On Handling Problem Players

I recently had to tell a player that they could no longer play with us; that we didn’t want them back. It’s a horrible thing to do and to experience, but if you want to have a good campaign, there are times you must recognise that the group isn’t working and its time to move on.

There are times its purely down to people having different playing styles. If you’ve got one player who wants to turn every encounter into a combat, and everyone else wants to role-play and interact with the monsters, then you can get into the situation where there are “irreconcilable differences” and you know the group is doomed to split. Often, you can work out a happy medium, with all types of players getting a chance to experience the game in their preferred form, but it’s not always possible.

However, then there are the problem players. The ones that just make the game less fun for everyone else.

Identifying these ones and making sure they don’t continue with your group before the other players get fed up and leave is quite important, I feel.

The player who talks all the time, including talking over both the other players and the DM? This player is a problem.

The player who keeps going on their own quests, and wants the DM to devote all attention to them? This player is a problem.

The player who always attacks when the others want to negotiate. The player who takes all the treasure for themselves and doesn’t share.

That player? I don’t want that player in my group!

I want to give players second chances. I want to see them learn they were doing something wrong and correct it. I speak to a player during a session when their behaviour becomes a problem. I try to speak to them after a game where they’ve been disruptive. I hope they’ll pay attention and be better next time.

However, when a player doesn’t listen to my warnings and the other players complain to me about their behaviour? That’s the point where I must step in. As a Dungeon Master or an Organised Play organiser, it’s far worse to let things go on as they are. The other players quit the game and don’t come back. Try to identify the problem and deal with it before that happens. It can be hard. It’s likely to be painful.

However, D&D and other role-playing games require players to work together. If a player refuses to acknowledge that, then the game is likely not for them.

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Presenting Monster Stat-Blocks in Published Adventures

Over the years, Dungeons & Dragons adventures have tried many different techniques of presenting monster stats in the adventure. The first adventures – Steading of the Hill Giant Chief – listed the hit points of the monsters and then expected you to look them up in the Monster Manual. Later AD&D products provided “full” stat-blocks, although they’d typically leave out special ability descriptions. However, as most common monsters didn’t have them, this wasn’t significant. With 3E, the stat-blocks and monster abilities became a lot more complicated and including monster stats in the text of the adventure made it more difficult to comprehend the adventure.

If you want to present the monster stat-blocks in the adventure text, I suggest these guidelines:

  • Encounters should not go longer than two pages. Most should not exceed one page.
  • Monster statistics should not break over a page turn. In a printed book layout, having a stat-block breaking over two facing pages is fine. In a PDF, it’s not good to break over two pages.
  • Monster statistics should be repeated in full each time they appear. Do NOT have a stat-block and then reference it later in the book with a “see page 8”. At that point, you should have used an appendix.

If you want to present the monster stat-blocks in an appendix, I suggest:

  • Monster descriptions in the appendix should be presented alphabetically, not sorted by encounter. (Sorting by encounter causes problems if you repeat monsters, and it makes it difficult to find them).
  • Monster statistics should not break over a page turn. In a book layout, having a stat-block breaking over two facing pages is fine. In a PDF, it’s not good to break over two pages. (Yes, this is the same as the point in the section above).
  • Include all monsters unique to your adventure and any monsters from a source that is not the Monster Manual. You can assume everyone has the Monster Manual; you can’t assume any other non-core book. (Keep in mind the legalities of using monsters as well; there are different rules for using them on the DMs Guild or in an OGL product).
  • If you are writing an Organised Play adventure, include all monsters from the Monster Manual as well.
  • If you are not writing an Organised Play adventure, only include monsters from the Monster Manual if there are no more than 5 or 6 of them.
  • Monster names in the adventure text should be in bold text, the same way as in official D&D adventures. Following a standard format significantly helps DMs understand the adventure.

I also note that including many types of monsters in an encounter is very tricky for a DM to handle. In general, you shouldn’t use more than three monster types in a single encounter. Rare encounters can go to four monster types, and in those cases, I’d try to make most of the monsters relatively simple as far as their special abilities go.

My preference is to put monster statistics in the appendix and not to include Monster Manual creatures.

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Running Tomb of Annihilation: More on Wilderness Adventures

There’s a lot of wilderness in Chult.

You’re likely to become very familiar with it in the early levels of Tomb of Annihilation, as the adventurers search for clues.

It’s easy to become distracted by the rules given on the adventure: Roll three times each day to see if an encounter occurs, then determine what it is.

The problem with this is that it eats up time and can lead to very boring adventures. It does depend on the group. I was very happy when younger to kill them randomly generated monsters. If you’ve got a group who enjoys a variety of combats, then the random encounter plan can work very well for you. It’s not good with groups who are more interested in the story; having sessions of combats that don’t advance the story tends to be frustrating.

However, it also depends on the situation. What are the group trying to achieve in the jungle?

Three situations come to mind:

  • The adventurers are exploring blindly, looking for something of interest.
  • The adventurers are looking for a specific location, but they don’t know exactly where it is.
  • The adventurers are travelling to a specific location and have directions.

It’s the first situation that makes the best use of the random encounter tables. I’d prefer it if Chult had more keyed locations in the jungle to investigate – in a home game, I’d fill it with ruins and other items of interest – but the random encounter tables do allow you to have something happen as they travel. As an alternative to rolling three times per day, you could determine one encounter for each new hex they enter that doesn’t have a keyed encounter. You could also alter tables to give a chance of finding random ruins or a settlement. Finding such fleshes out the map with permanent features, which the adventurers can revisit later.

The third situation has directed travel through the jungle: you use the jungle as an obstacle between the players and their destination. Using too many random encounters in this situation is most likely to frustrate the players. The first few encounters are fine, but playing eight hours of encounters before they reach the destination is probably too much!

There’s a reason Order of the Stick describes how there is only ever one random encounter during travel!

When the players know where they’re going, you want them to have a few encounters to demonstrate that the jungle is dangerous, but not too many to detract from them getting to an interesting area. Depending on the time you have and the length of the journey, between one and four encounters seems appropriate.

The second situation I’d handle with a combination of the two techniques: only a few encounters on the way to the area the adventurers wish to search and then you roll one encounter per hex explored.

You can use these techniques in any adventure with a lot of travel – Out of the Abyss also comes to mind – but they are very useful in Tomb of Annihilation. You should also look to the advice on page 106 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide on running travel montages and hour-by-hour travel.

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Play Advice, Tomb of Annihilation | 4 Comments

Greyhawk: A Look at Veluna

Veluna is a good-aligned theocracy in the World of Greyhawk, and the setting of my current Greyhawk campaign. It wasn’t originally, but it’s where the adventurers have ended up.

As a result, it behoves me to have a look at the country, and see what adventures it inspires.

I use two main sources for information on Veluna: the 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set and the 2001 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. Neither describes what is occurring in my campaign, as it is set 50 years after the 1983 set and 35 years after the 2001 set, but they have useful bits. I tend just to use what I like and discard the rest. Rao is the god of Veluna? Not a chance! It’s St Cuthbert – it fits my game better!

According to its original presentation, Veluna has 250,000 Humans, 10,000 High Elves and 7,000 Gnomes living within its borders. The capital is Mitrik (population 12,600), and its ruler is known as His Venerable Reverence, the Canon of Veluna, the Shepherd of the Faithful and, is a 19th level cleric. Seven noble families support the Archcleric, the Plar of Veluna being the foremost amongst them. The population numbers have gone up with each subsequent release – many think the population numbers are laughably low for every version of the setting!

Veluna is a realm that stands for Good and Law. It is allied with the realms of Bissel, Furyondy, and Highfolk and with the Gnomes of the Kron Hills. It participated in the fight against the Horde of Elemental Evil, and for some reason has sovereignty over Verbobonc, the Viscount being a willing vassal. Verbobonc is the largest population centre near to the ruins of the Temple of Elemental Evil.

This matter of Elemental Evil is key to the more recent history of the state. The daughter of the Plar of Veluna was betrothed to Prince Thrommel of Furyondy; however, he was abducted by agents of Elemental Evil. Alas, he was never rescued. In my Greyhawk campaign, the characters came across the “Tomb of Thrommel” from which they recovered Fragarach, his legendary sword. The builders of the tomb are, at this point, a mystery.

Furyondy and the Vesve Forest protect Veluna from the direct threat of Iuz, so the primary threats to Veluna come from the humanoids and giants of the Yatil Mountains and the raiders of Ket.

Interestingly, the ruler of Ket is known as the “Shield of the True Faith”, but as he’s of Baklunish descent, it’s particularly unlikely that it’s the same god as worshipped in Veluna. I’ve selected St Cuthbert as the deity for the Archclericy of Veluna. For Ket, we have Al’Akbar. This god isn’t mentioned in the 1983 set, but he’s one that has storied lore due to the Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar, both magical artefacts described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

So, the threats that present themselves: Humanoids, giants, raiders from Ket, agents of Iuz, and internal factions. My initial story has heretics of St Cuthbert’s church stealing relics and holing up in an abandoned border fort. The adventurers need to recover the relics, and once they do, they’ll discover items that lead to the next plot thread.

Using the Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar sounds interesting. The old adventure Day of Al’Akbar has no relationship to this campaign (or much else) and can be ignored.

Looking for inspiration from the player characters, the ones that instantly jump to mind as having potential plot hooks are:

  • a half-elf monk of Xan-Yae (a Baklunish goddess), who was exiled from the Vesve forest,
  • a Greyhawk noble, who likely has links to nobles in Veluna – he certainly does to those in Furyondy
  • a rogue, who links up with the Thieves’ Guild in each city he visits

So: heretics with stolen relics, the threat from Ket, internal politics and the work of agents of Iuz. Those sound like good potential areas to start with as I craft storylines the players can investigate. Let’s also see if I can weave in some character-driven stories as well!

Posted in D&D, Design, Greyhawk | 1 Comment

5E Adventure Review: Pride and Prejudice

The Mother Haggle’s Notice Board series on the DMs Guild aren’t typical adventures. Rather, they’re a collection of one-page scenarios which have an unusual format. Each scenario uses the following sections to describe the situation:

  • The Quest
  • The Core Problem
  • Plausible Complications
  • Unlikely Disasters

Each section has very little detail. Instead of a fully detailed adventure, you get a framework and inspirational elements; monsters are suggested where appropriate.

For those people like me, who grew up with the adventures produced by TSR, these scenarios seem strange and alien. However, the format comes from a different role-playing tradition, and it works very well if you’re comfortable improvising. A situation, a goal, some characters to interact with, and some complications to throw at the players to keep things interesting. That provides enough material to enable some very entertaining games.

My main problem with this collection, Pride and Prejudice, is its premise. The adventurers are hired by Mother Haggle to eliminate competition: “variant humans”, which is to say, humans with unusual powers. Eliminating or kidnapping innocents isn’t something that good characters will like, and even neutral characters should be uneasy. It’s a pity, as the situations are quite strong. Thankfully, you can remove Mother Haggle and then you have three scenarios that take a little problem-solving and negotiation to resolve, with the possibility of some combat to enliven matters.

The product includes a print-friendly version. There are a few typographical errors, such as “chlid” and “does’t”, and occasional infelicities of phrasing. However, there are also nice little jokes; having a pair of outlaws called Pyramus and Thisbe amuses me.

Pride and Prejudice isn’t a product for a DM who wants lots of detail, but if you’re happy to improvise, you may find these scenarios of some interest, both for their content and their presentation. Recommended.

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5E Adventure Review: The Horseman

The Horseman is the penultimate adventure of the Curse of Strahd season of the Adventurers League. It is a two-hour adventure, and it is a relief to return to the main storyline after the diversion of the last two adventures.

The story begins with the adventurers learning from Ixusaxa what is going on in the series. They learn that Esmae, the chief villain, is obsessed with Count Strahd. To become his true love, she has been gathering possessions belonging to Tatyana, which she intends to use in a ritual. She has cloaked her location with powerful magic, and only by finding and interrogating the last of Esmae’s servants, the Horseman, can the adventurers divine her true location.

This exposition is followed by one of the best scenes of the series: the villagers of Oraşnou going mad and killing each other. The Horseman has passed through town, and the adventurers must scramble to save their friends before the villagers perish due to their insanity. There is much potential for the Dungeon Master to make this incredibly horrifying, and the adventure suggests many scenes of madness and despair. You can elevate this into something special. I haven’t managed to, but the potential is there.

After dealing with the chaos in Oraşnou, the adventurers must chase the Horseman through the Quivering Forest. There they meet the last of the Greenhall Elves, who are defending themselves against awakened trees and treants. Sadly, there’s no role-playing in this encounter. Once the elves are saved, they leave without engaging in conversation. It’s a missed opportunity, especially as it would be a chance to reacquaint the party with Aya Glenmiir.

The final encounter pits the characters against the Horseman, a deformed mongrelfolk with incredible abilities. The setting is a cave shrine to Esmae, which contains enough psychically-imbued portraits of her to complete the quest.

The Horseman is extremely dangerous. He has a challenge rating of 10 and possesses both Legendary Actions and Lair Actions. His Mind Blast attack stuns opponents for 1 minute, with a DC 15 Intelligence save to avoid. He gets three melee attacks a round, each one dealing 24 damage. The lair actions may cause every adventurer to become frightened (DC 15 Wisdom save to avoid), or a fall of rocks may bury an adventure and leave them unable to act (DC 15 Dexterity to avoid, DC 10 Strength to break free). A guardian portrait also interferes with spellcasting. Is it too deadly for five level 7 adventurers, the baseline level of the adventure?

It could be a tremendously memorable encounter or a slaughter. Poor rolls from the adventurers may leave them unable to act for rounds. You need to be able to gauge the capabilities of your group and to adjust the Horseman’s abilities and tactics accordingly. The advice proffered for running it for a weak or very weak group is “remove the guardian portrait”. If you’re running a group of four fifth-level adventurers, you’ll need to do more than that to allow them to survive! However, players have found this one of the most memorable fights in the Adventurers League canon.

I find The Horseman has striking imagery, but the encounters aren’t always well constructed. The Horseman himself has a good backstory, but it’s very unlikely to come out in play. The role of Ixusaxa should probably have been taken by Sybil, who appears in the opening exposition, but has nothing to offer. It’s a problem with the structure of the series rather than the adventure in particular: a few too many characters, and information withheld from the players a little too long. The players learning Esmae’s goals in an earlier adventure would have given more context to the strange acts of her servants.

At least everything is now prepared for the finale!

Overall, The Horseman is a strong adventure, but one that requires a good DM at the helm to bring it to its potential. Recommended.

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LCG Report: Legend of the Five Rings

One collectable card game that I was always interested in, but never managed to find players to play with, was Legends of the Five Rings, a card game that concentrated heavily on storytelling through its organised play events.

Now, the game has been redesigned and released in a Living Card Game format by Fantasy Flight Games. As I had a couple of people also interested in the game, I dived in and bought it, and have now played a handful of games.

The game is set in a fantasy setting based on Asian mythology. The play primarily revolves around you recruiting characters and sending them to destroy the provinces of your opponent in military or political conflicts, while defending your provinces against the same. It is also possible to win by amassing 25 Honor, or by driving your opponent to 0 Honor. Seven factions are presented in the game at present, and almost all your cards will come from that clan’s pool. Each clan has different strategies for winning the game, with some preferring fast military conflicts and others preferring a defensive stance while using Honor.

The games I’ve played have been fun. However, there is one significant drawback to getting into the game.

This is the price. The game is released in a boxed set that contains about 230 cards plus various other tokens and game aids. This costs US$39.95. This is enough to learn how to play the game. It is not, however, enough to do any significant deckbuilding. You need three copies of the core set – a total cost of about US$120 – to have all the copies of the cards that you’ll need. And then it is very highly recommended you get the Imperial Cycle of Dynasty Packs for an additional cost of almost US$90. At that point, you have enough cards so you can build decks, and you’re wondering what happened to your wallet. If you wish to construct two decks from that collection, you may need to acquire a few more key cards from Dynasty Packs.

I also haven’t enjoyed deckbuilding that much. I’m not exactly sure why. Partly it is the limited card selection. You need two decks, a Dynasty deck and a Conflict deck, each of at least 40 cards. You can play up to three copies of each card in a deck. For the Dynasty deck, your choice is between faction-specific cards and neutral cards. In the Conflict deck, you can use very few cards from a second faction, but it otherwise conforms to the rules for making a Dynasty deck. In the Core Set, there are 14 faction-specific Dynasty cards and 8 Neutral cards. By the time you get all the Imperial Cycle, you’re up to around 22 faction-specific Dynasty cards and 12 Neutral cards. By that stage, you’ve got enough choice to make decisions, but I do not see the synergies very well. I took to Netrunner deckbuilding very quickly. L5R? Not so much.

However, the gameplay shines. The games I’ve played have been engaging, with a lot of interesting decision-making and bluffing. They’ve also typically lasted about one hour.

Dynasty cards, mostly representing your characters, come into play from your four Provinces. You pay a currency known as Fate to bring them into play, and when you do so, you may place additional Fate on their card. Each Fate means they’ll stick around for one more turn. Yes, if you pay no additional Fate, they go away after only one turn in the game. Even if you do pay for additional turns, your opponent may wreck those plans. As you get a base of seven Fate every turn, and characters cost between 1 and 5 Fate, the board state tends to remain relatively uncluttered. It also changes a lot over the course of the game.

The Conflict Cards are what I like. Each Conflict Card is an Event, Attachment or Character, but you can play almost all of them in the middle of conflicts. Your hand is a source of surprises for your opponent. As a result, each conflict can be full of twists and turns – assuming you’ve kept enough Fate to play cards. Many Conflict cards cost no Fate, but some cost more.

Drawing Conflict Cards is a mini-game as well. Each player makes a secret bid, from one to five, as to how many cards they’ll draw. The difference between the bids is converted into Honor stolen by the low bidder from the higher. So, if I bid 5 and you bid 1, you take 4 of my Honor. This can end games quickly, and if you’re playing against a deck trying to dishonour you, your card drawing is significantly affected.

The game is by no means simple, with a host of interactions and special rules. The rules are indifferently presented; the starter rulebook leaves out many rules and requires you to get a complete rulebook from the website. FFG now have better rulebooks than they have in the past, but they’re still not great, and some of their LCG rulings are bizarre.

The basic game you find in one box is fine, but not that inspiring. The game that you get from three boxes and six boosters is very enjoyable – but these are still early days. I doubt I will engage in this game competitively. Rather, I’m dabbling in it – a strange thing to say about a game I’ve spent a couple of hundred dollars on!

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5E Adventure Review: Temple of the Opal Goddess

Temple of the Opal Goddess is an adventure for 4-6 characters of levels 5-8. It is presented in a 44-page PDF and sets the adventurers the task of rescuing a noble who has been captured by orcs. Unfortunately for the adventurers, the orcs are holding him in a temple dedicated to the “Opal Goddess”, who is far more demonic than godlike, and it she who is responsible for the kidnapping in the first place. To free him, the adventurers will not only have to defeat an organised tribe of orcs but must also brave the dangers of the temple.

The adventure manages to subvert the expectations of the players a couple of times, which I like. The first part of the adventure works as a standard “break into the stronghold” scenario, with the orcs using prepared tactics to defend against intruders. I appreciate that the tactics are described, as determining what multiple combatants do and where they make their stands is difficult to do on the fly. The players can also sneak in or otherwise avoid a pitched confrontation when the orcs are at their strongest; the players have a lot of agency.

I particularly like the role-playing that occurs between the adventurers and the captured noble and his girlfriend, who is, in fact, the “goddess” in disguise. There’s the potential for a lot of misdirection here, and the adventure can develop in interesting ways.

Things get more mysterious in the dungeon level, where an odd effect is slowly turning everything to stone, and a lone archivist works, chiselling works of history and religion onto stone tablets.

I like the overall story of this adventure very much, but I have a few problems with its presentation. There are a lot of rooms in the upper level of the keep, and for the most part, they’re extremely dull. This is a barracks. This is a kitchen. This is a latrine. Fans of dungeon naturalism will enjoy this, but most are skippable. Likewise, the ten-day journey from Baldur’s Gate and the random encounters presented don’t add anything of significance. It’s not all without merit, however; there are rooms with interesting features, and the lower level contains many interesting things to discover.

Stat-blocks are presented in the appendix for all the monsters in the adventure. The maps are excellent, and the writing is mostly good, although occasionally verbose. While I’m not overfond of the mundane nature of most of the upper level, it is well described.

Despite my perception of a few niggling flaws, this is a solid adventure that should appeal to players, Recommended.

Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Review | 1 Comment

Greyhawk: To Mitrik!

My home World of Greyhawk campaign has resumed for the new year of 2018. I’ve run campaigns in the World of Greyhawk for twenty years or so, and this current one has been going for about six months. When I last wrote about the heroes of the tale, they’d recovered the sword of Prince Thrommel, presented it to the new King of Furyondy, and, as a result, he’d declared war on Iuz and sent the adventurers into the Land of Iuz to scout.

Iuz is a demon-born godling who rules a land of horrors. In recent times, the neighbouring lands had been attacked again and again by his forces. It was little wonder that King Tobias of Furyondy wanted to return the favour. It was something that worried the adventurers, however. No sword, even one as important as Fragarach, was going to overthrow the Old One. They reluctantly went on a couple of missions into Iuz, barely escaping with their lives, and finally decided that enough was enough. Elspeth confronted the King’s chancellor and explained that due to the will of St Cuthbert, they were summoned to Mitrik and they must leave immediately. St Cuthbert is an important god in my version of Greyhawk, one revered by the folk of Furyondy for his fighting spirit and as the archenemy of Iuz, and so the chancellor paid attention. (The natural 20 Greg rolled helped as well!)

So, the adventurers were loaded up with presents and thanks – many gems and some magic items – and then were escorted to Mitrik by a patrol of knights. As the chancellor explained, he didn’t want anything happening to them. The morale hit to Furyondy’s nobles would be significant. The adventurers were dubious that the escort would help – wouldn’t they be better not paying attention – but accepted it.

It certainly helped keep away riff-raff and bandits. However, it couldn’t help them when an assassin slipped into Iyolas’s room and attempted to slay the sleeping wizard. He came very close; Iyolas only just survived the first blow. Sacre and Zhu were still awake, and upon hearing the disturbance in the next room ran to investigate, calling for help as they did so. The assassin turned his attention to the pair, and the battle was on! It was a dangerous affair, as the poison the assassin used was most potent, and two more of the adventurers were rendered unconscious before it was over. Sacre revived Iyolas with a potion of healing, but then poor Garazhan was caught in a lightning bolt that Iyolas called against the assassin! The assassin, of course, evaded the bolt and took no damage!

Investigating the assassin’s body afterwards, they discovered nothing of note, not even a purse. (The clues were well hidden, and the players rolled horribly on their Intelligence (Investigation) checks). So, after cremating the body, the adventurers resumed their journey to Mitrik.

A few weeks later, they arrived. There, Nil, Paladin of St Cuthbert, introduced himself to Archdeacon Appius, who was in charge of the daily business of the Cathedral of St Cuthbert. After the introductions, he explained that the church had recently seen a splinter group of heretics steal some relics and escape. Nil and his friends were asked to aid in their recovery. No mercy was to be shown to the heretics!

The group proceeded to a small, abandoned fort, built when the borders of Veluna were smaller than they were today. There, Elspeth effected their entry into the fort with superior use of Thieves’ Tools. (One of the peculiarities of this group is that most of the characters have proficiency with Thieves’ Tools!) There, they discovered a group of half-orc warriors training, who they slew before they could alert the rest of the fort. Proceeding to the centre, they faced the main force of the heretics, along with an underpriest, their battle commander, and finally a war priest! The battle was hard. The underpriest used spirit guardians on the group whilst protected by the heretics, and did much damage thereby, although of the necrotic sort with demonic spirits appearing to deal the damage. Heretics of St Cuthbert? It seemed they’d fallen a long way! Finally, a good magic missile spell from Iyolas slew him and allowed the others to defeat the lesser warriors.

The war priest banished Zhu, Nil fought and defeated the battle commander, and finally, they were able to disrupt the war priest’s concentration and retrieve Zhu. The warpriest cast spiritual weapon and flame strike on the party’s magic-users but eventually fell to yet another lightning bolt.

That was likely the end of the heretics, but what secrets did the fort contain? That would be the next session!

This session was, once again, mostly improvised. I wasn’t sure going into it whether the characters would stay in Furyondy or not (if they had, a strange, outer-planar assassin would have stalked them, and mysterious murders would have occurred). But they chose to go to Mitrik, so that story was abandoned and a new one began. The idea of heretics was cribbed from the very first adventure I played in the World of Greyhawk, where my magic-user was hired to recover a relic from heretics. In Mitrik. (It was an adaptation of one of the B-series of adventure modules).

Readers versed in Greyhawk lore may be surprised by my use of St Cuthbert as the chief god of Veluna. I can only say that I was very surprised to finally learn (in 2000) that it was meant to be Rao! I tend to collapse down the Greyhawk gods until only a few important ones remain. It’s nice having 100 or more gods, but if you want the players to care about the gods, keep only a few at the forefront of the campaign and weave plots concerning them into the game. The conflict between St Cuthbert and Iuz is front and centre of this game, but some other gods chosen as patrons by the characters, such as Boccob and Xan Yae, may become important before the campaign is over.

For those interested in the characters, they are as follows:

  • Elspeth (Greg), Human Sorcerer 6
  • Nil (Adam), Half-elf Paladin 6 of St Cuthbert
  • Zhu (Glen), Wood Elf Monk 6
  • Iyolas (Rich), High Elf Wizard 6
  • Sacre Blu (Paul), High Elf Rogue 6
  • Garazahan (Martin), Human Cleric 5/Fighter 1 of Boccob
Posted in D&D, D&D 5E, Greyhawk, Session Report | 1 Comment

Hit Points Through the Editions, part 3

Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition was a major change to how Dungeons & Dragons worked. Over the years, AD&D 2E had become a sprawling beast that had a lot of very good ideas, but no unifying mechanics. Every supplement presented new ways of doing things and the resulting system had turned into rather a mess. So, 3E (which dropped the “Advanced”, though being the direct successor to AD&D 2E) attempted to clean things up. It succeeded in creating a unified system. Some of the results of this unification were unexpected.

It made two very important changes to how hit points were handled. First, it gave monsters ability scores and changed how the bonuses were calculated. The tougher monsters gained a notable number of hit points. For example, the hit points of the fire giant went from 15d8+4 (72 hp) in 2E to 15d8+75 (143 hp) in 3E! Monster hit dice also depended on the type of monster. A giant had d8 hit dice. Undead had d12 hit dice. Fey had d6 hit dice.

The amount of damage Fighters could deal with weapons was generally up, as they gained more attacks, and magic weapons and feats to further increase the damage. In contrast, spell damage remained constant from 2E. Against high Constitution creatures, spells like fireball looked positively weak. To help Rogues keep up with fighters in combat, they gained the exciting new option of Sneak Attack. Note that Dexterity increased the chance to hit with finesse and ranged weapons, but it did not increase the damage dealt.

While you could see how 3E was inspired by 2E, the mathematics behind the game were completely overhauled. My experience was that the game broke down badly at very high levels, particularly due to the variance between characters. Consider a Wizard with a 1d4 hit die and no Constitution bonus. At 15th level, that Wizard has a puny 39 hit points, while the fighter might have 15d10+90 (172) hit points. When damage codes were lifted to challenge these fighters, they doomed lesser characters to not even participate.

The change that had the most effect on the game, both then and now, was the introduction of the wand of cure light wounds. In 3E, it was possible to buy one of these wands for 750 gold pieces, or to craft one for 375 gp if you had the wand-crafting feat. The wand contained 50 uses of a 1d8+1 healing spell. By the time you reached 6th level, that amount of money wasn’t a problem, so every group would make sure they had a wand or two when they went on an adventure. After each encounter, the wands would come out and shortly thereafter everyone was on full hit points again.

Compare this to 1E where 6th-level party with two clerics had access to ten castings of cure light wounds, each restoring 1d8 hit points. Hit point totals were lower in 1E, but ten castings compared to 50? Or 100? And clerics could also turn each of their regular spells into healing spells as well! Where Original D&D was a game of attrition where part of the skill was knowing when to retreat and when to continue, 3E kept attrition in the form of spells prepared, but hit points – at later levels – only mattered if you depleted them in one combat.

The increased damage output and chance of hitting of monsters? This also changed things. The orc dealt 2d4+4 damage with a falchion, but had a very good chance of scoring a critical hit, a new part of the game. On a critical hit, the damage doubled and became 4d8+8, an average of 26 damage. If you didn’t have a good Constitution score, it was very easy to be knocked unconscious. A half-orc with a great-axe and a 20 Strength? That could be 3d12+15 damage in one blow, as the damage was tripled!

The rules on death and dying were only slightly updated. It was now an official part of the game that you were knocked unconscious once you reached 0 hit points and began dying, losing 1 hit point per round. Once you reached -10 hit points, you died. It was very possible, given critical hits, that you could be killed from a single blow from a creature, even if you were on maximum hit points, as a second-level ranger discovered in my game facing a lone half-orc warrior. A more significant change – though it is, perhaps, one that reflected how people played the game – was that you no longer needed bed rest after being restored to positive hit points. You could just keep on adventuring.

Placing this all together, the net effect was that individual combats became more significant in adventure building. Characters would go from full hit-points to depleted and then back again to full over the course of a single encounter rather than over the course of the adventure. If you went into combat without having all your hit points, you were at a significant risk of dying. And you could die just because a monster hit you with a lucky blow.

Poison could be very varied in this edition in its effects. The most dangerous type of special damage was Constitution damage, which reduced your bonus to hit points, and thus your maximum hit points as well. One adventurer in my games was reduced to a 5 Constitution score and had to survive a 9th level adventure with only 15 hit points maximum!

Despite this, 3E was a fun game to play. However, after eight years, it was time for a revision. The holes in the design were showing, and it was something new. This was D&D 4E, and it had learned some interesting lessons from the 3E experience.

Original AD&D AD&D 2E D&D 3E
Cleric (5th) 4d6+1 5d8 5d8 5d8
Fighter (5th) 5d6+1 5d10 5d10 5d10
Mage (5th) 3d6 5d4 5d4 5d4
Thief (5th) 5d4 5d6 5d6 5d6
Constitution Max +1 Max +4 Max +4 Max +12
Strength Max +0 Max +6 Max +6 Max +12
Monsters 1d6 1d8 1d8 1d6 to 1d12
Death 0 hp -3 hp -10 hp -10 hp
Dying? No Yes Yes Yes
Cleric heal 2nd level 1st level 1st level 1st level
Cure Light Wounds 1d6+1 1d8 1d8 1d8+1 (to 1d8+5)
Longsword 1d6 1d8/1d12 1d8/1d12 1d8
Fire Giant Damage 2d6+2 5d6 2d10+10 3d6+15
Fire Giant HP 11d6+3 11d8+2 15d8+5 15d8+75

The maximum of +12 for 3E was calculated from the PC having every form of magical enhancement for that ability score at level 20, which gave a score of 34 (+12). Most characters would have lower, but a +5 to +7 was not unreasonable for characters in the level 6-12 range.

Posted in D&D, D&D 3E, Design | 3 Comments