Sunday, May 19, 2013

All For Love

"If love's a word that you say, then say it, I will listen"
- Start the Machine, Angels and Airwaves

In stories everywhere, we see love being a huge motivating factor for many characters.  Yet in games such as D&D, I've seen it very little.  PC's either have romances with NPC's that don't really go anywhere.  So far in my games, there's little romance between PC characters.  I'm hoping that will change soon (especially when you throw a couple into a game).

How do I incorporate that change?  By thinking about what love actually is, means and how we feel it.

Psychologists will tell us there are many different kinds of love.  I'm not trying to analyze each aspect/difference in a relationship, but just in general.

When we are in love, we feel invincible, especially if the task at hand is related to the one we love.  Slaying a dragon, is easy when it holds our love in its sinister clutches.  With love, we will face any fear, accept any challenge, and go at any lengths for the person we hold so dear.

In 4E game terms, I think this represents a bonus to Will.  Will tends to represent mental fortitude, which could also be called Willpower.  As a DM, if a character was in a situation where their love was driving them, I would give them a +2 bonus to their Will defense, and possibly a +2 bonus to attacks relating to their love.  Think of this representing Peter Parker saving Mary Jane.  He's fighting all out just for her.  Failure is not an option, because if he fails, he loses Mary Jane.

For D&DNext, I would simply assign Advantage.  It's a great game rule with so many possibilities.

Being in love can also be difficult.  I remember watching Disney's The Sword in the Stone as a child and Merlin talking about how love is the most powerful force in the universe, to which Arthur responds with "More powerful than gravity?".  Yes, Arthur, more powerful than gravity.

Love can affect us negatively.  What happens when we lose the person we love, or something horrible has happened to them?  What if they were transformed into a vampire, like Lucy Westenra in Dracula?  Such a thing would have a profound effect upon a character, giving them a -2 penalty to Will and attacks in 4E, or giving them disadvantage in D&DNext.

I think the whole concept is really interesting.  First, involving a love interest brings out a better character story and a deeper roleplaying experience.  Two, I think giving out bonuses to players is a lot of fun, especially if the odds are stacked against them.  That being said, invoking penalties while fighting a vampire, or zombies can be just a moving for a player as their character is too grief wracked to be of much use.  Combat needs to drive story and have a purpose, and a character who can't really fight creates an interesting party conversation all of its own.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, and check me out on Twitter @artificeralf

Sunday, May 12, 2013

New Beginnings

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end"
- Closing Time, Semisonic

The adventures that I create now are all player driven.  When I first started DMing, I threw together an adventure idea and then let me players play it (there was very little choice, as it was what I had prepared).  I had to "sell" the adventure to them in order to get the game going.  Needless to say, the games weren't as fun as they could've been.  It wasn't until after a few months of DMing that I tried to make an adventure with one of the players in mind, and let everything feed off of that.  When we played that adventure, it was extremely well received, and from there, the rest is history.

I'm now working on another adventure.  Some of my readers might wonder why I take so long in creating these adventures and why I write about them so much.  Basically, I tend to run marathon games, where the players sit once a month and play for about 8 hours straight, since getting everybody together isn't always the easiest thing to do.  However, the group really likes up the marathon sessions, as by the end we feel like we accomplished something and have enough to talk about until the next game.

When you run marathon games, it's important to look at the previous adventure and figure out how to build on things from there.  Some important questions to ask are below.

1. What did the players accomplish in the last game?
2. Where did the players end in the last game?
3. Are there any repercussions to the choices they made?

With the first question, it allows you, as the DM to understand what the players actually did in the sense of how the game went.  Did they stop the sahuagin?  Did they recover the lost relic?  Did they reclaim control of their ship?  All these questions play into the next adventure.  For example, if the players did not reclaim their vessel, allow them ways to further that adventure path in the new adventure.

Knowing how the game ends allows you to figure out where the next one should start, filling in the time as needed.  If the players returned to a town, perhaps the adventure starts while they sleep.  Maybe they left that town and are on the road.  Perhaps they headed someplace else.  If they players are actively traveling to a new direction, make sure you speak with them about it before the game (or at the end of the last one) so you can plan accordingly.  Sending the players to a place they didn't want to go is sure to lead to some resentment.

The third question looks at the bigger picture of the adventures you're giving the characters.  If the characters failed to stop the sahuagin, what does it mean if they leave the village in the next adventure?  While these choices may not be seen throughout the entire adventure, it's important to remember them for further marathon adventure planning.

Let's look at what this means for my next adventure.

1. The players defeated a sahuagin group that had been lurking in a mess of shipwrecks.  They had no clue as to what that meant or why they were there, but knew the raiders were coming from there.

2. The adventure ended with the players having returned a sahuagin chief back to the town guard.

3. Possibly, depending on what the sahuagin's plans were.  However, an NPC in the city, a tiefling pirate named Viigill, spoke about helping them once they caused the sahuagin attacks to stop.

With those points being touched on, I can now move to my next step for adventure design.  I've written extensively about how big pirate-themed things are in my campaign world (this is my main campaign, not the playtest spin offs we run just to try new things), so I plan on using Viigill as a plot hook to get the adventure rolling, especially since the PC's have incentive to follow him.  This takes us away from the island community and basically allows me to run wherever I want to go.

I'm all about using whatever thing you have in your collection that inspires you.  For most of us, this involves whatever new thing we have in our collection.  For myself, it's my Dire Tombs Dungeon Tiles.  Other people may want to use a new monster miniature or poster map.  Whatever it is, find a creative way to throw it in!  You'll be happy running it, and your players won't know anything different.

The trick now is finding a way to connect the dots.  The best way to do that is to look to your players and the characters they play.

Let's look at two main characters from my campaign:

Niz - Niz is seeking to reclaim his own ship and become his own pirate.  I believe that Niz will help Viigill in whatever he needs, simply because he feels that Viigill can help him.

Vivianne - Viviann is trying to find her father.  If the new adventure gives leads to Vivianne, so much the better.  She will want to follow them in hopes of figuring out what happened to him.

I'm also introducing new players to the game.  I don't know if they will come back and play again, but having them there is always a big deal.  D&D can be intimidating, so it's important that our new players feel welcome.  Talk with the new players about the kind of character they want to be, and then introduce them in interesting ways.  One girl that will be playing is going to be a Arya Stark-like character who has spunk and attitude.  I think the players will encounter her in one of the cells of the pirate ship, having been captured in a past expedition, but imprisoned due to her defiant nature.  Fire Emblem is a great series of games that provides a ton of awesome player introduction opportunities.  I would take a look at some of those games if you wonder how to introduce new players.

From there, designing the rest of the adventure is basically the same.  Plan something fun with lots of story hooks and options, and you'll be good to go!

Leave your comments below, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @artificeralf

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Pirate's Life For Me

"Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate."
- Jack Sparrow

I spent yesterday evening browsing TV Tropes and Idioms since there was nothing on TV, and I wasn't able to go and see Iron Man 3 yet.  For some reason, I simply read through the Pirates of the Caribbean page, and while doing so, had my entire imagination fire up again.  I don't think I've ever given those movies enough credit for how they have impacted my thoughts on D&D games, but last night, I realized they have always been a strong focal point for me.

No matter what people say about the plot, movie length, or anything else, the Pirates movies are about one thing: characters.  I never found scenes boring, or dull, or making me wonder how long the movie would go, simply because the characters were so engaging.  How does this translate to D&D?  Quite simply, the characters in your game.  I have the privilege of DMing for a solid group of roleplayers, a few of which bring out the best in the others.  In doing so, the game becomes even more real, and the players get involved even more.  I've created adventures with plot ties to the characters, simply because these get more response than "slay the dragon" or "rescue the princess".  These points are generally made by numerous DM's and writers in other places, but it's something that needs to be said often and repeated numerous times.

The movies have also provided great inspiration in the fact that some of my best players choose to play pirate characters.  I've written about Captain Nizumo Misoka and Vivianne Shearwater a few times, so I will spare my readers the details of them.  But I will say that even if you have one player who jumps into roleplaying and characterization, run with that player for an adventure or two and watch them pull others into the game.  I've also decided that I need to make my own pirate-type character, just so I can interact with those two players when somebody else decides to DM.  I've always been more of a Will Turner fan myself though.  I'm not the silver and gold kind of pirate.

The Pirates movies always had fantastic locations for battles and skirmishes, something that can be lacking in D&D games.  I say this because for a while, I ran boring encounters.  The players would fight goblins because they needed to fight something (or so I thought).  I didn't make it fantastic, and I didn't make it exciting.  It didn't advance the plot.  Needless to say, I soon learned from my mistakes.  Perhaps the scene that I always have loved from Pirates was when they fight on the giant waterwheel (I once impressed a girl by re-enacting that scene at a Cross Country practice.  We dated for a little while after that).

Sometimes, a fantastic journey is enough to bring players into the adventure and make them want to continue playing.  Pirate and sea adventures are awesome for this.  Think about it: every ship is unique and has a name!  This alone gives players an attachment to them.  Think about Jack Sparrow and his beloved Black Pearl.  The name of the ship is even in the first movie's title!  Before I had seen the film, I thought the movie was literally about some treasured pearl.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that this was a ship (though not just any ship)!

When ships become involved, at some point, ship to ship combat becomes necessary.  The climax of the third movie, in which the heroes fight their opponents on a giant maelstrom, is exactly the kind of encounters DM's need to throw at their players.  I tried finding some pictures of D&D games with ship battles, and couldn't really find any.  For myself, the best thing I have is sahuagin attacking a docked ship!  That's not even the same!

The monsters and villains in Pirates make for great adventures as well.  In the first movie, we have undead.  In my mind, skeletons are always the best kind of pirate themed undead to use.  I'm not really sure why, but in my youth, I always remember the skeleton either pointing the way to the treasure, or being somewhere in the captain's lair.  The second movie also gave us the kraken, pretty much the traditional beast of the sea that everybody fears, not to mention the mutated, corrupted crew of Davy Jones.  They add the fantasy to fantastic when it comes to Pirate adventures.  I'm really excited about the new Pathfinder miniatures set, Skull and Shackles, as it has so many awesome sea adventure miniatures.  You can find the preview gallery here.  Major props to Sly Flourish, who has an awesome Talon of Umberlee set up!

I also think that the main theme, "He's a Pirate", completely defines the pirate genre.  My next pirate themed adventure will have to make use of the song during the final encounter.  I think my players would appreciate it too.

I encourage you to think about your favorite movies and how they could inspire you for better D&D games.  I also have a compilation of sea and ship ideas on my Pinterest board here.

Thanks for all your encouragement as I continue to climb my mountain.  Be sure to leave your comments below, and follow me on Twitter @artificeralf 

I hope that this blog inspires others

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Lessons from Star Wars

"Always in motion is the future"

When life knocks you down and kicks you in the ribs, we tend to flee into our own sanctuaries to cope.  Alternately, we tend to escape into our sanctuaries when we're happy too.  They just give us a great way to relax and enjoy the good times.

Star Wars has done all of those things for me.  It was there long before Dungeons and Dragons, and has greatly influenced my life and creative outlooks and inspirations.  I got into Star Wars when I was about 8 (this age seems correct in my memory, as I know that Episode I came out when I was 9).  My first Star Wars action figure was a Han Solo that came with a carbonite slab to freeze him in.  I was a Jawa for Halloween when I was 9, and I was young Obi-Wan Kenobi when I was 10.  My Lego building adventures always ended with some sort of epic lightsaber battle, and I always wanted to know about all of the aliens in Jabba's Palace.  I also played the Decipher Star Wars card games.  

I was excited for the prequels to come out, but I don't think I got into the first two as much as I got into Revenge of the Sith.  For some reason, that story was just the culmination of everything I loved about Star Wars.  I was in early high school, running track and enjoying a great season with friends and setting some awesome personal records, running 2 miles in under 10 minutes.  I saw Revenge of the Sith twice in theaters, and had memorized all the dialogue (I had been doing that since I was little.  Don't ask me how).

Anyway, so now that everybody can understand how prominent Star Wars has been in my life, let's look at some of the ways it has inspired me creatively and how to apply those lessons to D&D.

1. "If there's a bright center to the universe, you're on the planet that its the farthest from."
In Star Wars, every planet is a different fantastic location.  Desert, forest, volcano, etc.  Use these in your own D&D games when you try to figure out the theme of a location.  Are the heroes going to explore a jungle?  Are they climbing mountains?  In essence, pick a terrain theme and think about what can be done to make it an amazing experience.  In my Vellyn posts, I've taken the concept of snow to the next level, with avalanches, blizzards, and evil snow beasts.  You should do the same.

2."You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."
D&D games should be full of interesting characters, not just the PC's.  Populate your worlds with denizens exhibiting interesting clothing, personalities, or appearances.  NPC's make the world, from that hammerheaded looking alien to the pale skinned woman watching a podrace.  Your players will want to find out more about them, which may lead into some interesting adventures all on their own.

3. "I have a bad feeling about this."
Every adventure should have some threat to it.  That's the whole point of Dungeons and Dragons.  Great rewards require great sacrifice.  Whether this comes from infiltrating an enemy outpost to rescuing a captive friend, your players should always feel the danger of what they are about to undertake.

4.  "He was deceived by a lie.  We all were."
In order to create complex, awesome villains, hiding them in plain sight always works well.  Nothing is more shocking that finding out the person you trusted has fallen, or was always plotting against you from the start.  Whether it was a character's father, or a well loved mentor, the shock of learning their true nature is enough to make any hero question their own motives and their possible destiny.

 5. "You and the Naboo form a symbiont circle.  What happens to one of your will affect the other.  You must understand this."
Choices have consequences.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  The same happens in D&D games.  In order to fully take advantage of this, players need to be presented with choices.  Do they stop the orcs from kidnapping the baron or let the trolls destroy the homesteads?  While the heroes are saving the day in one area, what is happening in the other?  Or, in a different sort of approach, what happens when one group allies with another, as opposed to the third party?  As the DM, it's up to you to make that call.

I'm going to stop this post with those important lessons.  I've used them in many of the games that I've run, and I think they add a solid depth to any game.

We'll see where life continues to take me.  I'm trying to be strong, faithful, and courageous.

Be sure to leave your comments below, and follow me on Twitter @artificeralf