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…