them, held insightful discussions with old and new players alike, and sold out of dice almost immediately! It was magical. I love talking with peeps about games, podcasts, stories, and painting styles. Got a lot of tips from some vets in the business, and got a few compliments too.
And D&D Dinner Theater finally starting to hit its niche. We've got a few more kinks to work out (don't worry, we've FINALLY got a sound guy secured for next time), maybe a little more plot to follow, but it's clear that its heart has settled into place. The rest will be easy. ;)
But the next day brought about a unique, surreal, and humbling observation.
My dice sold in under 90 minutes. 10 deals of miniature lots sold in the 30 minutes before D&D went live. No one knew what minis they were getting, but they bought them anyway. Barely anyone physically visited the shop on Sunday, yet I made back my investment through private messages and updates on available stock. The response rendered me speechless for a time.
Our world is overrun by access. Technology, internet, sharing, tweeting, instagram... Sometimes we catch things, sometimes not. But for those that subscribe value actively to something, they will commit it to their personal world. They will share it to the stars and hope that another sees its rays and finds the same value in it that they did, and share it again. This core of a perpetually rippling collective memory and experience is what drives a tribe nowadays. A tribe; a group of people who have rallied behind an idea, a concept, a mission, a neighborhood, a person. Something, or someone, they trust. They'll give them the benefit of the doubt, back them when they need help, and shout their praise when their voice isn't loud enough.
My success that weekend was in no small part because of the small tribe of people that frequent Game On, that like my Instagram, that listen to my podcast, that read this blog. Your love, your joy, your stories, your value...it warms my soul. And I hope I can do better for you, always.
Thank you for playing with me. It is an honor, My Tribe.
See you at the table.
Thursday D&D is now my oldest campaign. Running since my inception into the Questers' Way model, they've been fighting cultists, talking to dragons, crushing beholders, and squaring off against Ancient Ones riding gargantuan titans for nearly 3 years now. And last Thursday marked the close of the final arc of the story.
We'll have one last dungeon crawl at level 20, 5 years later, as our epilogue next week. After that, 150 years pass into the fourth age of Io, and we start anew at Level 2. It's been quite a journey, and they're not the easiest group to run ;), but the lessons are real with this crew and I've changed a lot since we started.
Here's what I picked up.
When I started the Thursday game, I was coming off a blend of 10 years running and teaching Pathfinder, and though I fell in love quickly with 5E, I had made some assumptions regarding its player options.
The system is deceptively simple and highly accessible, but I had listened to the cry-babies online declaring it "D&D Basic," and decided to create specific Prestige Classes based around lore and player discovery. It created a very special and unique option inside my custom world, where "secret" classes actually existed that could augment player builds, and could only upgrade through experimentation, player exploration, and discovery into the deep layers of the world's history. I still think it was a great decision. It adds a lot of rewards for players that invest of themselves in the history and machinations of this fantasy you've spent so much time on.
But after two years of deep-diving mechanics, game mastering, game design, player-master interaction, social development, and the study of flow... I realize I made a boo-boo. Not a mistake in flavor, nor in reward, but in mechanics.
It's a little thing, and the more you do the more you realize that "it's the little things" that matter most. In this case, my Prestige Class of the Aegis - a powerhouse of a Cleric that wields the souls of the dead to unleash fury upon her enemies - and the final form of a Ranger with a Legacy Bow - a weapon that levels up with you; semi-sentient and created by a god - created an issue with Action Economy and TMRPA (Too Much Rolling Per Action), respectively.
The Aegis's main mechanic involves gaining Furies - souls of dead warriors unwilling to pass on - and spending them like Ki Points to unleash powerful attacks, augment healing spells, and create more options. Unfortunately, as long as you have Furies to burn, there's no limit to their use, and at high level in any class, you're already managing so much... It eats up time easy when you're able to summon an Action Surge every turn AND cast AND fight. On the other side of the table, the crazy-bow-now-living-winged-armor attached to the Ranger added an extra attack, but the main time suck is derived from two main extra elements in play: the bow requires a Con save when it hits or the target takes extra necrotic damage. It's also got a crazy bonus (with a high level character with max Dex), so hitting is often, mean more rolls for me. On top of this, IF she rolls a natural 20 on the bow, she rolls Constitution damage on the target, on top of everything else. Moving forward, leveled up weapons will deal static numbers, instead of rolling more... And in terms of time, it always feels more effective in flow and execution to have a power spike (the awesome power of rolling 8d6 for a Fireball) than many small spikes of damage, so if I can eliminate the parceled rolls where I can, everyone still feels effective, but turns take less time.
In the fourth age, Io-Shar, though it is a more industrial time period of naval exploration (after the world flooded), home-brew materials are much tighter and more balanced; action economy manipulations have higher costs, and there's less compounded rolling. The bonuses are also much more subtle; there isn't a need to add a whole new system to track when it could be as simple as a palette swap in damage type. New age, new prestige classes and custom feats open up (hello, Knife Expert), but this play test has heavily informed what special elements are extended to the player. A little goes a long way - there is an elegance in that design, and it keeps the playing field even across the table.
I look forward to the interesting things I can give them this time around. :)
Self Actualization / Player Agency
NPC's can be tricky business.
Introduce them as careful lore drops, powerful relationships, killer resources...but never have them solve a problem for the players. Good gods. Holy cows on toast with mayonnaise. Don't do it.
NPC ex machina is not the way to go if it comes out of nowhere.
Well-established order of guards and officers? Sure thing. Sudden mass teleport wizard is sudden. If it feels like a puzzle to the players and they're enjoying solving it, don't help them with an NPC. Hints are fine, solutions can hurt the party.
...Unless they're utterly lost and confused. Help them along, but don't do it for them. EVER. If you do, you run the risk of insulting them and equally "playing without them." And that's just rude. ;)
Clear Intention Of Background
Some players want their background conflicts resolved in the grand arc of the story, while others use their backgrounds predominantly to inform their play style from session 1 and need it no longer.
Now, this group in particular was one where I didn't get that feel easy from most of them. With a high mix reactive players with a few proactive ones, some offering extensive background information while others offered a few sentences explained away, the hindsight of the matter is obvious but the player execution and my observations were misunderstood often. When you give a hook that to you is obvious, but the player misses completely, and therefore doesn't pursue it, one might assume that the view of their background fits into the former category.
Compounding confusion, still, are those that feed very little into the overall narrative, but then wonder when "their story" will be featured, but say nothing - instead assuming they were forgotten. Please talk to your DM; I won't be offended - it's much worse if you don't approach the issue until the end of the campaign and I wonder why NO ONE SAID ANYTHING. :)
Like many GMs out there, I'm not a *dick*, but I can't read minds. There are so many stories of a player misinterpreting a DM's intention, or of the GM making an assumption about a scenario that ended up being incorrect, or seeming to ignore obvious intentions. In the same vein of: "if I knew it was a problem, I would have fixed it right away," though we can intuit quite a bit the longer we're at the table, our human nature begs us to err. We miss things, we get caught up in the narrative, and we lose sight of players. I am imperfect, as are we all, so open communication helps everyone. Also, GMs, CHECK IN WITH YOUR PLAYERS MORE. I picked this up as a requirement when I started Gray Owls and OH MY GOODNESS is it an essential element at every table. I don't know how it took me that long to put in my workflow OMG.
Moving forward, with each new campaign, I've started to put together a few questions for character creation; some fulfill the essential detail of world building, while others touch on player intentions - what do they want to get out of this experience?
1. Where was your character born? Describe it as best you can; do you reflect on this place positively or negatively? Would you ever want to return? Why? Do you have a family there? How did they treat you? Were there any important people in your life growing up? Why did you leave?
2. What is your character's goal in life; what do you seek? When did you "grow up" and start taking care of yourself?
3. What emotion best describes your character? What emotion do you bring out in others?
4. How do you carry yourself? What are your means/dress/attitude as you move through life? What do find valuable?
5. What is your comfort zone? What is your greatest fear? Personal tastes, quirks, and opinions?
6. Player: What kind of story do you see your character fitting into? What role do you see them filling?
7. Player: Please weigh (3 being most important to you, 1 being least important) the Three Pillars - Combat/Social/Exploration
8. Player: How do you interpret your play style? What are your pet peeves? What do you respond well to?
9. Player: How do you want your character to die? (this is more important than you think; it strikes at the heart of our own values - your story could end abruptly, and if it did, how would they meet that end do you think?)
10. Player: Do you want your background details to be referenced or hooked into the story? You can always change your mind - just let me know.
Now, especially number 10 I can see a few of my fellow GMs hemming and hawing over. "You mean we have to bend over backwards to make this character's weird backstory fit into OUR GRAND NARRATIVE??? How dare they assume they'd be so important - they should be happy just to be playing!" ...Hmm.
This is a group game, and it's really important that everyone understands the type of experience they're getting into. Clear expectations are a good thing; Trust and Empathy are two main factors to building a great table of play. Now, do I have to make that character's stuff the most important element all the time? No. Absolutely not. But I can give them sprinkles of content more directly spun into the story. It won't happen all the time, and sometimes it might not even come up, but IF I KNOW going into this that there is a clear desire to wrap up a specific story thread, I can find more ORGANIC ways to weave and tie these disparate threads together. It might even be a limiter of location; hints of the conflict in the north (echoes of another character's story), but we don't need to go there now. It's just a sprinkle.
Everyone's connected to something. Everyone's from somewhere. We don't know everything going in; the mystery is the fun part, and some players want their mystery. Others don't care for it; I need to know which one you are.
Players Learn Too, And Comfort Tells Stories
And when they do, their real play styles come out. It's amazing what comfort will do for the table, and how much it reveals what a comfortable player actually WANTS to play, and if that concept doesn't jive with how their current class works, there will undoubtedly be a desire to play something different.
The more this group learned about how the game works, the more effective they became, but also the more some of them drifted toward other builds, concepts, and ideas. This type of momentum is helpful to notice; in a way, it reveals a player's true nature. Like the first campaign was our test run. The next one is where we're going to really shine; players and DM alike. We take what we learned about the game, ourselves, our styles, and how to advocate for the experience we want...and finally, just PLAY.
See you at the table.
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Game On! Director, musician, music teacher, game designer, and professional game master. In short, I'M A BIG NERD.