Tag Archives: Dungeon Master

Tabletop RP: My Top 10 Spells

Everyone has favorite spells that they use, and thankfully most of them transition between editions without losing too much of the fun. Some spells are good for causing shenanigans, like Grease, others just do an insane level of damage that is always fun to inflict on enemies. I decided to list my favorite spells, at least one for each level (sorta), and why I enjoy them so much, therefore why you might like them for your character.

Please note that this list is for arcane casters only, such as wizards, sorcerers, warmages, etc. I’ll do another list of my favorite divine spells later, since I do enjoy playing oracles mixed in with my rogues and sorcerer types. I am also a bit of a blaster-type mage when I have magic (thus why I like warmages so much). My lists rarely have things that just entangle somebody or create alarms, and are more likely to cause maximum amount of damage that fits within the character’s particular theme (because sometimes, you gotta pick something besides fireball because it offends the ice mage).

Zero Level Spells/Cantrips
….No one likes these, why would I pick one here…? These are little spells that really, I pick based on the campaign.

1st Level Spells
Magic Missile is a must have. It’s a guaranteed hit whenever any enemy is annoying as hell, and you can shape them to reflect your character. I always approve of customization options.
Snowball is a Pathfinder spell of this level that has been a go-to for one of my characters too, it does some decent damage and has additional affects that can go in hand. Perfect for the ice mage, lol.

2nd Level Spells
In your early levels, you are working to maximize your spell selection so not only are you strong in your specialty, but you aren’t completely screwed if your DM throws something your way. Now, Jadzia didn’t bother learning Shatter because one of my party members already had it, but as Psyche, it was one of the first things I picked because if we met a golem, I wanted to be able to fight it. So definitely my first pick for 2nd Level.

3rd Level Spells
…Sadly, my favorite spell is a homebrew creation because I am playing an ice specialist and the DM thought it hysterical to create “Iceball” which functions exactly like Fireball, just with ice. That being said, Fireball is also a great spell, so if your DM won’t go for the giant snow/ice ball of doom, it is your first chance to really start slinging damage around.

4th Level Spells
There’s a series of spells that I used with Psyche that were by far my favorite spells. Different spells, there was one for each element, including Force and Sound, and they had additional affects depending on the element. I loved those damn things, plus I always knew how much damage I was dealing, I just had to look up the effect, and I could cater it to sensitives if the enemy had any.

5th Level Spells
Oddly enough, my favorite 5th level spell is defensive. At this point, I usually have a solid base of offensive spells, and I’m ready for something that not only defends my squish mage butt, but will also help my fellow players. Fire Shield, Mass, gives the entire party a line of defense, as well as attacking enemies.

6th Level Spells
Dude, Chain Lightning all the way. It does lots of damage, it continues to do more damage as you level, and can attack more targets or the same target multiple times. And if you are facing foes in metal armor, it does even more damage. I love it.

7th Level Spells
Here is where it really starts to depend on what problems my mage has run into when fighting. Do we keep getting hoards that attack us and we are way out numbered? Or is it something really big that we have to hammer through? Usually, this is why I take a mass-area spell, because I have enough one-on-one spells and could use a wide-coverage. So go with Fire Storm or something similar.

8th Level Spells
For 8th Level, your spell options really start to narrow down. You don’t learn as many of them, and you don’t get to cast as many times per day for spontaneous casters. For my favorite, gotta go with the multi-tasker and use Great Shout. It’ll damage golems, traps, and other objects, as well as doing a good chunk of damage to enemies even before you apply meta-magic to it.

9th Level Spells
Really, I have only gotten here once before, so it’s harder for me to pick a favorite or one that I am most likely to use. (Jadzia may yet get there and I’ll change my mind, but eh, we’ll see.) Considering the celestial theme that Psyche had going on… Gotta go with Meteor Swarm as my go-to final spell for this list.

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Writing: Teenage Characters and Aesthetics

Sponsored by last night’s DnD session and poor Jadzia, who gained two items. Now, for beginning reference, Jadzia is a juvenile silver dragon whose favorite form when she’s shape changed is a late-adolescent human with silver dragon bloodline traits. An elegant goth late-adolescent human. She actually hoards gem stones of a very specific series of colors (no yellows, oranges, bright or true greens although super dark or milky and pale greens are fine, or reds, unless they are the deepest, darkest shades of red like her lipstick), and rejects anything with gold metal work. Her primary hoard items feature star sapphires (her favorite) and are a belt of magical gem stones that fit these rules. She dresses in a flowy pretty dress with vest and corset work to add structure all in black and charcoal grey.

Her first newly gained item last night I tweeted about, a lesser ironward diamond. It basically is a different type of magical gem stone, and being a smokey grey diamond, it fits just fine. The problem is that second item, which as a player, I wanted. I wanted badly. It was a rod of Piercing Cold. This lets me ignore or at least help combat with benefits Jadzia herself has so if we’re ever in a fight against her brothers or other family who we haven’t met yet, I’m not screwed with her being specialized in cold/ice themed spells to a high extent.

The staff part was fine–it was ice blue. The topper, though… The topper was deliberately made to rub her the wrong way. It’s an angry snowman with a knife.

Jadzia was balking so bad, ya’ll. I wanted it, but she was going, “SNOWMAN! NO!” and ugh. It was a long few minutes and we had to poke at dragon greed to get her to take it. Thankfully, her trying to change it to match her aesthetic is actually planned into the DM’s goal for the thing, so no hurt feelings. But there was some confusion when I mentioned the twelve year old was THAT attached to her aesthetic. Some of it was fellow players forgetting, which considering how she normally looks and her usual maturity, it’s hard to remember that she’s only 48 and that’s barely entering puberty by dragon standards. But I think a little bit of it is that for male writers, even the best ones, they don’t quite understand it.

I’m not saying aesthetic isn’t important to pre-teens and teenagers in general. I know for some boys, it’s just as important as breathing. But then I also know that there are people like my brother, who can and will wear warm colors with cool in such a way that if he was doing it with super nice clothes, I’d cringe. Even I can get pretty lax when I’m in casual mode. But for some people, it is life, and the truth is, many of those people are preteen and teenage girls.

Some of that is cultural. We have most of our societal pressure about our appearance pushed onto us as girls between the ages of 11 and 19…which is cruel and unusual, because that is when your hormones and body are doing weird things and you have very little control over anything, yet have to start planning for the rest of your life. Fretting over how you dress and what colors you can’t stand anymore is an easy way to re-establish that control. Some of it is personality. I am naturally an extremely fussy person about color because I can tell dye lots apart even with the smallest of differences, and that’s about the age that people really start taking an interest in fashion, and apply themselves to a very specific look.

As a juvenile dragon, Jadzia is not only in that mindset, she is stuck in it for the next several decades…if not centuries, I’ve not looked at the higher dragon age categories. So for me, I really have to keep it in mind that she is very concerned with appearances and how she is perceived. Particularly with her high level of responsibility, since she’s the most powerful of her clutch and the only female on top of it. She has decided for whatever reason that the gothic look is how she wants to be seen–possibly because she wants to be seen as serious and grown-up, overcompensating for her real place in development. To her, this is just as important as any moral or ethical question she could be put in, because at her age, it is just as important.

In case people still don’t get it, let me explain it in terms of an appropriate holiday metaphor. Intellectually, I can acknowledge that a green, gold, and red Christmas tree is pretty and festive. I will compliment it and may even investigate for reference for a character who might like it. I still want it no where in my home. My Christmas colors are silver and blue and I decorate more with snowflakes and plain deer than Santa Claus or snowmen. (An occasional penguin might sneak by, but shhhh.) Am I so set in my ways that I won’t accept a pretty gift? No. But will that gift actually get hung up in the house? I’ll wait and see if I change my mind, but it’s a no promises situation. I’m also double the maturity level of a teenager.

A lot of male writers do a good job of understanding that this is a thing for young girls, including the guys that I play DnD with. Even some girls don’t experience it and can be confused, depending on how they grew up and their personalities, and then have to try and write it correctly. But sometimes I don’t think writers completely understand it, and that’s what I hoped to try and explain better.

Happy holidays, everyone, and I’ll see you on the cusps of the New Year.


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: 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: 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…