Number Fudging or the Art of Shortcuts

Dungeons and Dragons isn’t always the fastest game and it’s not always the smoothest game.  Sometimes it can be downright tedious with all the numbers, items, and stories you have to keep track of.  What is a poor overworked DM to do when his Mountain Dew addled brain can barely hold that information anymore?  Well, you can fudge the numbers.  Here are some shortcuts you can take to help make your game smoother.

 

  • Stop keeping track of experience points.  Before you start to think I’m crazy, think about this.  Who tells the players how much XP they get?  Who tells the players what value they level up at? You.  That’s right; you essentially tell the players when they level up.  So why bog yourself down with numbers?  Getting rid of that minor bookkeeping not only frees up time during your game it also frees up your writing.  When you get rid of the need to track XP, it bursts the doors wide open.  You can write the encounters you want, at the levels you want, when you want.
  • Make monster HP less constant.  Sometimes, a monster just won’t die.  It keeps on fighting long after it logically would, the players won’t let it run away, and the encounter just won’t end.  This is the time when you, as DM, should take over and let the monster die.  This gets you out of those times when a combat is just spinning the tires.  The converse also applies.  Players love to break the game, it’s what they do, and sometimes you get that player that optimized the character just right so the dragon dies in one hit.  This is not okay.  That dragon is supposed to be more than a speed bump.  As DM, it’s your right to say it doesn’t die and reduce the damage done.
  • Make Artifacts, Diseases, and Curses more abstract.  These are three things that add so much to the story of your campaign, but drag it down so much with the things you have to keep track of.  A PCs sickness can quickly get forgotten under the shuffle of all the numbers you’re required to keep track of.  The concordance of Artifacts bogs down combat and sessions by making you track it.  And curses don’t get me started on curses.  If you unlock these things, they become tools for you to expand and enhance the narrative experience you give your players.  The fighter recovers from his malady just in time to save the rest of the party, the players go to an isolated tower to lift the curse on the wizard’s tome, the mysterious and unknowable powers of the ancient artifact change the fate of the party.  These are a few of the limitless possibilities you give to yourself when you make these things more that a set of rules.

So don’t let rules decide how you run your game.  You’re the one who controls your sessions.

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Other Things to Play: Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards, Duel at Mt Skullzfyre

Imagine a world of wizards of obscene power, where all of your murderous fever dreams come to violent life in orgies of gore.  Now, imagine a game was made out of this world.  You just imagined Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards, Duel at Mt Skullzfyre.  The game takes place is a world reminiscent of Adventure Time if it was directed by Eli Roth.  Like those shows you catch late on Adult Swim, Epic Spell Wars is not for children.  The art is violent, vibrant, and full of so much life (and death).  Every card is a masterpiece of intricate detail.  I’ve had the game since February and we’re still finding details on the cards.  The zany spell names only add to the overall immersion.  The reference to Chuck Norris is probably my favorite.  Open the box and you’ll quickly find yourself in a world of equal parts comedy and murder, a world of the best kind of madness.

And you’ll find this

The rules of the game are very easy.  To win you have to kill all the enemy wizards, twice.  To do this, you build a spell of the black backed component cards.

Some of the component cards

There are three types of components: Source, Quality, and Delivery.  When your spell contains one of each, they form one panoramic picture (the coolest part of this game).  There are several different glyphs, which represent the types of spells, like Dark or Arcane.  A spell, while being built, may contain no more than one of each type of component, but can have less.  This can lead to some interesting choices in the late game.  Do you play one card and go first? Or do you play a more powerful spell and risk letting your opponent kill you before it resolves?  The final piece of component cards is the initiative number, found at the end of the spell name on Delivery cards.  This decides how the spells are resolved.  When playing, each play puts their spell face down in front of them and declares their initiative number.

The glorious bounty of treasure cards

The other two types of cards are treasures and Dead Wizard cards.  Treasures give you advantages for a game (a game being until every wizard is dead).  Some act as extra glyphs, some add dice to your power rolls, and some allow powerful effects.  The main point is treasure is awesome and gives you a very clear advantage.

Dead Wizard cards, morbid and fun

Dead Wizard cards are your reward for eating it.  When you die, you get one and it gives you a powerful advantage for the next game.  Every turn play continues while you’re dead, you get another Dead Wizard card.

Behold! Mt Skullzfyre!

Epic Spell Wars is fast paced and explosive.  The more players you have, the wilder it gets.  This game is a blast for any group and with its slick, uncomplicated rules, great for any level of player.  For more information, go here.

How to Lie to Your Players For Fun and Profit

My players and I were recently able to get together again.  We had a double length session, meaning we played for almost ten hours.  It was a blast.  During the course of the game they were attacked by savage orcs as they travelled the elven kingdom of Arenal.  It gave me the chance to throw them into desert terrain.  They then, at the behest of the elven rulers, battled warforged pirates off the coast.

Game 3

As you can see, our table is a bit lacking this time

There are a few things about this session that I want to talk about.  The first is how quickly I noticed that our game is set by the props we use.  You’ll notice in the pictures we didn’t have any of our normal miniatures, game tiles, or space that we’ve grown accustomed to.  Some things can be considered a crutch, but I think we’ve grown too used to it.  Having the different miniatures for the different monsters the players face was definitely miles better than using the cardboard markers.  We don’t get the same variety from the markers that we get from out collection of miniatures.  And honestly, my tiny improvised coffee table was nowhere near enough room.

Game 1

Us playing in my apartment for the first time

I finished this session with an epic encounter.  The kind I’d call a set piece.  It had everything: multiple levels, a large group of enemies, a powerful magic artifact, and a dangerous villain.  I used a poster map from one of the WoTC Lair Assaults.  It’s a mass of wrecked ships, pushed together to form a multi layered battlefield.  I repurposed the experimental warforged from an old published adventure to represent the Sea Prince Kal and his warforged lackeys.  On the higher levels were minions throwing combustible pots that lit the ship on fire, these fires spread every turn, causing damage to any who stood in them.  At the center of the map was a dangerous orb that leaked grey mist onto the ship.  The orb messed with healing magics, but it could be controlled with arcana checks.  It’s important to give your players these kind of challenges.  You give them something that will become stories later, an experience that lets them see their characters in an incredible exciting light, and they’ll feel accomplished when they win.  Video games have boss fights for a reason.  Don’t be afraid to give your players something truly epic, even if it isn’t the end of a storyline.

Game 2

Rob makes a point while Andy looks for a power

And speaking of not being the end, I also wanted to talk about seeding the future of the game.  You should never be afraid to give your players a small taste, in game of course, of what’s coming next.  These hints and clues will come together to build tension and excitement so that your reveal will be all the better.  But better than real hints are false hints.  There is nothing better than hearing than hearing your players’ wild speculations about the false information you gave them.  What I’m saying is don’t be afraid to lie to your players.

One final thing, if you haven’t seen this Kickstarter project, I think it’s one of the best tools for gaming I’ve seen in a long time.  Hopefully it’ll get funded.  I know I’m going to back it.

The Illusion of Choice

Players like to do their own thing.  It’s one of the major challenges of being a DM.  Nothing can destroy the best laid plans of great Dungeon Master like players.  One of the best ways to keep players on the path you want is to use a method I call the illusion of choice.

The illusion of choice centers on giving your players no option but to follow the path you’ve laid before them.  It’s not railroading, it’s not pushing, it’s roleplaying.  The best DMs do this.  It requires an understanding of their characters.  Instead of trying to explain, let me give you an example here.  Here’s a hook that doesn’t give the players the illusion of choice similar to one that follows that I’ve presented to my players:

The lord of a local town asks the players to investigate the dwarven ruins in the nearby mountains offering a substantial.

VS.

The pirates that attacked the players earlier have been spotted in the mountains exploring ancient dwarven ruins.

Both of these hooks lead the players to same place but one is more personal.  The second one ties into the game more and gives the players an opportunity to further their own stories.  This method requires knowing your players’ characters.  If you present them with an option that their character would and should pursue, the chances are they will.  It ties the needs of the characters with the ongoing story you produce.  Instead of giving quests, you give choices, tailored to challenge the characters’ morals.  When you give them journeys to further their own personal goals, you give them a more engaging experience.  But more importantly, you have a more predictable experience.   This requires some work from your players too.  They have to have clear goals and needs for their characters.

One argument against this is problem players can never be completely avoided.  I’m pretty lucky that the only problem my group has with each other is that we want to talk and hang out too much sometimes and put the game to the side.  But, it’s harder for players to be disruptive when they’re invested in their character.  If you make your players have goals for their characters, it organically leads to more roleplaying and easier adventure writing for you.  When you know what the characters in your story are after, you can put the path they’d most want (or not want) in front of them.

When you perfect this method, you no longer tell your players where they’re going, they tell you where they want to go and it’s where you planned.