Monday, September 22, 2014

Benedict Cumberbat and Little Tiny Hugh Jackman Abs

The recap of this latest session has been delayed by work, sleep, and general laziness.  We had to meet a little earlier in the day, most of us had worked a lot that week, and many of us had a rough week in general, so about an hour and a half at the start of the game was spent de-stressing, leveling up (from last week), detoxing from life being generally tough, and shooting the breeze.  That led to a chatty and not overly focused session of gaming, which isn't bad in general, and honestly was what most of us needed (I think).  However, that means this is going to be a shorter than usual blog.  People leveling meant Aaron, Caelin, and Tracy got to pick their class specialties.  Aaron surprised me by picking Oath of the Ancients for his Paladin oath, meaning he's all about protecting life and light and liberty now, which I think will be a cool turning point for his character.  Caelin waffled over choosing between Necromancy and Evocation, but settled on Evocation, because she likes blowing things up.  Tracy picked Circle of the Moon so that her druid could wild shape better.  I look forward to what she is going to think up to turn into.

What we all hope Caelin will be doing in a few levels.

We started the session with everyone walking through the woods.  Tracy announced that the pet goblin dogs we picked up last session were named Sharpwizzle, Fizzlewrench, and Pepperrocket, which she evidently got from a random goblin name generator.  Because I decided that due to the scattered nature of everyone's mood we shouldn't go for a more freeform and loose encounter that I had planned, I announced that it was raining badly, and everyone decided their characters wanted to get out of the rain very much (especially Eric, because his character is shrouded in layers of carpets and cloths and he didn't want to be a wet blanket...badum tshhhh).  As a GM, I was kind enough to provide them with a ruined tower in the wilderness.  

This raised all sorts of questions, because a ruined tower in a storm at night is obviously a hook for a GM to do bad things to the players.  However, the rain was "really coming down hard, guys, and there is no sign of letting up," so they decided to go into the tower.  The top of the tower had mostly crumbled in.  Tracy used a spell to make a "scary noise" within the tower, which led to some good natured druids-are-all-hippies jokes about ghostly voices telling people to shave their armpits and saying Aaaaaannnnn Couuuulllterrrrrrr and Rrrrreeeppuuuuublicaaaaaans.  I told them that in response to the sound, some bats and a disgruntled owl flew out of the tower.  Caelin misheard me, and thought I said Benedict Cumberbatch flew out of the tower, and then found a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch's face photoshopped on a bat, which caused a lot of hilarity.

I am darkness!  I am the night!

Amid general joviality, they entered the tower.  The top of the tower had fallen in, so they descended to the lower level which consisted of a main room with a smaller room with a well, and a room that was mostly caved in off it.  They managed to get the Barrys (the taxidermized chimera heads) down the stairs in their wheelbarrow, and the party decided to poke around and make sure there wasn't anything that was going to kill them/treasure in the abandoned basement of a ruined tower.  Eric covered up the well after everyone joked about pulling a Pippin in the Mines of Moria and dropping a rock down it.  The rest of the party decided to break open a moldy box in the corner hoping to find...I dunno, rupees or something.  They found splinters, moldy grain, and a desiccated rat corpse. 

They decided to sleep, and Eric took watch because his character doesn't sleep.  This led to some jokes about what he does while the party sleeps (mostly about him braiding Aaron's dwarf's beard and whispering creepily).  He did none of those things.  Everyone slept around the baby fire elemental they'd "liberated" from the house they found Barry in.  Sal, the fire elemental, was named Sal, because it's the first three letters of "salamander."  Tracy likes naming things.  The goblin dogs slept piled up in a corner and smelled like wet dog more than usual.  The Barrys slept in the wheelbarrow by the stairs in case a quick escape was necessary.

Eric also evidently puts hair-bows in Aaron's dwarf beard too...

As people slept, Eric saw a set of eyes peer out from a crevice in the collapsed room.  He tossed a bit of bread at it, cast a spell of light in the room, and was greeted by about a dozen sets of eyes staring out from the rubble.  A bunch of Nuglub gremlins attacked, and got the drop on everyone as they started waking up, because Eric was yelling.  Brandie, being small, was grappled, and a nuglub started dragging her to the well room.  Another nuglub had done the same with a dog too, and the rest started attacking the party and trying to throw blankets over them to tangle them up.  I made the mistake of describing them as "little men with claws and big manes of black hair," which made Caelin think of little tiny Hugh Jackmans with little tiny abs which further derailed the game.  

Nuglubs look nothing like Hugh Jackman, just for the record.

People killed Nuglubs, Aaron started smiting, Brandie critted a nuglub like a badass, Eric cleared off a few that were coming down the stairs, and Tracy found out that she couldn't cast Entangle in places with no plants and decided to find a good florist to get some potted plants later.  Caelin is not a very wizardy wizard, and went full barbarian smashy smash with her quarterstaff, and it mostly paid off while the Barrys cheered them on.  Eric climbed the stairs to see if there was more out there, and saw something moving in the shadows.  It was a giant, centipede-ish creature that looked like a human centipede version of the critters they were fighting.  

Aaron even made me a picture of it.

It scuttled into the room on the ceiling, grabbed Tracy, then Aaron smote it, Brandie (riding Eric, because that's what happens when there is a gnome in the party) stabbed it, Caelin smashed some more Nuglubs, and Tracy got dropped then put a javelin through the Great Nuglub's face which killed it.  Caelin killed the last Nuglub, and they rejoiced in being alive.  Brandie found that she could worm her way into the collapsed room, and the other party members moved some rubble to get in as well.  They found dead, gnawed on bodies of of other travelers, a silver ring, a silver sword, and a lot of money.  Then we ran out of time, so we'll pick up later and hopefully be more on track.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How To Be A Highly Functional Lazy GM

Running a game is hard work.  Before you, dear reader, say "well duh" and just scroll to read my picture captions, understand that I am saying this out of a cathartic quasi-bitching that I'm not playing a game currently (and wish I was), but am amazingly happy to be GMing, because it is rewarding and fun. It's just fun in a completely different way from playing.  Also, saying that running a game is hard gives weight to the fact that it actually is.  I have never had a sustainedly (not just a few good moments) good time in a game where the Dungeon Master didn't actually put in quite a bit of work.  In fact, I've never been in a good campaign where the DM's work didn't fully eclipse the work put in by all the players combined.  That is a scary revelation for people running games everywhere, especially people like me who are inherently lazy as hell.

One of the several sins of which I am a fan.  The other is using the fuck word which is evidently my favorite word tonight.  #sorrynotsorry

Gamemastering feels out of control.  No matter how prepared you are, no matter your improv skills, knowledge of the setting, rules ken, and how well you know your players, they are going to out-think you, throw you curve balls, and just end up being obstinate.  Corralling roleplayers is like herding cats, and no matter how smart you are, it's almost certain that the combined intelligence of your players is greater than yours.  This article was inspired by the latest Two Nerds Podcast about running a game, and, in the spirit of this being a blog about Gamemastering, I figured I'd lay down some fat wisdom from my time as a lazy and seat of the pants Gamemaster.  Here's the golden rule:

Save yourself time and work whenever you can

I swear I'm prepping for next session.  Serious.

You can totally work yourself to death planning a game.  One of the biggest DMing pitfalls I've ever fallen into is making an entire world down to the minutiae of naming random NPCs and giving them more backstory than your players will ever afford their characters.  The worst part of this is that making a world on that level is awesome.  Seriously, so much fun.  All of the fun.  I have entire worlds in binders all over my bedroom, because it's cathartic and neat.  The issues with this are sixfold:

1) Your players will never love your world as much as you do, or at least for the reasons you do.
2) They will inevitably fuck it up.
3) You will never get them to experience everything you want them to.
4) Even if you do, they won't experience it exactly the way you want them to.
5) They won't take it as seriously as you and will make fun of something you thought was awesome.
6) You should be more attached to the characters than the world.

The last point is the most important.  Having a DM rooting for the NPCs is a surefire way of pissing players off and derailing a game.  The PCs are the heroes.  They are the focus of the story.  Everything else is the stage on which they...well, do whatever fuckery PCs do.  Therefore, the story should focus on what the PCs are doing, where the PCs are, and what their goals are.  That doesn't mean that outside forces shouldn't pressure them.  If there weren't outside forces pressuring them, there would be no need for a DM, but you don't need to plan High Priest Whothefuckcares's last words as he dies to the great evil that the PCs are going to fight about three months in gametime later.  Just having a plot point that "this badass demon killed a high priest and is going to LOL about it to the party" is good enough.  You don't need to plot the demon's exploits pre-encounter.  Just make up a list of like 5 bullet points (such as "tempted the Murder Queen, Ivanna Killemal") and just have him ramble random impressive sounding shit.  You don't need a paragraph, or, heaven forbid, a five page paper on each little thing.  Your players won't notice.  They want to kill the fucking demon (and possibly take his stuff, depending on genre).

Now, here's the rub.  You're the DM.  Your players expect you to have full knowledge of the world.  Most will expect you to have detailed the world in exacting OCD details, and, for the most part you want them to think that, because it has the fun effect of making it seem like you know what you're doing.  Players fuck around more when they don't think the DM knows what they are doing.  It's like they sense uncertainty and push boundaries, because that's human nature.  There's a very delicate line between not having a clue what's over the next hill, because you didn't plan it, but having something to do in case the players decide to run over there.  

Your reaction when your players run completely off script.

That is why you have lazy play aids that make it easy to improv when invariably the game goes somewhere far away from anything you ever imagined or planned.  The easiest one, and the one I use the most is a list of (semi) random names.  It is something I need to bust out again for this current game I'm running, because, even though I'm usually great at coming up with names on the fly, I ended up naming a taxidermized chimera Barry.  Now, that didn't end up so bad, because it added a sense of Douglas Adamsian whimsey to the already...whimsical I guess...theme of the game so far, but imagine getting into a throne room to meet a really important king and just being all "I dunno guys, I guess his name's Herbert."  It's not good.  

A key aspect of the name list is to not make it unpronounceable or redundant.  Broadsiding players with Xxanadrizzithinia'tkul the barmaid is not cute.  Go with easier names like Deor, Geoffrey, or Sophia that are (or at least similar to) real world names that people may have heard.  They're pronounceable, easily remembered by players, and you'll remember it too, because you need to.  Your players will remember everything you think they won't, so make sure you remember it too.  Also, while Deor son of Beor son of Jeor is cool, don't overuse it (redundancy).  If every NPC in your game has a name that starts with the letter "A," your players will notice and call you out on it.  It takes some work for the list, but it will save you so much work in the long run.

Don't let this be you.

Making lists of names for small towns, cities, marshes, forests, etc can also be useful, and maybe make a terrain feed list as well.  Terrain feeds are just a list of terrain types (forests, swamps, plains, deserts, etc) you want to use, and then listing what can adjoin each other (forests can be next to swamps and plains, deserts can be near mountains and plains) so that you don't have a swamp in the middle of a desert, because your players will ask a lot of questions that really don't have a lot to do with the plot.  Also, lists of professions/shops in a town can be useful.  Some of these lists can be adapted to roll on for random results if you are so inclined.  All this saves you from having to plot every aspect of the world out as you go and allows it to grow organically as the players decide to visit things outside the normal tourist attractions.

I have said that you should not detail the world in exacting minutiae, because your players won't care about at least half of it.  There is, however, a surefire way to make up world stuff with your players that they will actually care about and will matter.   Not only that, you can make them do almost all the work for you.  Just meet up with them and discuss their characters' backstories.  Discuss, collaborate, delve, and write shit down.  Not all the players need to give you a Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) or complete plot.  All you need is one, and then the rest of the players can give you some random crap about the backwater town they came from that you can use to flesh out the world.  It's also helpful to hook in reticent roleplayers.  If the guy who is hesitant about roleplaying is put into a situation where you tell him that the town they're in has a festival his character remembers from his farming village in his childhood, then he has a hook he can latch onto.  This will also inform you of where the players want a game to go.  If you plot a big save the world plot and the players want to dungeon delve, you can pick up on that from the meet up and re-calibrate.  

Now, meeting up with the players sounds like a bunch of actual work as does remembering the stuff they come up with.  The first part shouldn't be so bad.  I'd assume that you actually like the people you play with.  You're probably friends with them in real life.  That means you should spend quality time with them (says the man who plans to spend at least the next 24 hours only interacting with his computer and cat), and like most people, talking about mutual interests is a normal thing to do.  Just pay attention.  I pretty much make a rule to only take one page of notes per character.  

The one page rule is also another good jumping off point for just about everything.  Notes for the session: one page.  Notes for each character: one page.  Notes for the plot: one page.  Notes for the session recap: one page.  Notes for an encounter: one page.  Don't even feel that you have to use the whole page.  Here are my notes for last session:
 1) Have Aaron find priest.  Goblins eating priest's legs.  Priest tells Aaron to follow girls.
2) Brandie and Eric on train. Dark cloud comes in.  Dragon and [expunged because my players read my blog] ride in and blow up train.  Brandie and Eric need to find party.
3) Caelin and Tracy need to meet party.
4) Maybe fog rolls in and everyone gets lost in woods and finds each other?  Only use if necessary.
5) House in woods.  Has talking Chimera heads stuffed on walls.  Special books on shelves.  Mini elemental in stove.  No one home.  Chimera heads refer to "master" if asked.
6) Oh yeah, Tanya the bard needs to find them then disappear at some point for [expunged because of aforestated reasons].
7) Goblin and goblin dog stats for a prepared encounter (more on stat blocks later in article).
8) Another mini encounter with a single being that I never used, because the players roleplayed a lot and we ran out of time.
All of this was one page front and back (more like half a page on the back)  and that was only because I wrote big so I could read it easier.  I had space next to each encounter to keep track of initiative and hit points and other expendables.  I didn't even get to my whole second encounter, and we played for four and a half hours.  My after game notes are technically this blog consist of one solitary sheet of paper that I scrawl on as the session goes on.

This segues perfectly into my hatred of stat blocks for encounters.  Games like Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons (3rd edition specifically) have giant, complicated, involved, hard to read stat blocks for monsters.  I really don't need to know a monster's move speed, skill modifiers, feats, ecology, and whatever if they're not going to necessarily pertain to the encounter.  Honestly, I'm not sure that all of them should, because it's just more stuff to keep track of.  I try to boil down my stat blocks to as little as possible so that I have fewer moving pieces for me to forget.  Here's the stats for the goblin encounter I used last session:

Goblin Weezard:
AC 13
Attack: Stick +4 1d4+1 or Smelly Potion +6
Once a PC has been hit by Stick or Smelly Potion, can cast Witch Bolt on that character

Goblin Doggie:
AC 12
Attack: Bite +4 1d10+2
Once bite attack is used, doggie's jaw locks. If they hit, they are locked on PC and PC has disadvantage on all rolls.

There are five Doggies and three Weezards.  That is all the encounter was.  
That's all that I used for that encounter?

And honestly, that's more than I usually have.  I haven't really played 4th Edition D&D, but the only time I played, we fought against minions.  I have no clue what the actual minion rules are from 4th (if someone wants to enlighten me, that would be awesome).  I know all I need to know: when I use them, I don't have to track hit points, and hitting a minion kills it because it has one hit point.  I can throw lots of goblins at my players and feel okay about it.  I know there's also something about saves (meh, I eyeball it anyways and write a random number and go from there usually) and using average damage for weapons, but I like rolling dice and don't want to deprive myself of rolling them.  I usually roll far under average anyways, so my players should actually be happy.  But the take home message is that I usually don't give enemies anything more than HP, AC, attacks, and a special ability or two.  Tracking spells and skills and saves is just a lot of work.  Saves can be important occasionally, so I'll block them out really quickly before I start rolling if they come up, but I usually don't do it beforehand, because they don't come up even usually in my experience.  I also don't bother to balance things, because I use another awesome trick:

I make encounters open ended and start small and keep adding if necessary.  I still had my goblin stat notes from the session before, and if they players last week had mowed through the goblin weezards and doggies in short order, the non mounted goblin reinforcements would have shown up.  Another example of this kind of encounter is the zombie trap from one of my previous blog entries.  On one hand, it can be a grinder of endless zombies.  On the other, it can just be slow pressure to make an easy fight progressively harder.  I use things like that less ruthlessly than many DMs I've played under.  However, because it seems like the same kind of thing but isn't, I don't condone adding HP to a monster mid combat to make it hard, but a spellcaster could very well have a self healing spell or a healing potion, or, they could just run away, get cover, or just do something to make life difficult for the party.  Very few of my monsters just stand and fight if the fight isn't going their way.  

No.  No the enemies are not...

Lastly, one of the ways to make life much easier for yourself, and a tried and true technique that I always have on hand is a seemingly random encounter that actually has some relevance to what is going on.  For example, in session one of the current campaign I am running the players encountered a goblin king and his village, burned most of the village down, failed to kill the goblin king, and killed a whole lot of his people.  The goblin encounter in session two seemed randomish, but the fact that the players left the goblin king alive means that goblin war bands, bounty hunters, and killers will be following them and showing up randomly until they deal with it.  I can throw a goblin encounter in any time I feel things are getting slow.  It can seem random, but it's not.  It's a mini plot of its own.  Just make up a few and hold them until you feel it necessary to throw in.

So yeah, lazy DMing is a lot of work, but it's not as stressful as managing main plots, reading pages of notes, remembering thousands of NPCs of dubious worth to the plot, exactingly remembering stat blocks and encounter tables, and various other bits and bobs that tend to bog the game down.  It takes a lot of confidence and improvisation to run this way, but in the end, it feels closer to playing (at least to me) than bookkeeping, which is a step in the right direction (again, at least to me).  My average session prep time is maybe half an hour to an hour a week tops with this method, meaning I have more time for Netflix, sleeping, and doing other fun things, because honestly, running a game should be fun, not another chore.  Too many DMs burn out, and from what I've seen, most of it is due to over-planning and stressing out about the game too much.  Cutting your stress as a DM and leaving planning to a series of in game decisions when you have some play aids to ease the decision making means that the job gets easier, meaning you can pay attention to your players more, do funny voices, and generally have far more fun.  And, after all, that's what roleplaying is all about.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Session Two: The Deuce

There are moments that I have had in my career as a DM where I curled up into a ball as my players made a mockery of my carefully planned plots and ran roughshod over my beautiful world and rich, intriguing histories.  I disconsolately rolled dice to fend off the assaults of uncaring murder hobos as they burned and salted the ruins of temples full of tales that would rival Tolkien and Salvatore.  Luckily, I got over that about five minutes into last session of my campaign, re-calibrated, and have embraced the madcap antics that my players have seemed to wholeheartedly embrace.  I don't need to run a game in Westeros.  I can do Discworld just fine.

Yes, Troy.  Yes it does. Also, let's see how many Community pictures I can find that fit this blog.

And it was very Discworld-esque.   But first, there was happiness, because Aaron and Tracy brought buffalo chicken dip and I made three ingredient chocolate chip cookies (literally crushed graham crackers, chocolate chips, and sweetened condensed milk) and there was Dr Pepper.  It was a grey, chilly day, but man does a good smorgasboard and a passle of awesome friends make a day awesome.  I had Aaron, Caelin, and Tracy recount the tales of the last session (more or less accurately and more or less embellished for comedic effect), because it brought Brandie and Eric up to speed (because this is their first session) and because it lets me gauge what went well, what went poorly, and who was actually paying attention.  Good news: they all seemed to like last week and they all mostly paid attention.  

We forayed onwards.  I started with Aaron's dwarven paladin standing on the corpses of the goblins he killed last session in the goblin village that Caelin and Tracy lit on fire last session.  He was all alone and started looking around for the priest that his character is friends with who was an important NPC who got hit in the head with a rock and and then abandoned last session.  Aaron found the priest lying unconscious while two goblins hacked his legs off.  Aaron killed one goblin and the other ran off with one of the priest's legs.  Since he hadn't used it last session, Aaron used his Lay on Hands on the priest, reviving him, and, after screaming in pain and shock, the priest told Aaron to follow the girls and protect them, because one of them might actually save the world or something (although it would take a miracle at this point).  Aaron set off into the woods after Caelin and Tracy.

The cleric now also only has one leg and may or may not come back as a cyborg villain in the future.

Brandie (a gnome  rogue) and Eric (a carpet and turban swathed something or other that has a quarterstaff, darts, and might cast Prestidigitation) were on the train from the last session that everyone abandoned because fuck the plot.  They were treated to the sight of a dark cloud of roiling black badness coming from the direction of the capitol city and rolling directly towards them as people panicked on the train.  They also were treated to the clouds glowing red and parting to reveal a magma dragon with a black mailed figure riding it as it dive bombed the train and blew up the entire back end of the train.  Brandie and Eric disembarked in an orderly fashion as all the other assorted NPCs panicked and were eaten by a dragon.  They ran off into the grasslands and looped back to the forest where, Brandie sitting on Eric's shoulders, they set off to find a person strong enough to shovel coal so they could steal the remnants of the train, because that's the kind of players I have.  

It really really is.

Caelin and Tracy were running through the woods until they found a ravine and decided to take a (short) rest so they could get more HP (because that's a thing in D&D 5th Edition).  Caelin slept and Tracy used her Nature skill to find food and stuff. She rolled well, so she found some berries, wild onions, and a vole (because I was broadsided by the question and named the first woodland creature that came into my head).  Somehow that ended up feeding all five players, because the other three stumbled upon their campsite and Jesus somehow like multiplied the vole-with-onion-and-berry-sauce or something, and everyone was saying things in character that made everyone crack up, and we really were just laughing too hard to care.  It's a good group of super snarky, sassy, quick witted roleplayers.

With calculating food intake that is.  And Community pictures.

Fed and united as a disfunctional unit of mayhem, the party set off back to the train to commandeer it, because now that it could be stolen, the plot train seemed like the place to be.  The NPC Sara Mclauchlan bard from last week (who also had followed Eric and Brandie) and Tracy and Brandie expressed concern over a dragon being there, but Caelin, rife with confidence in her Dragonborn glory (and knowledge of the Draconic language) told everyone that she'd just talk to the evil dragon of doom and ride it the fuck out of there because they were like probably cousins or some shit.  I informed her that it was more like the cousin who was addicted to meth and jailed for being a serial killer, but that did little to dissuade her confidence.  Luckily, by the time they got back to the train, the dragon was no longer present, neither was its rider, and the train was ruined and covered in slag from the magma dragon's breath weapon, because if they don't want to ride the plot train when I'm in charge of it, they don't get to change their minds and steal it later.

They decided to head south to The Library at Howell, which is evidently the only piece of my world and plot that they thought sounded interesting enough to fixate on (probably because my description of it made it sound like my world's version of Hogwarts).  They settled for the night to rest so everyone could heal fully, and Eric said that he'd watch all night, because he doesn't sleep, which is a hint as to what kind of character he is playing.  In the night, he saw a magic trail leading off into the woods, and, when everyone woke up, he told everyone that there was probably something cool that way, and they followed the direction the trail had led.

The trees thickened, and there were fungi and mushroom circles everywhere.  Ahead, they saw sunlight streaming through the trees and in a small glade, there was a small cottage.  Jokes were made about finding a better gnome than Brandie until Brandie and Eric noticed (with perception checks) that the house was slightly too big to be a normal humanoid's house.  They dared the NPC bard to go in first, she did, and then when nothing happened, the party followed.  The cottage only had one room, and there were some cupboards, a stove, a bookcase and some other stuff. There were also three (poorly) taxidermized heads on the wall: a goat, a lion, and a very lumpy lizard-ish thing.  The heads introduced themselves as Barry (actually, the goat introduced itself, the lion chimed in, and the lizard head mumbled incoherently).  The party promptly decided to liberate the heads and most of the other things in the house, including the baby fire elemental in the stove.

Badly. Taxidermized. Lion. Head.

They also stole a wheelbarrow, loaded it up with the Barrys and assorted loot, and set off into the woods again.  Mind you, completely disregarding the fact that they had just stolen a bunch of shit from something that is slightly larger than an average human who had talking chimera heads on its fucking walls.  They also left about $2.50 in coins and a slightly apologetic note on the table.  Also, the NPC bard disappeared sometime in that time frame, and the party mostly didn't care.  They aren't the most discerning or careful group ever.

As they trekked through the woods, they heard the baying of dogs and the yells of goblins.  Caelin, Brandie, and Tracy climbed trees while Eric stashed the Barrys and loot behind a tree then stood his ground behind Aaron.  Five goblin dogs and three goblin wizards came pelting through the trees.  Eric and Aaron both got goblin dogs latched onto them.  Brandie sniped the dog on Eric, but the dog was already stuck.  Tracy cast Speak With Animals and started talking to the dog under her tree.  Caelin cast Magic Missile and split the three missiles to three targets and didn't kill any of them and was not happy about it.  She also used her dragon breath to kill the dog under her tree.  Aaron failed multiple times to do anything and the goblins in front of Eric and Aaron doused them with bottles of smelly liquid.  Brandie killed a goblin climbing her tree, Eric beat the goblin in front of him to death with his quarterstaff, and the goblin on Aaron cast Witch Bolt on Aaron and dropped him to three hit points.  Aaron used Lay on Hands on himself to not die, Caelin jumped out of her tree and clubbed the goblin on Aaron to death.  Tracy convinced the remaining three dogs that they were all friends, so she has three goblin dogs following her, and they figured out the massage technique to un-clench the dogs' jaws when they clamp shut.

And that was that.  They got to level two, and we get to pick up next Friday for more mayhem and chaos.  The party has grown by three goblin beartrap dogs and taxidermized chimera heads, and is now five...beings strong.  We'll see how it goes, but it's going to be nothing but ridiculous and entertaining.

The end.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Shameless Plugs and Rambling

So, I've been mentioned on a podcast, which is cool.  Eric (one of my players who I haven't played with yet and hopefully will this coming Friday) has a podcast called Two Nerds with his roommate and friend, and Brandie (his wife and another one of my players who I haven't played with yet and will this coming Friday) guest stars on it.  Here's the link to the episode where they talk about their first impressions of 5th Edition and mention my game and blog.  Here's another link to their newest blog about D&D edition wars which is fun because they actually like and have played 2nd, 3rd, and 4th edition D&D and have played all of them a lot and have good opinions based on actual play.  Anyways, shameless plug aside, they're cool, and I look forward to the second actual session of my game which will hopefully be this coming Friday.

I'm mostly blogging, because last week all my carefully-planned-for-maximum-plot-and-fun plot went completely pear shaped.  In retrospect, I should have figured.  I haven't seen a plot go well in a sandbox-ish game in pretty much forever.  Also, my best friend, Caelin, is too much like me to let anybody get on a plot train (and I literally had a plot train that she got people off of) despite the fact that I thought since she was new I'd be able to pull it over on her.  I was wrong, I admit it, I wasn't super attached to my plot, and now have retooled things now that I know how my players are motivated.

When you literally have 2/3 of your players just say "nope" to your plot...

In the past week or so, Caelin and Aaron have both been talking D&D with me quite a bit.  Both have been bitten by the D&D bug.  Aaron has been writing extensive backstory for Dagarkin, his Hill Dwarf Paladin, and has been thinking about how all the items in his packs came into his possession.  He's even given the random trinket he rolled (a pair of bone dice with skulls on the 6 face) a full on backstory and tied a young, Half Elf, Cleric NPC into his backstory.  Aaron is the player who is easy to hook in, because he's excited about the narrative, is a team player, and has already provided my (unknowingly) with story hooks to keep him with the party.  Caelin has been saying that she is excited about having adventures, and, after briefly talking to her about some aspects of the campaign world, she is super excited about visiting a certain location involving a lot of magic and bees that may or may not be a "vacation" destination for the party. She seems to be motivated by seeing and getting neat stuff.  As long as she gets to see and get neat stuff, I think she'll be easy to keep on track.

Tracy is the one I'm having a hard time pinning down.  She's the player I know the least, the quietest player, but also the one who has had the most out of the box thinking thus far.  Tracy at least has the shining grace of going (mostly) with the flow.  Of course, I also am going to have Brandie and Eric playing for the first time with us this coming Friday, meaning I have to get a good grasp on their play styles, because I've never played with either of them before.  That's the blessing and curse of playing with an all new group; I have fresh perspective, but I also have no clue what exactly makes them all tick.  I do have fun plot ideas to tie Eric, Aaron, and Caelin's characters together, and Brandie's Gnome Rogue will likely fit spectacularly into the running chaos that is Caelin and Tracy.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Chaos! Goblins! Smashy-Smash! D&D!

Today I DMed 5th Edition D&D for three brand new Roleplayers.  Brandie was, unfortunately, sick and Eric had to work, so both had to miss the first true session of my game.  That left me with Aaron, Caelin, and Tracy who have never actually played pen and paper RPGs before.  They're all interesting, fun, creative people, but I had no clue how this would all go, especially since I had only planned a bare bones session (as I usually do), I'd never DMed 5th Edition before, and I'm out of practice DMing in general.

I spent a large portion of this session mentally in the "what I  usually do" position.

Luckily, the three of them handled the game like old pros, i.e. they trashed my plans, mostly ignored the plot, murdered stuff, caused mayhem, and have already burned down a house.  I should have never worried about making the plot grab their attention.  I should probably not have had a plot, honestly, although it gave Aaron something to do and reasons to be places since he's playing the only character who is not completely out for themselves.  Caelin and Tracy are both playing Chaotic Neutral, heavy on the Chaotic Selfish, which immediately means that forcing them onto the plot train is similar to herding cats.  I shall adjust my tactics accordingly...  We finished up the last tidbits of character creation from last week that we didn't get to, specifically rolling trinkets and making sure everyone's modifiers were in all the right places.

They started off in a small town on the back end of nowhere.  Rumors had circulated that the high priest of the country had prophesied that some indistinct bad thing was going to happen.  Around one in the afternoon on a random day, silver flames appeared over the heads of all three characters and several other people , and Aaron, playing a dwarven paladin, was in the local church when it happened.  It was explained to him that the high priest had indeed predicted doom and had sacrificed himself to cast a spell to mark those whose destinies were entwined with that doom.  As  the local priests explained to Aaron, however, the now dead high priest had been a bit senile and had misworded the spell so that it literally marked every single person who was tied up in the coming events.  That ended up being a lot of people, so the church was rounding them all up, shipping them to the capitol, and sorting out the mess from there.

As part of the church and as a lawful good paladin, Aaron went along with said plan.  Chaotic selfish Caelin and Tracy balked when approached by a paladin and a priest in a bar and asked to come with the clergy on a matter of "national importance."  I quickly realized that I was going to have problems and told them they would be compensated in a monetary fashion for their time.  That got them going after Caelin (the dragonborn wizard) spoke with her weasel familiar and decided that they were comfortable with leaving and Tracy failed her stealth roll and Aaron prevented her from getting away.  They were loaded onto a train along with about 30 other people who were marked with these (slowly fading) silver flames over their heads and settled in for a long ride.

Their train car had the young half elf priest from earlier, a few hill dwarves, prissy elf rangers, and a female human bard who I described as a bad mix of Sarah Mclachlan and John Mayer who Caelin decided to hit on.  They also went around the table and described their characters and gave their characters' names (which Caelin rolled randomly, because she found out Aaron did and had just been calling green dragonborn wizard Madame Vastra until that point).  That delayed the game for a few minutes while Tracy googled tiefling pictures to figure out what her skin color was and Caelin looked up dragonborn pictures.  Tracy is now a bluish silver tiefling with silvery hair and violet eyes.  Aaron's dwarf is a total ginger with ruddy cheeks.  Caelin's character has a bearskin cape and giant scaly boobs, and her weasel familiar does not have a name and is just called "Weasel."  Also, a group of weasels is called a sneak, confusion, or boogle.  

Yes, that Madame Vastra

Those little introductions out of the way, we continued to the point where the train stopped for the evening at a small elvish outpost along the train tracks.  The priests got off and told everyone to wait. They were gone for a really long time, and Caelin and Tracy became restless and bored.  They decided to get off the train and find out what was happening, Aaron tried to stop them, and they told him that they needed to take the weasel outside to let it go to the bathroom and that weasel urine was terrible and that he didn't want to clean it out of the carpet.  He had none of it, Tracy tried to cast charm person on him, Aaron made his save, caught her, and then Caelin just let the weasel run off and she and Tracy said "oh well, we need to catch it now" and left the train anyways.  Aaron followed to babysit.

They followed the weasel to a house in the elvish outpost where some elves were conferring with the perturbed priests.  Caelin barged right in demanding to know what was going on with Aaron on her heels and Tracy peeping through a window, and all of the party caught a glimpse of an illusion map of the country with a giant dark cloud of evil blackness where the capitol was supposed to be.  Then the weasel made a stealth check and took a magic crystal off the table without people noticing and dispelled the illusion.  They got the priests to give them the full rundown of what was going on, and then were informed that they weren't going to the capitol because a rift in reality had overlayed the area with one of the "lower planes" and the capitol may or may not be there anymore.

Caelin and Tracy said fuck this job.  Offering to double the money did not work in keeping them there, and Caelin stormed off down the train tracks back home, Tracy ran off into the forest, and Aaron followed Tracy trying to beat some sense into her that the evil planar overlay was spreading and she'd have to deal with it eventually.  Tracy decided the fastest way to ditch a dwarf in full plate mail was to climb a tree and jump treetop to treetop outside of his line of vision and succeeded in getting away.  I made one last ditch effort to get Caelin back on the plot train by having Tanya the Sarah Mclachlan bard run after her and ask what she was doing.  After telling the bard that part of the country blew up, she rebuffed any and all sexual advances, crushed the bard's spirits, was told that there were trolls in the area, and left for reals.  She and Tracy climbed separate trees in separate parts of the forest, tied themselves to branches, and fell asleep like Katniss Everdeen.

Caelin was plagued by mosquitoes and "one sharp pointy bite that woke her up before going back to sleep."  Aaron dealt with the bard telling everyone else on the train that the capitol blew up and everyone was going to die (thanks to hyperbole and Caelin not telling the bard any of the correct facts of what was going on), slept for a few hours, then was woken by the young priest and told that the "dragon lady" had been captured by goblins and the tiefling was sleeping in a tree above the goblin camp.  With a few of the local elves, Aaron and the NPCs ran off to the rescue.  Tracy woke up to hear goblins yelling and being goblins, looked down, and realized she'd gone treetop to treetop and camped right in the middle of a goblin camp.  Caelin woke up with a headache and realized she was trussed up and the last mosquito bite had been a sleep dart.  Her weasel was nowhere in sight, and she immediately jumped to the conclusion that I had made the goblins eat her weasel.  

There was also a goblin king sitting on a makeshift throne of random odds and ends and he had all of Caelin's stuff.  Tracy slipped lower in the branches and cast Entangle on the goblins below.  Caelin's weasel made an appearance and chewed through her ropes as Tracy cast balls of fire from Produce Flames at the entangled goblins below.  Aaron showed up with the young priest NPC and three elf rangers and waded in with a warhammer.  He squashed six goblins.  Caelin gathered up her stuff with her weasel's help, took a blow from a club, and ran off.  Tracy threw a few bits of fire, then took off jumping branch to branch again.  Caelin was chased down by the priest NPC who healed her before taking several thrown rocks to the head and going down.  Caelin used her green dragonborn poison breath to melt two goblins, Tracy failed an acrobatics check to jump tree limb to tree limb and fell on Caelin.  They decided they would both run away from the fight together, and Caelin lit a goblin hut on fire with Chromatic Orb, and they ran off into the woods.

Aaron was left in a goblin camp full of burning huts, dead bodies, and general disarray.  The girls are running through the wilderness.  Caelin's weasel had stolen a few shiny baubles from the goblin's treasure trove under the throne, so I rolled on the trinket table and she got Michael Jackson's white sequined glove (seriously, it's on the table on page 160.  it's item 35).  All of them were quite involved, after the first few minutes of explanation, and I never really felt that I had to entertain them as I occasionally feel with new players.  They all caught on to roleplaying and most of the rules quite quickly.  


So, all my plot to get people on a train and take them to exotic locations and have them do heroic things are completely down the tubes, and everyone is now wandering around in the middle of nowhere in the woods and a rift to the lower planes is open somewhere else where they can't fix things and none of them really seem to care (except Aaron).  Tracy seemed excited to find out that Speak With Animals means that she can talk to Caelin's weasel, and Caelin is excited that her weasel steals stuff.  Aaron's paladin seems exasperated, and now I have to figure out how to work in Brandie and Eric's characters next time we play and plan things for them to do that don't involve saving the world or the greater good or avenging fallen allies or anything that is even remotely altruistic, because those motivations obviously don't work.  I shouldn't have expected anything else.