Friday, July 9, 2010

Celebrating our 15th Session Mark

I'm pleased to say that my all-girl campaign has now reached it's 15th straight session. Meaning we have been consistently at it for about four months now, playing once a week. For those of you who know teenagers or know the way teenagers play Dnd, this is a rare feat indeed.
This has been the longest running game I've ever DM'ed, and for many of my PC's it has been the longest continuous adventure.
I'm very grateful to have had the dedication of my PC's for running a long-term game has so many benefits that 2 or 3 session campaigns just cannot provide. My improvisational game style coupled with the amount of time I've had as a DM has allowed a beautiful world ecology to spring up. An adventure that just started as a run-of-the mill slay the werewolves scenario has yielded many different countries, races, and cultures. My map grows every session much to my delight, and I keep liking what I find there. The long term game has also allowed a more complex religious system to the world, and a great train of mythology that players discover almost as rapidly as I do.
I never expected to get this far. My player's have loyally progressed almost to the end of a huge overhanging story arc. Our game has actually survived one of the PC's moving across the country. We've had dragons, dungeons, fights, marriages, political intrigue, and even a little time travel.
If you haven't had a long-term game yet, I highly recommend trying to start one. And if you have, then you know the brave new world I'm walking into.
So here's to my PCs! Birdie, Fawkes, Kavin, Isis, Momo, Saelana, and Pel, you are the best friends a Dungeon Mistress could ask for :)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Puzzle-mania

One of the most interesting (and most challenging) aspects of being a DM deals with the creation of dungeons. Dungeons as a title trademark have to be exciting mixes of combat and traps (and a couple great treasures as well) to confuddle both the brawny and the intelligent characters in a party. And consequently one of the best things about designing dungeons, are designing the puzzles.
There is nothing better than creating a puzzle that sets your players wondering, a puzzle that hearkens back to the dungeons in Legend of Zelda video games is just so satisfying!
And yet creating such encounters are not easy, typically I draw my inspiration from games or obscure fantastical literature.
I once created an entire puzzle dungeon, for several PC's who were willing to do away with combat for a while. Creating that dungeon really challenged my DM skills and forced me to question just what line DM's should draw when puzzling their players.
There are three main types of puzzles that I have observed:
1. Word puzzles- I think every DM out there has thrown a riddle at their PC's now and then. Usually these are employed to get past doors, or nasty creature guards
2. Physical- This is when you shoot your characters out onto a giant grid and they have to figure out that to move safely they must follow a certain pattern. Or they must touch the statues in the correct way to open a door
3. Situational- These puzzles are the most complex, for they usually role-play based. Often you have an entity who wants something and the players must determine what exactly that thing is
I'm always looking for new puzzles and traps to use in my campaigns, if you all have any suggestions of where to look, or want to share your all-time favorites, the floor is open :)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Overcoming Stereotypes...Trying to Get those Folks to Play

Let's face it...I love Dnd. And it's a big part of my weekly regime (two nights of my week). And consequently I wish to share this love amongst my friends and comrades. Because one, I'd love to have them understand how cool it is to be able to cast a level 5 teleportation spell or why it isn't crazy to turn them down for a hang out because I'll be busy being a Dungeon Master.
One such individual I would love to expose to the game is my charming younger sister. She has participated in a brief 4.0 session (not a true indicator to what Dnd is), she has actually asked to play once upon a time but I already had 7 people in the group...and now when I remind her of that, she claims to not remember -_-
This phenomenon seems to occur very frequently. I have a couple of friends who straight up refuse to play. My other DM has been trying to get his wife to play for years...so what is so scary about Dungeons and Dragons?
The most common reason I hear is that "it is too complicated", most people look at the character sheet and turn pasty white looking as if they are about to run. Then a careful explanation on my part ensues in which I have to promise only a little addition is required. And true enough it does take a couple hours for a newbie to make their sheet...and by then you may have lost them.
This is why I have come up with my sucker-punch strategy. I'll have a new player just roll up ability scores, health, and I'll give them a weapon. Then you play a gentle (yet sufficiently cool) encounter to let them catch their footing and slowly introduce extra rules. I find a rat-infested cellar is usually a good setting, though for my brother I made a fight-club located through a secret panel in a bar.
For now, I've given my sister a copy of "Confessions of a Part-Time Sorcerer," a personal narrative about how a girly 30-something woman gets involved in Dnd and totally loves it. I'm hoping the comical approach and easy to understand explanation of rules and look at gamer myths will do some good...otherwise I'll have to sucker-punch her

Friday, June 18, 2010

Combat Expertise

One of the most well-known and integral parts of Dnd games are the combat encounters. Be it a hearty orc slashing or an epic wizard duel, almost every game eventually turns to a physical encounter.
This fact is probably the topic most brought up when describing different game styles, particularly when discussing the differences between male and female Dnd players. It is a common stereotype that male players live for the hack and slash moments of the game and consider everything else just a distraction. And it is true that many PC's use the game to focus on boosting their own power, rather then role-play mushy moments.
But in all honesty, building a good combat can be just as hard as crafting an intriguing plot line. Combat can quickly turn to a boring roster of waiting to make repetitive actions. Therefore it is a DM's task to throw something new into the mix other then the stereo-typical encounter.
My main strategy for spicing up combat involves crafting strange settings that force PC's to think of creative fighting solutions. Instead of a flat battle-field, I'll have the PC's do battle on a descending spiral staircase; or I'll replace the traditional road scene with a slippery ice tunnel. Adding extra elements that make combat harder (such as having to make balance checks or skid across the icy ground), makes a victory far more rewarding then in the traditional scenario.
It's also important to vary the types of encounters. PC's tend to get angry if you continually have combats where a group of monsters sneak up on them...mix those situations in with others:
-Single vs. Many- The whole party gets pitted against a giant
-Large Scale Warfare- Each PC gets a battalion of units to command in a large scale war scenario
-One vs. One- One member of the party challenges a single NPC, a wizard duel, or honorable duel to the death
-Group vs. Horde- The party must combat a huge swarm of rats or entire encampment of kobolds

When designing combats, the really important thing to remember is to play to your characters. Nothing is more frustrating when a wizard chooses tons of area of effect spells, and the DM keeps throwing single opponent fights at the party. Likewise, rogues need combats to use their backstab abilities, so sending them up against battalions of incorporeals isn't going to make you popular.
Taking session turns to appeal to all the different fighting styles of your PC's can be a very rewarding experience for them. If you choose not to do that however, just make sure that every character manages to find a useful niche in the group dynamic that makes them eager for the next round of combat

Happy fighting!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Session Log 6

“Pell”- that is, the unknown force that overtook him- led the party through to another archway. They stepped through to a world unfamiliar to their kind, warm and humid. Pell seemingly returned in mind, though any recollection of what may have happened to him was lost. Though no course was set, Isis recommended a route for true north. The tropical climate provided a thick cover and a canopy, and it was decided that the party could climb the trees to see the scope of the forest. Sure enough, a volcano lay true north, the perfect home for a dragon to dwell. It also appeared they had been transported to an isle, though their exact location could not be known. The party continued, until the sound of rustling nearby became too prominent. Suddenly, members of the party began to fall unconscious. Kavan determined the source to be poisonous darts, and upon his threats came humanoid-like creatures from the forest. Deemed lizard-folk, the creatures led the conscious few to their dwelling, a deep cave decorated with a tribal interior. The unconscious were taken away, while the rest were presented before the apparent chieftain. Though the culture was unfamiliar and the language barrier prevented communication, no hostilities were formed. Rather, the chief took for himself a bride, in the form of Birdie. A ceremony began, and a huge bonfire lit in celebration. As the remaining group watched, the unconscious few were brought out, stripped of belongings and tied to what appeared to be poles. It became apparent they were to be sacrificed. Birdie pleaded with her new husband, however, and the party was freed. Festivities followed, and when the night grew old, Birdie was escorted to her chambers. There, she was introduced to a hollow of paintings, seemingly dedicated to a tale of dragon lore. It seemed the tribe had dedicated their worship to the dragon in the volcano, though little else could be assumed.

Morning came, and along with it the next leg of the journey. The party was joined by the chief and some of his able men to continue to the volcano. The lizard-folk, however, were not the only danger of the island, for the party was confronted by an exotic ape. Some were injured in the conflict, and two of the chieftain’s men were lost. With little time for solace, the group continued to the top of the volcano, where they began their descent. Obsidian walls loomed over them, and darkness soon greeted them. They soon discovered a force field, one attuned to the language of the dragons. Not far after, they came across another, one that would only dissipate at the sacrifice of a spell.

They soon came across three doors. To the left and right were what appeared to be living quarters of little magical fashion. The middle door, however, held a much more sinister nature. Dierdre opened it first, to be greeted with the image of an expansive library. With little hesitation, she entered, and the door shut behind her. Slowly, members of the party opened the door to find several different scenes. For Isis, it was a glance at a future with Thorn. For Birdie, an image of her father. For Kavan, an image of her parents. Each reflected the desires of their viewer, but none else entered.

For Dierdre, the library held less promise than anticipated. For one, only one book decorated the shelves thousands upon thousands of times over. Upon opening its pages, she was met with a scream, a tearing, and a spray of blood from the pages. Even after closing the book, the screaming continued, enveloping the room, growing unbearable by the moment.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group continued exploring the lair. Isis found a drawer containing several orbs, some broken, but some containing images of dragon-kin. Though the meaning remained unknown, the party took note.

The screaming in the room was joined by another voice, one of an entirely broken equanimity. “All that I loved, all that I loved, all that I loved turned to dust.” Dierdre called to the voice to release her from the illusion, but it remained. Soon, the library seemed to shoot past her, revealing a fireplace and two decadent chairs. There, she met the human form of Aryas, the Bronze Dragon. There, he relayed his side of the tale…

Melora, the silver dragon, had stolen his heart. But his brother, Plutonis, saw her as nothing more than a pawn to be used to sate the cravings of his son, whom he had equaled in a duel. Plutonis had Melora locked in an amulet and willed her to his son as a gift, for she was the only mate who could match him in power. Aryas, repulsed by this action of betrayal, went into isolation a broken man. For hundreds of years, he observed the horrors that fell upon Melora, as he could only divine…

Knowing they would only be able to take on the blight of Plutonis’ son with the support of Aryas, the party attempted to recruit his aid. With much deliberation, Aryas proposed a compromise…

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Preparation vs. Procrastination

I'm not sure how most DM's prepare for an eminent campaign, but I feel my methods are touched by that infamous teenage procrastination. Rarely do I have more than a general inkling of what's going to transpire during a game session, and even then it usually occurs the day of. On multiple occasions I've gone with a story arc I thought of just moments before.
I know the ramifications and problems of my world and therefore the session to session specifics seem to come naturally. Along with solving the ever present problem of "the PC's bypassed my dungeon completely..."
One of the DM's I most admire literally sits down at the table with a d20 and is able to unfold an enthralling story, no notes or paper in sight. While I personally aspire to this style, I have also played under DM's who take copious notes, come to the game with photo-copies, and make meticulously beautiful maps. There is definitely something to be said of a DM who can physically hand you a piece of parchment bearing a royal summons or a tattered treasure map.
Whatever the case, it is nearly impossible to successfully make a detailed outline of the plot because dnd entails so many random factors. And often the best plot devices and characters evolve from the PC's actions.
In this case I think procrastination, or the inability to sit down and plan has actually helped me become a better DM. Lack of fact encourages heightened creativity, making for interesting advances. What is lost is solid technicalities, buys the element of surprise. For your players and for yourself, keeping the game fresh

Friday, June 4, 2010

Session Log 5

… Three giant scorpions surrounded the party, who reacted with tactical precision. The fight was long, and not without injury. However, the monsters fell and wounds were patched, and the journey continued with little delay.

Soon the adventurers reached the home of the Oracle, a kindly blind elder. She spoke of a place in the desert where a great storm would reveal the temple of the dragon in three days time. With little time, she dismissed the party, stating that her time had come. With little hindrance, the party was off.

A great sandstorm had picked up, but the group was adamant about continuing. The group passed a large party of Rakshasa, though hostilities were far gone. Their leader appeared benevolent and warned the party about continuing in the conditions at night. The whole of the group set up camp once more.

At the third day, the adventurers came across the hallowed ground of the temple. While they found very little, the sands rolled away to reveal the underground structure.

The first room was an expansive hall, the middle of which contained a large statue of a golden dragon in partial human form. Upon examination, the dragon appeared to contain a lever that opened the floor. Petyr volunteered to remain as watch in the first room while the party descended into the temple.

Things grew unkind as the adventurers continued. Traps were discovered in the floor, but only after it had been too late.

One room contained a tree, fully blooming with golden apples. The walls revealed a constantly shifting tale in a multitude of languages. It was the story of Plutonis, the Golden Dragon, who had a son who matched him in power. The two dueled, until the father gave his son a gift of peace…

As the story was read, some party members plucked golden apples from the tree. Time passed, until the group became oddly fatigued. Kavan remarked on the branches that had been plucked: they too were a trap.

The party escaped the room as quickly as possible, entering into anew hallway. This one contained a wall of mercury-like substance. Voices chimed with their arrival: Who are you? What do you want? It soon became clear the wall was a means of divination magic, as whatever the individual asked to see, it would show. Isis, out of curiosity, asked to see the son of the Golden Dragon. Immediately, the wall revealed a dark young figure, who stared at the party with malevolence. Suddenly, hundreds of eyes joined the figure, and the adventurer’s found themselves running down the hallway as quickly as possible.

At the end of the hallway was a teleportation portal. From there, the party found themselves disoriented (but alive) in a deep, spacious cavern. Upon exploring, the party found living chambers, as well as an expansive hallway. The floor was littered with silver dragon scales, and the rooms enchanted with music, though none seemingly sang. Pell found for himself pan flutes, grafted with magic then unknown.

Another of these hallways belonged to the Bronze Dragon, containing a plethora of books of arcane nature. One of these, a journal, relayed a final entry steeped in betrayal and anger.

The end of the hall met with a similar portal. The party entered to find more or less the same cavern, but with a dramatic shift. Rather than a passion of music or arcane magic, this chamber seemingly belonged to the Golden dragon, a man of many striking tastes. Among his belongings, Kavan found for himself a crown of tempting enchantment, a feather of euphoric charms, and a goblet, always full. Also among the d├ęcor were portraits of a handsome man, surrounded always by a harem of elves. One room contained skeletons still chained to the wall. No clues led to the whereabouts of the dragons, but continuing led to a final door.

Above lay the head of a stuffed dragon. At the party’s approach, it sprung to life with a riddle:

What force and strength cannot get through,

I with a gentle touch can do,

And many of the streets would stand,

Were I not a friend at Hand.

What am I?

After deliberation, Pell and Kavan provided an answer: a key. The door sprung open, revealing a woman encased in crystal. The figure, painted gold, had been decorated with golden dragon wings. Suddenly, the crystal shattered, and the figure of the woman fell to dust on the floor.

During the scene, the voice of a female began to emanate from the body of Pell…

“I am here to guide you,” it said…

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Session Log 4

The party awoke within sight of a coastline, several days travel away. Kavan revealed to the party Olidammara’s role in transporting them. It was decided that the blight was fast moving, and their next course of action would be to measure its pace by visiting the Razor Wastes, a far southern continent. The party bartered passage on a ship of amiable sailors and made for themselves a temporary home. Among its passengers were a group of mysterious men, clothed in black. The first night on board was full of merriment and storytelling. One of the men broke his silence, in the midst of the eve, to tell a tale of the dragons that once inhabited the world. He spoke of a dragon’s temple, in the desert of the Wastes, and it was decided the party would investigate the legend firsthand. 
Days on the boat grew long and tiring. One morning, a golden bird flew from the horizon line over the boat, delivering a sealed note to the Lady Dierdre. Meanwhile, the young Birdie met in privacy with the men clothed in black.
One night, as the crew met once more for games and songs, the boat began to shake. Suddenly, a tentacle rose from the water, overwhelming the ship with ease. The adventurers gathered to defend the ship, but Thorn attempted to deter the attacks. He believed the creature to be an ancient, and at his word, Isis calmed the beast. It left the ship at peace, maimed but yet alive.
In a fortnight of travel, the ship had found port at the Southern continent. The party took a day to shop for wares, but Isis was confronted by a group of Rakshasa, violently opposed to her people and the familiar which she kept. Combat erupted, and Isis and Thorn prevailed. When given the chance to kill her attackers, however, Isis was halted by Thorn’s protests, and the two left in anger.
It wasn’t long before the party made their way into the desert, along with the black clothed men from the boat. They decided their next course of action meant finding the oracle who resided in the desert. Days of travel passed, until the sands around them erupted to reveal the forms of three hostile beasts…  
 

Does Size Really Matter?

Somebody recently brought up the question of how I decide the amount of people I let into my group. This is an interesting question because I think size is an issue too frequently overlooked, especially amongst teenage DMs. All too often when starting a new game you mention it causually to a couple people..then on the day of the event ten PCs show up at the door causing a mini heart attack.
My group at the moment contains 7 PCs, a very large amont for a group. The original number wad an unheard of 8 players. There are certainly a large lists of pros and cons associated with different group sizes.
I decided to let so many people into the group simply because there was a large group interested. My goal was to expose as many girls to dnd as possible. And the experience has been rewarding. It allowed the group a chance to bond, giving them a common connection to talk about in their everyday lives. Having a big group also allows a lot of diversity to come to the table. Great players can mix with the not so great, there is a wide array of pc personalities, and many different story access points for me to use. Similarly it makes the social aspect of dnd very rewarding because it's a big group gathering.
On the flip side large groups can be very difficult to manage. I personally combat this issue by drawing on my experience as a director combined with Machiavellian principles outlined in "The Prince." large groups aremoreprone to disruptive bouts ofconversation and joking that keeps anything from getting done. Keeping sessions regular is also more of an issue. Trying to scedule a day that works for 7 people is significantly more difficult then doing it for 3 or 4. We combat this issue by establishing a quorum rule. The "rule of five" states that we can play if at least 5 PCs are present.
Two days ago I DMed my smallest group ever. Two of my PCs had their own adventure within the adventure. There are definite benefits to groups this size. The game flows more quickly, is easier to control, and easy to scedule. My favorite thing about small groups however, is how truly personal the game can get. DMs can more easily make plot lines that tie directly to PC backstories, making the game all that more interesting. It becomes a pleasure to create situations that cause PCs to question their characters morals and motives. And their is no better feeling then making your pc so attached to their character that they physically tear up or gasp in horror.
In any case, most people have a perfect number that works for them. Every individual though has the ability to make a game perfect for the party size.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Session Log 3

The cloud revealed a powerful demonic creature which seemed to control the abominations at its whim. In the chaos of the attack, the party escaped with Thorn at their side.

When safety was assured, they set up camp, and the druid went off on his own for indefinite causes. Upon his return, he appeared physically drained. This occurrence repeated daily as the group travelled, though remained unexplained.

While no more creatures seemed to follow, the party encountered a group of hostile orcs. Though they were large in number, they were dispatched easily, save one who fled. As the party camped, groups of ravens began to congregate about them. Later that evening, the escaped orc returned with a horde to attack the group’s camp. One of the party members, Dierdre, in the midst of battle unleashed magical capabilities previously unknown to the whole of the party. In the battle, the group received the sudden aid of two twin priests of Wee Jas. Both Dierdre and the group’s rogue, Kavan, took to the priests immediately. Others questioned their motives and capabilities with mistrust.

The two priests affirmed their intention to bring the party to the city of Pallus, wherein an entirely new plague ravaged the city. The group agreed, on the condition they first be brought to Ronin to settle their current mission. There, they found only the soulless shells of the citizens that once resided there. It was then they transported to Pallus, a city that found itself in the midst of plague.

The group set up camp outside the city walls for the night, and it was then that Thorn and Isis were engaged.

The group made its way to the temple of Wee Jas, but found only death and pestilence in its walls. The priests, distraught by the murder of their fellow worshippers, made way to the center of town, where the prime political office was located. Though the building initially appeared abandoned, a familiar shadow moved about the inner hallways. The group found themselves in the presence of the very same demonic form that had devastated the druid camp. With little other means of protection, one of the priests stepped forward to attack. His arts were rendered useless and he was torn limb from limb at the whim of the beast. His sister knowingly sacrificed herself in the cause of allowing the party time to escape. As the party ran through the courtyard, they were met by the figure of Olidammara, The Laughing Rogue, as they dissolved into nothingness…

Friday, May 21, 2010

Trials and Tribulations of a 17-Year Old DM

Speaking from an honest viewpoint, most of the people interested in this blog have played Dnd for 5+ years at the least. I, in all of my 17 years of worldly experience broke into the game about three years ago. In this time I have played under six different DMs and run about four campaigns myself. As you can see I'm a bit behind the experience bandwagon.
Having played (and currently playing) in games with older DM's who have been involved for 20+ years has definitely given me the ability to reflect upon the weaknesses and strengths of my own DM'ing style.
Under both of these Dungeon Masters the games have been absolutely enthralling, capturing my imagination and sending the PC's home with electric excitement making the next session seem too far away...
The DM of the campaign I am currently PC'ing in is actually one of my own player's father, therefore I have dual aspects of reflection from myself and my PC.
There is an undeniable art to DM'ing, there are aspects that must be learned. How to appeal to player's, the balance between established rules and imagination, and how to read the PC's to know just what to put in a game. Not to mention the skill of world-building and story telling. So for now I'm doing my best to observe these skills in action from more experienced DM's in hopes of making my games better.
One of the thing that frightens most people about being a DM is how much you have to know. On the one hand this is a misconception, you do not need to know everything in the rule books. On the other though...you have to have knowledge of the fantasy genre. I was able to come into the game so easily because the sheer fascination for the fantastical I had possessed all my life. Being older allows for a greater scope of that information, and a vast pool to draw from when creating stories.
Being a Dungeon Master is like being an actor, you never stop learning. No matter how many years you've played I think there is some aspect that will need perfecting.

Session Log 2

In light of the danger their quest promised, the party was joined by Pell, one of the most capable men of the logging camp. Dreams began to plague both Mochi and Birdie, two members of the party born and raised in the town of Ronin. Legend spoke of a young woman drowned in the lake beside Ronin, whose spirit watched over the town with benevolence. However, at the blight of stone, the woman’s spirit called for her children’s aid. Leaving the young Bella with the safety of the logging camp, the party ventured to the lakeside, and as night fell, the sound of a woman singing began to echo in the air. At the witching hour, the spirit of the woman made herself known to the party, and called forth her children to commune with her. She spoke to them of a druidic encampment to the north, which perhaps possessed the capability of breaking the curse. With little other option, the party made its way to the northern reach of the continent. For several days they traveled, until the tall grass beside the road began to stir with life. Suddenly, the party found itself face to face with an abomination; a dog-like creature with inverted flesh. They attacked, finding the creature susceptible to the touch of iron, but itself a danger to those who made contact with it. Several more came, but with them only the casualties of two horses with which the group traveled.

After a week of traveling, the party reached a nook of high trees, woodsung with encampments among their branches. Most of the party climbed the trunks with ease, but one of the group’s druids, Isis, slipped, nearly meeting her death. Her life was saved by the magic of a lively druid by the name of Thorn. Weakened by the days of travel, the party awaited the counsel of druids to convene regarding their quandary. While the party rested, romance bloomed between Isis and the young druid, who revealed himself as a half-elf. Upon assembling, the council decided to send forth one of their most gifted men to aid the party. This man was Thorn, and at the price of leaving, he and the party would not be allowed to return.

During their final night in camp, tragedy struck. The same creatures that attacked them on the road began to devastate the camps, paired with an ominous purple cloud…

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Session Log 1

I will be posting session logs of our adventures that were written by Alexis, the party member who plays our human female sorcerer Deirdre (and a little edited by her loving DM :)
First some backround: The majority of the PC's come from from the small town of Ronan, located in a country bordered by snowy mountains and vast coniferous forests. Across the sea to the south is the desert country of Rath'ka (The Razor Wastes). A string of islands connect these two large land formations. Magic is no longer a common occurence in the world, there is a council of mages who have isolated themselves inside a floating city and watch for children who display uncommon ability, they then take them from their parents and train them to become full-fledged members of the council. Most of the magic, and creatures of myothos perished in the dragon wars that tore the lands apart, creating racial divides that still stand in the lands today.

First Session:
Under their own circumstances and motivations, the party gathered in Ronin for a festival dedicated to the God Heironeous. In the midst of a large parade of clerics and knights, the festivities were darkened by a terrified messenger from the north, who begged the knights to gather in the town hall for an emergency call to arms. A logging camp to the north had fallen prey to mysterious attacks by wolf-like creatures, and numbers were dwindling. With the promise of reward, the knights sent forth several candidates to resolve the problem.

The party met for the first time at the logging camp, where they were welcomed by the men of the encampment with festivity and drink. Locals from Ronin named Birdie and Momo were amongst the party. The latter was apprenticed under a druid, named Isis, and both traveled with familiars of an uncommon nature. The adventure had also attracted a young bard, Bella. Much to the surprise of the knights who recruited them, a young noblewoman and her servant had volunteered their services: Lady Dierdre, of the house of Ravenspire, and Kavan of the North. Saelana, a cleric of the order of Pelor was enlisted, as well.

As night fell upon the logging camp, the men grew still with fear. Not long after, dark creatures stalked out from the woods. The party defended to their best efforts, though the camp suffered the casualties of their leader and some of their best fighters. The group decided the best way of unraveling the mystery would lie in the woods, and they followed the creatures through to their dark dwelling. Joined by one of the better fighters of the camp, Hans, they set foot into the beast’s lair, where they found a witch, surrounded by a dozen or more wolves. Adorned with an arcane medallion, the witch summoned the creatures to attack at her whim, and a perilous encounter followed. It was discovered the woman had been using her amulet to turn the men of the camp into wolves, and upon destroying the source of her power, the men could be freed. The witch, in her last moments, cursed one of the adventurers, Bella, and then seemingly vanished.

The men were returned to the camp, though casualties hung high in the air. When all seemed resolved, the cry of a messenger called the party to a new chaos: The people of Ronin had been seemingly turned to stone…

A little bit about my group...

I know I've had a request to describe a little bit about the group I'm running right now, so here goes. This will quickly be followed by session updates thus far as written by the party Sorcerer.

This specific group formed about two months ago and we play every weekend. I've run/played many games before and decided I wanted to start one up with all my girl friends. Only two of the seven had ever played Dnd before.
I personally don't employ technology in-game (except for the occasional bit of music), I don't use grids or figures either. Those details slow me down, because my style is very qick-paced and energetic.
Social dynamics wise...I'm currently engaged in two regular campaigns I'm DM'ing the all-girl as you know, but I'm also PC'ing in a game with two other girls led by a male DM. Honestly, I love having majority female representations. It might just be an age-group thing, but male players tend to take the story elements less seriously. Not to say they don't appreciate it, but in my experience girls use their diplomacy skill almost three times more often then boys. I can trust my PC's will try to resolve conflict with all their weapons, not just steel and spells.
I do have to build my games more carefully for female groups, because they are more willing to voice what is lacking in a game session. I am applauded whenever I provide a balance of role-playing and combat encounters, and if I don't...they let me know :)
The social vibe of an all-girl game is very comfotable. We usually organize pot-luck style sessions with everyone chipping in real food (not the usual munchies fare) and the game rotates from house to house. Like other games there are the periods of socializing, eating, and just as many sex jokes are mentioned during the game as in guy groups...

There are seven players in my party character wise we have:
Birdie, the human female rogue
Dierdre, the human female sorcerer
Kavan, the human male rogue
Pell, the human male scout
Saelana, the human female cleric
Isis, the human female druid
Momo, the human female druid

Yes, two of the girls play male characters. And quite well I might add. They all have great backstories and have formed an interesting web of relationships.

More to come with session logs!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Diversity of Magic Systems

Personally, I love playing/running wizard characters. I've tried almost every base class and yet still find myself once again rolling up a wizard. The appeal to the wizard class for me is two-fold, one: I've wanted to be a wizard since I was five years old having the Hobbit read to me, and two: the marvelous diversity encompassed in the class.
Most DM's approach the subject of magic from their own perspective. DM's are left to build the arcane arts into a world where fireballs and teleportation are realities.
The books leave the subject of magic implementation up for interpretation, some DM's support the notion that anyone can be a wizard just by choice and that every lowly peasant has access to arcane comforts. And this is often a path taken by DM's. Making for a truly interesting game however requires some extra DM homework:
Dungeon Master's have to make demographic decisions about magic, is it commonplace in the world? If so who uses it? What are spellcasters like? What is magic's political role? Answering these questions adds a completely new dimension to the game and also gives spellcasters information to spice up their backstories.
Similarly a DM must decide the actual mechanics of magic. And I'm not just talking verbal and somatic components... Spellcasting makes a huge access point for role-playing. Throughout human history there have been many types of magic and spellcasting and it is up to the DM to decide if these other types of magics exist in the world, and if your PC's could potentially learn them.
A DM is free to decide just how magic works in the world, if it operates by a set of scientific principles or if it comes from a specific source. Some of my favorite games have involved scholar characters who can only perform magic through stringent adherence to rules, it adds a sense of responsibility to the act of casting magic. There are two specific rules traditionally associated with spellcasting that I like my players to incorporate into their game:
1. The Law of Contagion- Things once in contact continue to interact after separation, anything once in contact can be used as a "witness". Traditionally exemplified by the use of a persons hair in creation of a voodoo doll
2. The Law of Sympathy- The idea that if the cause and effect of an action resemble a different action, they have resonance with each other. For example, if you wish to cast a fly spell, you might jump around with feathers like a bird.

Adding rules or systems like these to make scientific principles for magic in your game adds a depth and difficulty to playing arcane classes that the true role-players will definitely appreciate.
I've played under multiple systems of magic (some completely designed from scratch) but traditionally, the more elaborate they are, the happier a wizard I am :)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Means to an End.....the use of rule books when playing DnD

When explaining Dnd, which many have endeavored to do in order to reign in friends as players...you must start by saying it's a game, a game played with only paper and dice. The mechanics of the game all lie in the interface of PC and DM imaginations.
And if this is the case, why do we need rule-books?
With every released edition of Dnd the rules become more encompassing, more specific, and more stringent. This causes a huge gap in the playing styles of older generation players and the new.
Younger players are immersed in a world of technology, video games that provide instant gratification with a couple button clicks are competing with traditional fantasy mediums like novels and of course Dungeons and Dragons. Because of this new generation where the principles of creativity and complex problem-solving are not emphasized, gaming companies have created systems like 4.0 edition. The central focus of the rules is on combat, the system enables easy, non-committal play.
Personally, I know exactly what I want out of the game and it doesn't involve rapid-fire combat. I love creating intense stories that pull in character emotions and reactions. Building worlds that are culturally interesting with diverse and rich histories is like my DM crack. And most of the time the rules just don't fit the bill.
Rulebooks should simply be viewed as supplements, they do not control the game, the DM controls the game. The books are sources of ideas, full of interesting spells, items, and monsters. Using this mentality I create games using multiple systems, I read the AD&D PHB just as frequently as I read the 3.5 PHB. I don't like to stringently commit to one system because I use pieces of many, and often just make up things based on the way I want to do them.
The emphasis on role-playing and story-building in the classic editions gives a gaming structure that speaks to the heart of what Dnd is, but I find its options lacking so I go to the 3.5 books.
All in all the rules for all systems are simply guidelines for those who need them, and never a controlling force.
This is an image of our group in the midst of playing, soon to be followed by our Dnd Video Post