Tag Archives: DMing

Tabletop RP: Let us play dragons, you cowards!

This is a personal complaint, but I can’t be the only one who gets frustrated about this mechanic in Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, which if I am understanding correctly, stopped even including after 3.5. That’s the level adjustment to actually let players play dragons. You would think a game called Dungeons and Dragons would encourage encountering and playing with dragons, but really outside of encounters as enemies or people you have to persuade to help you, you don’t actually deal with dragons much unless your DM is kind.

And this drives me nuts.

I want to play a damn dragon! It is not my fault that they’ve overpowered their dragons to the degrees that they have. There has to be a way to create a scaled-back, but still reasonably powered, race of dragons that the player can play in combination with a class, even if it’s as simple as only allowing certain classes (like sorcerer and a few others) that have bloodline variants to dragons anyway.

There are two points that everyone who thinks I might be needlessly whining are going to bring up: Dragonborn/Half Dragons (let’s be honest, there’s not a huge amount of difference outside of lore and a few stats/attributes), and the level adjustments of older versions of the tabletop games. For some people, this may serve as a fix. For me, eh. I have issues with both.

First, the Dragonborn/Half-Dragon idea. It’s not a bad one. As they grow more powerful, depending on classes, they can become more and more draconic in appearance. It’s a peace offering, a way to try and let people play dragons without the power dynamic problems. Except it isn’t an actual dragon. I get stuck on this, because there’s a ton of world building that goes into most of the races and creatures. The Dragonborn/Half-Dragon cultures aren’t the same as the clans of dragons themselves, and each color of metallic has their own culture within themselves, and we don’t get to see it hardly at all as players. I want to tap into that, not just into looking aesthetically like a dragon.

3.5 did allow players to play dragons… to a point. If you were playing in a campaign that started at later levels (or had a pay off system that your DM arranged), you could play as a dragon. But the problem was that a) it wasn’t consistent between the colors of dragon as far as what you could play as age-wise, b) it was a high level adjustment because most campaigns didn’t start you past level 5, and those were pretty rare, and c) they were only for the stupid-young dragons. I mean, stupid-young. I’m talking freshly hatched to before puberty is even a dot on the horizon ages. Under ten in a human, ages.

Speaking as someone who has played that young of a character before in a joke campaign, it is so hard to get into the right mindset. Not to mention having a child-like character in the party can be super frustrating for the rest of the party. And at that age, per the own descriptions in the books, the baby dragons would want to stay close with their siblings, and there are at least two eggs. So what the heck is the party going to do with two of them? And that’s if you can convince one of your friends to play as your sibling, which is…very dependent on personalities.

By bending the rules a little bit (and starting our campaign stupid high in terms of level so the DM could be sure he wasn’t going to kill us), I’ve gotten to play Jadzia, a silver dragon sorceress. She is still, maturity speaking, about the same as a twelve year old human. I can play off her maturity versus her actual age a lot…but you know, my inner sap would really like to have to be dealing with being old enough to arrange her contract to a male, and how all her adventuring is affecting it, like how one of my fellow players is experiencing with their princess-rank character. I can’t expect it to happen like at all though, because of the age mechanics have pushed me down to, and I’ve made peace with it for this campaign…but it sucks that there isn’t even an option or mechanic if we wanted to.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Both of the current “solutions” have their pros and their cons, from a pure, “I want to play a dragon of some sort,” stand point. From my wants and desires, neither meets what I want. One solution is to use homebrew and playtesting with 5e or something to figure out how to make it work for an older dragon, or how running a campaign for all dragon characters would work. (Which is a possible solution, but I’m supposed to DM the first 5e campaign for our group, so still wouldn’t get to do what I wanted since I wouldn’t be the player.)

On the other hand, it would be a hell of a lot easier for the folks behind Dungeons and Dragons to come up with an expansion or something similar to let people like me have our fun with the dragons without it being a battle/counter diplomacy mess.

Advertisements

Tabletop RP: Gender and DnD

So. I play DnD. With a bunch of guys. No other girls in the group, and all attempts to add girls to the group have not been met well (one for other reasons, but yeah, hasn’t worked out). Now, I know other girls who play, and have groups that are much more mixed gendered. I just didn’t fall into those groups, and my schedule doesn’t mesh with them. Leaving me stuck with the guys.

And let me tell you, this gets uncomfortable for very quickly.

Now, it doesn’t get uncomfortable for these guys. Because I don’t talk about girly things with them and I work very hard to keep topics away from subjects that while I might enjoy them, I know will bore or make them uncomfortable. Because that’s what our society encourages in female behavior.

Now, if only I could get the same respect.

Frequently, things take a turn for the disgusting, the over-sexed, or sometimes a weird mix of both that really makes me uncomfortable. Especially when they start making references to certain animes and video games, which are notorious for being for the male gaze. And speaking up doesn’t get me any favors, not really, since nothing will actually change. Now, I could be overly sensitive, but I think my experiences and the conversations I have with other female players reveal some serious differences in how the genders play DnD.

For one thing, I’ve noticed that guys tend to go out of their way to make crazy characters. And by crazy, I mean mixing, matching, and combining races, classes, and feats in order to get the most over-powered character possible. Now, if I make something overpowered, it’s by pure accident (the wu jinja gestalt class comes to mind, though I haven’t had enough chances to play it to be sure). I tend to pick a class that fits with the kind of character I’m playing, sticking to classes I know I’ll enjoy playing rather than ones I know will irk me (…like the wu jin, not a good pick in hindsight). The more complicated it is, the more I have to keep up with which distracts me from the game.

So with these crazy characters, you would think the guys were just as invested in the games we play as I am, right? Well, sorta. Some of the group is just wanting to push to see how much they can get away with by terms of the rules. They don’t really do back stories or character investments, and are pretty blase about their characters dying. Even the others who do care about story are always ready to move on to the next thing. Which is pretty contra to Ginny’s understanding of other groups, which treat the characters as investments (which is how i would prefer to play). I create complex back stories for my characters for a reason, and to see it go to waste just frustrates me, so one DM has even lost the privilage for me to do that anymore.

More than anything, I’m noticing, at least in my group, that it comes down to differences in what they play for. Now, these are huge generalizations, but it seems to me that boys play for the laughs and the oh my gods. They want to see how outrageous they can get and the more crazy, the better. But for us girls, it’s about the story, it’s about the characters and the actual RPing.

I’m not saying that boys don’t enjoy the characters and story. They can, and do. But get a group of them together, and they are going to be forgotten in favor of seeing how much damage a fireball spell can do. I’m not saying girls don’t enjoy battles. I love blowing things up and getting critical hits too, but if you put me with a group of other girls, we’re probably going to focus almost entirely on the story and the rest of the system will be an afterthought. Groups need either balance or focus, depending on the set up. So in my case, I have one DM who understands my need for story, the others needs to blow things up. The other…can’t seem to figure this out.

And as a DM myself, I need to learn to read what a group needs. Obviously, I’m going to want to lean towards the story angle myself, but that isn’t going to work with this group of guys. I need to figure out how to feed their need for chaos and my own for story at the same time.


Tabletop RP: Alignment Woes

Okay, I give up on my local libraries and am trying to find a friend who owns a copy of Cold Days that I can borrow. Cross your fingers! (It’s trickier than you think, most of my friends prefer audio books…) And since nothing comes to mind for forum RP, I thought I would discuss an element of tabletop that is a lot murkier and troublesome than people give it credit for: alignment.

For those who haven’t dabbled in the DnD waters, Paizo is the wonderful company who gave us the two axis alignment system. What that means is that a character can be Good, Evil, or in between at Neutral, but they are also Lawful, Chaotic, or again, possibly Neutral between the two. This gives nine different alignments to play with, and some have multiple interpretations to go off of. Here are my very brief descriptions, but for more in depth ones, I suggest wiki walking through TV Tropes.Org. I am barely touching on them here. So, by the law-chaos line…

Lawful types are rigid and rule bound. Despite the name, the actual laws of the kingdom may not be the rules a lawful character follows. It could be vows made to a religious order, or a strict personal code. Good characters usually incorporate the more common laws into their personal code if they go that route, while Evil types tend to enjoy exploiting their own loopholes.

Chaotic types re the polar opposites of Lawful, and yet, they can be close cousins. For these characters, either the Id of their psyches or their pride makes them scorn rules (and sometimes morals). To some, the law is the enemy while to others, they just want the freedom of choice. Good characters are more willing to accept or take frowned-upon actions, such as sniping and thievery, while Evil types usually take every opportunity they can to flout the rules. Unlike Lawful, who can’t break their code, Chaos types can obey rules…if it suits their own purposes at the time.

The Neutrals are where everything gets fuzzy. At what point do you cross the line and become straight evil or good? How often do you follow the rules before you are considered lawful? What are your motivations for not being one extreme or the other?

Because things get so fuzzy, Paizo introduced a numeric scale within their two axis system in Pathfinder. 1-3 is Good and Lawful, respectively, with 1 being supremely good/lawful. Neutrals are 4-6, and Evil and Chaos are 7-9, with 0 being supremely evil/chaotic.. It is meant to help DMs judge where their players are at in alignments. For example, if a character is Chaotic Good, but only has a 3 in Good and a 9 in Chaos, they know that the character isn’t always going to take the good action if the chaotic one makes more sense.

Now that I’m done rambling about the basics, here’s the part that I think causes problems. Some DMs consider general tone of actions. For example, when I was playing my Half-Elven Deep Wood Sniper, Bevan,who was Chaotic Good, I was allowed to snipe and shoot an unarmed, asleep man. Why? Because most of the time I wasn’t that chaotic in my choices and I tended to side with the Lawful Good knight. The occasional act of mayhem helped me keep my alignment because it fit the overall tone. I feel the same way when I DM, not worried about each individual action, but about the overall playing style.

But recently, my group had a huge blow up. Part of it was because of a very frustrating dungeon that was accidentally set at Death Trap levels and our DM didn’t check to see if we could survive it (answer: we couldn’t with our party set up), trusting the generator. He ended up nerfing multiple monsters and all the traps, since we were level 1 and it was impossible for us to make them or defeat the monsters. And then afterward the dungeon when dealing with the one who created it, it became a discussion of what did and did not constitute good when he tried to push an alignment shift on another character because of one, singular action. Two didn’t care, but three other players, including myself and the player who was being forced to take the shift, were rather incensed.

Now, neither side was in the right here. The DM should have cut the discussion off and talked to us privately about it rather than let it continue to escalate. I think not getting us set up to have mounting feelings of frustration by throwing us in that dungeon at level 1 goes without saying. But this is where the players should have shut up–it was the DM’s decision. Once he makes his ruling, we should have respected it and talked privately about it later. His style is very much by the book, you break the alignment once, you take a hit, and now that we know that, we as players are really going to have to adjust how we play to reflect that.

So my suggestion? Before you start a campaign, make sure as DM and players that you understand how strict the alignment is going to be and make sure that any hits are intentional hits rather than punishments (as much as the idea of the DM doing any punishing irks the tar out of me).


Tabletop RP: d20 Future

…I have no idea how I skipped a week. Really, I don’t. But I’m sorry! Hopefully I can get things straightened out around here…

This post is talking about another system, created by the same people who brought us Dungeons and Dragons, meant for people who intend to try and RP something in either a modern or future setting. My friends and I just call it d20 Future to reference both. While some of the schematics are the same, there are some differences that make the entire process more enjoyable…and more of a headache.

First, the fun side. I know it might sound crazy, but I really like that it breaks from the traditional alignment system and instead focuses on what a character is loyal to. Sometimes, the three by three system is  rather limiting if you have a particular concept that you are trying to base your character’s motivations around. Using this loyalty based system, it allows you to play with that rather than limiting your actions to just what is considered good or evil or lawful or chaotic. Sometimes your decisions you make for your character are based on something like what their family would think of him/her or if its all about choices (taken from a friend’s idea). It opens up a lot of what you can do with your character.

In the same regard, the classes are really versatile. They focus on a particular strength, such as dexterity/speed or charm, but leave so many of the particulars up to you and what you pick for the profession and feats. It makes the classes super customizable, perfect for a modern or future RP since for a DM, you can run almost anything, and as a player…you can run almost anything. Really, it can cause some seriously awesome campaigns. I have a character who is not what she looks like at all, just because of the different things I picked for her. And she’s in a Gundam inspired campaign. Yeah, this is going to get amusing. I’ve also made a space pirate of all things. There are almost no limits.

…notice I said almost. Some of the things are kinda wonky, and I’m not afraid of calling them on it. To begin with, the way different progress levels work together is often confusing or completely nonsensical, and it makes me wonder if anyone capable of logic looked over the book before they published it. I also think it relies rather heavily on the player being interested in the mechanics about scifi. As my earlier post on hard sci fi versus soft sci fi shows, I am not that big on hard sci fi, and like having wiggle room for interpretation. Having had one DM who thrived on being rule-bound and loves hard sci fi, I wish that there was almost two versions of this. One for the soft sci fi people, one for the rule mongers.

The characters are also very, very squishy at first. And experience is hard to get. It makes the first few levels hard from a DM’s perspective, because you don’t want to just curb-stomp your players. Or at least, most people don’t want to. From a player’s perspective, it’s hard to meet almost any check, and then to further complicate things is battle. Most of the weapons are guaranteed to kill you in one hit, if not two, and there is almost nothing you can do to bolster AC at first level. So you have the problem of how do you get experience points to be less squishy…without getting riddled with bullets in the process. Both times I’ve been involved in any kind of campaign, the DM’s solution has been to give us mechs, which can sometimes actually over power the opposition until everything blows up.

Speaking of stuff, oh my lord. The purchasing system. I seriously think they’ve lost their minds. You basically end up with these point systems to reflect how much something is worth in comparison to each other, and you start out with that point and basically can afford…EVERYTHING that costs that point or less. And then if you want something higher, you roll (oh, but you can take 20) and just… MESS, it’s a  MESS. With more issues from the progress levels changing how many points something is worth or if its available or if a better version is available… I hate doing inventory with this system. Absolutely hate it. And I normally love that part, so that says something.

Overall, I think this is a good first attempt at trying to take their success in the traditional high fantasy settings and RPG, and shift it to modern and future scifi. But they were a little too broad with it over all, and if they had broken it down into very clear, separate systems rather than sort of meshing and merging everything to work together, I think it would have been stronger. Except the inventory system That needs taken out back and shot.


Tabletop RP: The Importance of Player Consent

Obviously, no Dresden yet. BUT I literally have a copy in my purse now. I just can’t read it in one night and then turn around and review it in that same night (sorry, not that fast). So I’m skipping to this and you’ll get several posts of Dresden in a row, how about that?

To begin, let me say that I am in one of THOSE moods involving this topic, so I might get a little touchy throughout this post. Normally I try to curb this, post about stuff LONG after it has happened, but this was planned months ago and now current events are interfering. I’m editing myself, but something might slip through.

As DMs, we are effectively playing God with our worlds. Our word is the last word, the story goes in the direction we say it goes, and if you piss us off, we can end the world and be done with it. That means all the power is in our court, right? Ehhhh, not really. Don’t get me wrong, you have the reins for a lot of stuff, including the lives of the players’ characters. But with that power, as the cliched Spiderman quote goes, comes responsibility to your players. Remember, D&D is all about having fun as a group. Going all Wrath-of-God isn’t fun for any of them, and really if you get to that point, it isn’t fun for you either.

In my opinion, a big way to avoid it all is for there to be open communication between the DM and the players. It both seems really obvious and yet really infringing at the same time, so let me explain further before you hit the back button. I’m not saying to tell your players what their campaign’s plot is going to be, what monsters they are going to be facing, ask what they want to happen, anything like that. I’m saying that you should find out what they as players want out of a campaign. Do they want to really get to use this underused class feature? Is there something in their backstory they would like to see come up? Things like that. You want to know what would really make your players excited and invested in the game, and while you may not do it exactly as they want (in fact, I encourage you not to for the surprise factor), it will help them feel like they are having fun and they will stay invested in the story that you are telling.

On the player side of it, you have to let your DM know if something bugs you. My DMs know I’m arachnophobic, so they keep spider-like monsters to a minimum and don’t show me the pictures. They know I don’t like character mods being forced on me, so they try and make it to where either it’s a plot thing that I willingly agree to in some way (though one is pushing it, so I’m feeding him enough rope to either save or hang himself) or avoid them at all. Otherwise, I’ve learned to keep my hands out of the situation and let them try and tell me the story they created. I like it when my character’s backstory is involved, I like battles where we manage to kick butt. Those are things the DMs try to provide to our group, balancing it with the others’ desire for chaos and destruction.

Reasons why this is important are nights like tonight. The DM taking over our newest campaign (which is going to be Pathfinder, new system, joy) is the same one who ran Lucine’s (see the post about plot rails). This is his first campaign since, and to be honest, I don’t trust him not to screw me over just to prove some arbitrary point. Again. So when I decided to play the Falconer archetype, I thought it was a chance to try to take a better bird that would be harder for him to kill…only I have gotten turned down at every path I’ve tried to take today. I can’t trust him as a DM with a bird that only has 2 HP (yeah, that’s the situation without a better bird), and it’s part of the class. So now I have to rebuild my character. From scratch. And I’ve gone from pissy to frustrated to nearly in tears. This isn’t fun for me anymore, and sadly, all the campaigns are starting to feel this way.

Well, now that I’ve depressed myself thoroughly… Anyone have any stories about a DM either helping make a session great or sinking it to the darkest pits of Hades?


Tabletop RP: Plot Rails, a DM’s Worst Enemy

So, as a DM you have a brilliant story idea or goal for your team to reach. But certain things have to happen in a specific order, and to insure it happens, you just make it impossible for your players to do anything but what you need them to do for your story to happen like you plan.

Congratulations. You just put your party on the rails and, if my experience with this is any indicator, ended your campaign because none of your players are going to stay with you.

Now, my first attempt at DMing got put on hold because my school work went insane, but there were early indicators that I was accidentally straying into this territory myself, so we’re going to reset it period. But one of our group members who was running a military/mech style campaign with d20 Future actually did this on purpose, and between those two events, I think this needs to be something that DMs learn about the warning signs for and why it bothers players so much.

First, from the player’s side of things. The d20 Future campaign had already been on rocky grounds. For one, the distribution of which characters were useful and which weren’t was way out of balance, even among the party. Some of that is the way that weapons work in d20 Future (more on that in a later post), but some of it was the style of missions we were dealing with. An example with my character: I had set Lucine up to be the soldier. She was an all-around soldier rather than a specialist, so she had some ranks in several of her skills and I went the Smart Hero track, letting her be a variable skill monkey. She was also, fighting wise, suppose to be support/sniper/hand-to-hand, ensuring that the party would always have some other defense. There were two other Smart Heroes in the party, who were specialized, a Fast/Smart mesh Hero, and a Charismatic Hero (if I remember right). I wasn’t the only character that got underutilized with the start of the campaign, but we were slowly figuring things out, so I thought that we would be in a good place after the first few kinks were figured out.

We had left off the previous session invading a base. Now, for those who haven’t looked at my bio, when it comes to video games and such, I tend to stick to medieval fantasy games, or ones that aren’t particularly modern or technical. My DM? He glorifies in that style of game. I was really relying on my fellow game players to make sure we took care of the things we needed to. Problem? Almost all my fellow gamers live to do anything they can get away with. So since we didn’t do one thing, the DM felt we needed to face the consequences. What followed was a complete nightmare. My character was tortured (electro-shock style, and the only one to go through standard torture), the others had their own little interrogation sessions, we lost all our gear, even mods that were done to some of our bodies (not mine, I hate those, but the smart/fast character had a few). And then for those of us who were deemed “strong test subjects”…? You guessed it. We had forced mods/templates put on us. Mutations, to be specific, that were completely irreversible. My biggest hatred in ANY RPG where I create the character. I was done.

So why do players hate this? On my side of it, I felt like I was being punished, and the others felt like we’d had no ways of fighting back, meaning we weren’t playing a game anymore, we were just listening to the DM tell us a story, which isn’t the purpose or fun part of the game. There wasn’t even a chance for an escape attempt, which blew my mind. And through the entire session, we’d literally had no control over what we could do, besides what we could say, and even that was lost to some of us with the use of truth serum (that he forgot to mention was truth serum, that was annoying). As for the mutations/templates, I will always hate the ones I have no say in. Mostly because this is my character and while yes, you as the DM get to write the story, but if you are going to be doing any unchangeable and unavoidable modifying to my part in it, I want to know what and when.* Some of my characters, I’m even okay with it to a certain degree. But it takes time on my part to adjust to the change. (The DM later claimed, btw, he did this to my character specifically because he felt I was too attached to my characters and viewed them as versions of me. I’m still pissed off about this.)

*Note: this does not include plot stuff, like the character’s parents dying or something. In fact, I usually HAND the DM plot crap that they are free to use against me.

So how can a DM recognize that they are about to use the rails? I realized that I had done it with my mercenary campaign because of the difficult I was having running the session. Some of this is the fact my fellow DMs have letting-go-of-control issues, but there is a portion of this that is mine for not having stuff planned out in the right way to leave me prepared and them still have their choices. I also had issues with coming up with challenges that would let each player have their moment to shine, whether it be one’s always creative way out of situations or the other using this class that I am DEEPLY not familiar with, and he didn’t brief me on before we started.

(Here’s a tip, by-the-by. If you are using a class from a supplemental book of any sort, be it war mage, favored soul, or anything else other than what is in Player’s Handbook, bring either a copy of the book or find a link to it and send it to the DM so they can look over the class and know exactly what you are and aren’t capable of. Same if you have a race or trait you want to take on. DMs can’t be familiar with every single aspect in the entire Dungeons and Dragons franchise, especially newer DMs. Even our most experience DM hadn’t known about the prophet-variant of Favored Souls until I told him about it.)

I realized I had thrown them into the main plot waaaaay too early, and had made it way too rigid (sort of baby-rails, which are a good warning sign to look for). I have a better idea now on how to structure it so it is still, at it’s core, a mercenary campaign and they have choices to make, but my grand “save the world” plot can happen at the same time, at their pace. I guess the biggest warning sign is to look at what you are planning on happening that session. Are their chances for the players to fight back or escape or bargain their way out? What are you going to be doing to them, and are they (as players) okay with that, or do you have one or two who really hate it and it would be better to plan something else? If you absolutely must do it, is there a save possible? (No saves and sucky consequences are never a good thing to use, btw. Players hate them. It’s one thing to end up Blessed with Suck because of the Random Number God. It’s another to just be screwed over by Word of God.)


Tabletop RP: Newbie DM

I started playing D&D oh… three years ago, or close to it. My group has finished one campaign and has started several others. I don’t know why, but I thought it was a good time for me to start trying to DM a campaign myself. Part of it was because our usual DM needed the time for himself due to personal issues, and the other person who usually DMed needed more time to plan. But I had a story concept, and I thought I could manage it.

Of course, there’s layers of complexity to this that I was nervous about and really proved early on to be a problem. Almost every person sitting at the table has DMed before. It’s hard to give up control, and it’s also hard for me to sometimes handle them. They are used to being able to tell me as a player that I can’t do something, or telling me as a fellow player not to do something. I’ve already had one issue with one of the players, and I’m waiting to see if he does it again. Because if he does, I’m going to have to ask the other players if we want to just pause the game till he gets his attitude in check (yes, it got that bad). There’s the problem of them bringing up the monsters on the DnD wiki, something I never really did as a player, since it felt like cheating. That might just be me being sensitive, in fact I near guarantee that it is, but it’s a real blow to a DMs confidence, especially a new one.

Another problem is the fact that there are several classes in this campaign that I’m not familiar with. I went ahead and gave them a few levels to start with as well as making them gestalt. Part of this is because of where I’m taking the story, I needed them to have the power only being gestalted could give them. But some of these classes are outside of my knowledge range, and while I can conceivably figure them out, it’s hard here in the early stages to make sure I’m utilizing each of the classes to their full effect.

I’m also running out of side quests to send them on. It’s a merc style campaign with smaller quests to keep them busy rather than just traveling between the main areas. I’ve at least got solutions to this. I’m going hunting for my Zelda books and checking out WoW and Guild Wars websites for ideas.

Overall, I guess it’s going as well as it could for my first time campaigning. I’m hoping it smooths out the longer it runs…