Thursday, 31 December 2020

The Encounter Ramp Goes Both Ways

The Encounter Ramp is a concept from scenario design which tries to match your parties experience with the strength of the monsters they are facing.  In D&D this is often referred to as the Challenge Rating.  As PCs gain more experience and become more powerful the strength of their opponents must increase to maintain the feeling of challenge.

Sometimes the stars align but more often than not they are never in the right bloody place at the right bloody time.  As a GM it is your job to make the adventure a heroic challenge.

I thought I had unwittingly led my players into an encounter that was going to result in a Total Party Kill (TPK) and an early bath for the GM. In my current campaign the party is relatively low level comprising of  

  • 3 x Level 1, 
  • 1 x Level 2, 
  • 1 x Level 3 and 
  • 1 x Level 4 PC

That's a total of 12 levels of experience between them but the scenario is designed for 5 to 8 Characters of Levels 7 to 9 (between 45 and 56 Levels). 

OK, I admit it, I fell in love with the scenario and didn't really worry too much about how the PCs were going to fare. I mean it's never supposed to be easy right?

To cut a long story short, their first big battle finds them fighting some pretty big guys, a Troll and 3 Bugbears, with a second wave in the room above being 1 Ogre and 5 Gnolls. As individual encounters these would be manageable, difficult but manageable. However, as a second wave these are not one hit minions, they are going to descend on the PCs like a hammer.

Oh and did I forget to mention that this is just the start. If I were playing this by the book they will still have to fight their way past 12 bugbears, 1 giant 2 headed troll, 2 hill giants, 2 giant trolls, 4 trolls, 8 ogres, 11 gnolls. That's a lot of hit dice they have to overcome.

The Solution?

Ramp it down a little. I always knew I was going to have to reduce the number of monsters to make it manageable for them.

Hit Point Reduction - make a few of them one hit wonders.  Give your PCs a free perception check to spot the ones that are limping or carrying a few fresh wounds from some recent war band pissing match.

The Call of Nature - There's always one bad guy who is in the middle of something else when they hear the battle cry or the bugle.  Having a Bugbear otherwise detained sitting on the khazi, asleep or drunk is perfectly legitimate and offers that added advantage of potential information gathering once the battle has ended.

Morale Fail - Often overlooked, but a perfectly legitimate excuse for a GM is to make the monsters flee rather than fight it out to the death. 

Take Two Bites - PCs often overlook the adage "Run away and live to fight another day" or in otherwords run away and have a short rest, drink some healing potions and try again.  Dead bad guys are still going to be dead whereas PCs often have heroic recoveries.  Tactics can be re-evaluated, strategies can be re-examined and knowledge gained during the fight can be exploited.

Zach Kanin (The New Yorker)


RPGs and Inclusivity

First post of the New Year and it's time to say that I'm glad to see the back of 2014.

For a while I've been worried that the hobby (and to some degree popular media) was descending  into a a pit of bile and hatred. 

So I'm going to start off this year by reminding everyone that:

By this I mean that they are a framework around which you hang your shared experience with your friends.  They don't tell you:

Who can or can't play the game - Yes, the artwork contained inside the books may give off the same sort of vibe as 1980s Heavy Metal albums, but to be honest they're just visualisations to give you ideas of what one possible world may look like.  Frankly, I don't care if you're female, black or transgendered, I want to give you the opportunity to be part of my world and through the various challenges I set, collectively explore and change it.

What characters they can play or how they play them - Yes there are classes and races, but these are just framework suggestions.  As a DM with 30+ years of experience I don't want you to slavishly follow those, I've seen them a thousand times already.  I want you to choose what you want to be and add flavour to my world.

How to play the game - Yes, every rulebook contains an example of play demonstrating a game in progress, but you only learn how to play by interacting with the other players and DM.  There is no right or wrong way to play an RPG, but there are plenty of player behaviours which can make playing a game a horrible experience.  If you're a new player you might want to consider "rules" but the DM and players ultimately choose which ones to follow and which to ignore.  I've yet to play in a group that hasn't had at least a handful of house rules.  My own preference is that as long as things appear consistent then any rule can be chopped in favour of cinematic style.  

Thursday, 17 December 2020

When the Bad Guys Win

When the Bad Guys Win is the December 2020 RPG Blog Carnival theme kindly hosted by Rising Phoenix Games.

Losing is a quintessential part of Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey in fiction. 

It's right there at the bottom of the circle.  Our hero must enter the Abyss or face a challenge in which he metaphorically is destroyed and reborn a hero.  It's something that every hero must go through. 

Some Cinematic Bad Guy Wins Scenarios

Judge Dredd (1995) - The bad guys win when Dredd is framed for the murder of journalist Vartis Hammond and his wife Lilly.  Incontravercial forensic evidence in the form of DNA encoded bullets is presented giving Dredd the death penalty.  Judge Fargo steps down and in his final act as Chief Justice commutes the sentence to life imprisonment in the Aspen Penal Colony.  He is on his way to the Abyss before a chain of events is set in motion by the notorious cursed earth cannibals the Angel Gang.  

The Lord of The Rings - There are quite a few moments during LoTR that are bad guy win scenarios but the one that always springs to mind is when Boromir falls to the

The Empire Strikes Back (1982) - Things look pretty bleak at the end of Empire.  Han is frozen in carbonite and on his way to Jabba the Hutt.  Luke has lost a hand and found out that his father is Darth Vader.  Lando has lost Cloud City and the rebel fleet are on the run.  Does it get any worse?

Rookie GM Mistakes

One of the worst mistakes you can make as a GM is to reveal your bad guy too soon.  Your heroes need to get a few wins under their belts against minions, they need to foil some minor schemes to bring them to the attention of the big bad.  They need to be filled with a false sense of their own abilities and greatness before you drop the hammer on them.

The hero's journey circle above is divided into two halves, the upper being the known world, the world that the heroes have familiarity and can exert some control over.  The second half is the unknown representing the world that the big bad has demense over.  The conflict with the threshold guardians is a pivotal moment in this crossing over to the unknown world where things are not in their control.

But hold on we aren't ready just yet.  You need to put their backs up against the wall, you need to take them to the edge.

NPCs are Destined to Die for a Reason

I always recommend having at least one NPC in a party for a number of reasons such as channeling DM hints, filling skills gaps or for introducing plot or story knowledge.  I particularly like using the NPC as a patron or leader who joins the party on their quest. 

However, one of their greatest uses is to be a casualty of war.  Having a beloved NPC die can be a pivotal moment in a story which makes it real for the players.  This is particularly effective if the NPC performed a vital function in the group, such as the healer or their guide.  Making the players genuinely feel a sense of loss is just one of the ways you can ramp up their stress levels and make their futures seem genuinely uncertain and perilous.

Death and Rebirth 

We've all been there rolling our death saves whilst the rest of the party finish off the ork horde.  How many times have you been healed from near death and just carried on as normal?

This is a great opportunity for the GM to impart some wisdom or knowledge to the "dead" player which will give them an advantage in the final battle.  How many times have you watched a death dream sequence?  It's a popular trope for a reason.  

Thanks of course go to Of Dice and Dragons for continuing to promote the RPG Blog Carnival.  This is my 6th entry and you can read the rest by clicking the RPG Blog Carnival tag below.




Wednesday, 16 December 2020

3 Things You Need When Collecting Vintage Board Games

Sometimes a bargain vintage boardgame comes incomplete.  Sometimes you can only afford to buy the incomplete ones.  

Don't fret, you can probably fix that game up and replace those missing components with some hand made ones.

  The three tools I have found indispensible for this are:

  1.  A Printer Scanner Copier - even a cheap and cheerful budget version will produce more than acceptable results.

  2. GIMP - the free image editor takes a bit of getting used to but is essential for manipulating your scanned card fronts and backs into printable files.

  3. A Laminator - inkjet printed cards soon disintegrate so running them through a laminator will make them a bit more substantial and resistant to cheeto fingers.


Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Vintage Miniatures - Ral Partha Arabian Wizard

Another vintage Ral Partha mini this week.

Unfortunately, I can find no information on this mini.  I think this is from one of the AD&D lines but I cannot be sure.  I have hunted through the Lost Minis Wiki and DnDLead with no luck.

If anyone out there can find a listing for this mini please leave a comment.
UPDATE: Thanks to the members of the lostminiswiki reddit group this mini was correctly identified as being from the All American range and specifically their 12-020 Wizards collection. 

Ral Partha Arabian Wizard with Turban Staff and Scroll
Ral Partha Arabian Wizard
with Turban Staff and Scroll - RP-aa-12-020b