Saturday, June 10, 2017

Being a Player

As noted, I haven't been a player in D&D all that much, and not at all in a very long time. So as we have gotten started on our new campaign, I have given some thought to what I want to be mindful of as a player. All of which is certainly informed by our last ~3 years of the campaign I have been DM for (the Shearingvale campaign). In that respect this is also, I suppose, a wish list of how I would want my players to behave, in a perfect world. But a discussion of player styles, motivations and approaches would be a different post entirely...

I have included my character's home brew character sheet as an example of how I am trying to keep track of the stuff I talk about below. I realize that it has way more detail than you really need, but it took very little time to think about my character and scribble out these notes. Plus, it was fun.

Know your abilities - This is a mechanical one, but a critical foundation for everything else. Know your character's class abilities, racial abilities, skills and other things that makes your character unique. This allows you to play the game well. Not knowing the rules that specifically affect your character would be like playing checkers without knowing that getting your piece to the opposite baseline allows you to say "king me."
Merka, page 1, the critical stuff

The home brewed 5e character sheet shown throughout this post is the format that I have developed over the course of the Shearingvale campaign. It was specifically created to allow for the important mechanical things to be highlighted and readily available on page 1. The different classes have morphed into their own semi-custom sheets, and this is the one for a paladin - mainly fighting but with some spell casting. Merka's important stuff is highlighted. Racial abilities for Savage Attacks and Relentless Endurance are noted, as well as paladin abilities like Lay on Hands and Divine Sense. My fighting style of Great Weapon fighting is noted. I also don't want to forget that I am Stealth-disadvantaged because I am wearing chainmail armor. Additional details on some of these abilities are shown on page two of her sheet.
Merka, page two, secondary info

Know your character - Less important than the mechanical knowledge of your character, but no less valuable, is a sense of what your character is all about. What do they believe in? What do they like? Dislike? What scares them? Do they have a behavioral quirk or two?
Merka, page 3, the character fluff

I'm not saying that you need to write extensive back story and all of that (although if you want to do that for your own fun, then by all means do so, as long as you do it with the full knowledge that you are only doing this for yourself and it is very likely that nobody else cares...). What I mean is to have enough of an idea of what your character believes as a person to allow you to react accordingly (and interestingly) during in-game situations.

Exploit your strengths - Understand what you are good at and find ways to leverage those abilities (no matter how minor). This is the extension of knowing your abilities and the rules for them, and really is just the implementation of that knowledge. Look for every opportunity to leverage the skills that your character has that makes them special, and therefore valuable to the team. If you are a cleric and your group is hard-pressed by attacking skeletons, you shouldn't forget that you can attempt to Turn Undead. This is directly related to the next point...

Enable your friends' success - This is the flip side of exploiting your character's strengths, and is about being a good player on a personal level in terms of interacting with your friends at the game table. Try to remain aware of what your friends' characters are good at, and be mindful of allowing them to shine in those circumstances. One of the traits of a good DM is to spread out the opportunities for the different characters to take the spotlight and have their moment. Players should be mindful of that for each other as well.
Merka, page 4, notes and reminders
This can be as simple as having your character ask another character for help with something that you know they are good at, or as complex as guiding the situation to a place where you know someone else will be in the spotlight, and not you. Sometimes it is just as much fun, if not more, to be the playmaker rather than doing the scoring yourself. You might be good at something, but another character is even better at that thing. Let them be the best. This is often an aspirational goal at the more complex end of the scale, but is worth remembering. Put as much effort into enhancing the team's fun, and others' fun, as you do into enhancing your own.

Embrace your weaknesses - This is all about role playing, and has nothing to do with the mechanical aspects of the game. Identify a few things that you aren't good at (even if there aren't rules for that thing), and a few things that scare you. Let yourself be afraid of heights, or too scared to  go in a boat, or be terrified of horses, or overly fond of a high stakes card game. This will make your character seem like more of a real person, and more importantly, will give an attentive DM the hooks they need to put you in uncomfortable situations. This is often what creates the memorable moments. And it gives the DM material to work with, which they will appreciate.

In my Shearingvale campaign, we had a situation in the Underdark where our dwarven cleric announced himself afraid of heights when the party arrived at a narrow railing-less bridge over a deep chasm. This had no affect on the game, but made the scene much more real than "everybody roll a DEX check and just don't roll super-low".

Listen - Practice your active listening skills. Note the tidbits that the DM is throwing at you. Scribble a few quick notes (they don't need to be extensive). Pay attention to what the other players are saying so that you know what matters to them. Good role playing is mainly about riffing off of what the DM and other characters are saying and doing. You can't do that if you aren't paying attention. A well played and memorable game has a lot more depth to it than "is it my turn to attack yet?"

I'm sure other thoughts will occur to me, and I suspect I will add to this short list as thoughts percolate.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Vandire Session 1 - Boom Town

It is midsummer in Vandire, the capital city of the realm. Today is the day the nobles families from all over the realm make their great procession into the city to take up residence here for a few months before scattering back to their estates. With them come the hordes of folk looking for jobs, and the connection to a noble household that might grant them steady employment in the future. Those of us already working in the city have to deal with the competition for even the most trivial of employment. It's a good thing we already have proven ourselves in our jobs before the flood arrives.

But there must be more than printing books, delivering the mail, and volunteering at the temple...

Thugs at the Inn
At the end of the work day, the three of us met up back at home, the Rusty Scabbard Inn, where we rent a room from the innkeeper Lawrence. Tygon the human ranger works as a postal courier. Merka the half-orc paladin works as a postal courier and also volunteers at the temple. Durga works in a printer's shop.

Outside the inn, the festivities of Ceremony Day were underway, when the noble houses of the realm (along with their households) arrive from all over the kingdom to take up residence in Vandire for a few months. The arrival is a massive parade with much pomp and circumstance.

Heading up the stairs, we heard voices coming from inside our room, with one voice saying something to the effect of "just do it already". We burst into the room and confronted a pair of ruffians who were in the process of splashing lamp oil on the beds and walls. One of the two was trying to light a match.

We surprised them, and Merka and Tygon jumped to the attack while Durga readied a Charm Person spell. With Tygon the ranger wielding a pair of short swords and Merka the paladin wielding a maul in two hands, short work was made of the thug with the match. Having failed to charm the remaining thug, Durga grabbed his axe from under his bed and joined the fray. With everyone hitting on almost every attack, the second thug soon went down. Both unconscious enemies were hogtied, woken up and interrogated. The party was able to learn that the thugs were hired by a hooded and cloaked figure to burn down the inn, and then to report back to him at the Tower of Rah (5 minutes away) to get the second half of their payment when the job was done. We took the 40 GP they had on them (the first half of their payment, and a princely sum in its own right), their weapons and other sellable items, and turned them over to innkeeper Lawrence so that he could take care of them. Merka believes that Lawrence was going to turn them over to the authorities, but the rest of the party knows that the thugs (Harold and James by name) were knifed and their bodies dumped in the river. There is something tough about Lawrence in his distant past, but we don't know what it is. Perhaps someday we will find out.

The parade of nobles continued outside the inn. It seems someone wanted to make a commotion.

The Tower of Rah
Leaving the inn, we headed quickly toward the Tower of Rah, hoping to spot the man who hired the thugs. This part of the city was relatively quiet, with the parade a little ways behind us drawing most of the crowds and attention. Approaching the Tower, a 5 story public bell tower, we saw nobody, and decided to go inside and search it. Tygon managed to climb partway up the outside while Merka and Durga went up the stairs. When a dog started barking high above, Tygon came in the third floor window and the three went up the remains stairs together.

Not one of great patience, Merka opened the door at the top of the final stairs and promptly got shot by an arrow. Shrugging off the minor wound, she charged at the hooded figure alone in the room (with his dog). Effective two hand sword work by Tygon, a few well placed attack cantrips and a critical hit by Merka took down the foe in short order, with Tygon dispatching the dog as well. We continued to be very successful with our attacks, and this probably should have been a much tougher fight than it was.

Attempting to interrogate our disabled foe, we were too slow to realize that he had swallowed a poison capsule. His last words as he died were something along the lines of "it's too late; things are in motion". He had the other 40 GP on him, as well as what we interpreted to be white and black signal flags.

To make a point in case any of the dead man's allies were watching, we stripped him of his valuable chainmail armor and tossed the dead body out the fifth floor window. We looked around. In the distance (from our excellent vantage point), our sharp-eyed ranger noticed a figure standing near barrels stacked around the support columns of one of the two main bridges over the river that bisects the city - the bridge over which the Ceremony Day parade was passing. As we watched, a long fuse was lit and the figure hopped in a small boat to get to the next support column, which also had barrels stacked around it.

We ran down the Tower stairs to run to the bridge.

Exploding Bridge
Displaying uncannily high dexterity, we quickly worked our way through the crowd to get to the bridge. As Merka and Tygon ran to get to the mysterious figure under the bridge, Durga used Prestidigitation to make himself as loud as possible in order to scare the parade people away from the bridge and attract guards.

Leaping down to the platform on which the bridge support rests, Merka and Tygon engage the figure, who turns out to be a cleric of some sort. An Inflict Wounds spell is avoided, and another powerful spell is cast at Merka, hitting her, but miraculously doing only 5 damage (out of a range of 3-30). More excellent die rolls by Tygon and Merka rain consistent damage on the foe, and the second critical hit of the day by Merka does a whopping 28 damage and blasts the cleric's shattered body into the river (where his dead body would soon be recovered by the guards).

Tygon immediately lept up on to the bridge to run to the other end to get to the fuse, and got there in time to extinguish the threat.

Warmaster Felix
The party was questioned by the guards, and then taken to be interviewed by Warmaster Felix of the king's guard. A token of a green and red eight-sided star was given to each of the player's for their service.

Exactly what comes of the rest of this conversation remains to be seen.

Player's Notes - This was a fabulous first session, and I had an absolute blast playing D&D for the first time in decades. The quick and easy summary of the session is that we rolled well. Exceeding well. At everything. We almost never missed a melee attack, and consistently did good damage. A critical hit occurs on a natural 20 on a d20, or 5% of the time, but in this session I was particularly pleased that my character (Merka) managed two of them and did massive damage each time. This is particularly satisfying given that the "Savage Attacks" half-orc racial feature is one of Merka's special abilities (and that one of my primary character focuses is to do damage). Having it come up twice in one session (out of maybe 8 melee attacks) was a real treat, and statistically very unlikely. Hopefully it doesn't mean that I never roll one again.

Due to the fact that we did roll so well, we defeated all of the challenges placed before us, and got 416 XP each, which means we all advance to level 2. Lots of abilities get unlocked at levels 2 and 3, so we will be much more versatile and rugged in the next session.

I can't wait to see what comes next...

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Vandire Campaign - Session Zero

Four of us got together a couple of weeks ago to do a "session zero" on the new mini-campaign that one of my other campaign's players wants to run.

Since there would only be three players in the campaign, it seemed like a good idea going into this to lean toward the player character types that tend to annoy me in a larger game (from the power overload standpoint). By this I mean that there are several character classes, subclasses within certain classes, or just character builds that are very powerful and tend to make that character seem to have the abilities of more than one person.

In 5th edition D&D these include things such as:
  • Druids - Effective combat, shape changing, healers and powerful combat casters.
  • Paladins - A warrior and a cleric-lite.
  • Fighter (eldritch knight subclass) - Warrior with spell casting ability.
  • Wizards of dwarven or elven stock - Powerful combat casters with racial armor and weapon proficiencies making them effective fighters in a pinch.
With only three of us, I planned to lean toward these kinds of characters - we will need to make our 3 seem like more than that...

To make a long story short (for the moment), at the end of our session zero, we ended up with:
  • Tygon, a human ranger. He was orphaned and raised in a monastery, where he learned a variety of martial skills. He worked as a mercenary for a while before ending up in the city. Tygon has good combat abilities and will have some useful spells and special abilities.
  • Durga, a dwarven sorcerer of draconic bloodline. Durga comes from a noble background, but was never fully accepted by his people because of his strange talents and draconic bloodline. Durga will be our combat spell caster, and also can fight with armor and good weapons because of his dwarven heritage.
  • Merka Aldersaf, a female half-orc paladin (my character). Merka is one-quarter orc, and is fortunate to have far more human features than orc. However, her heritage is still hard to hide (being 6'2" tall with a hint of lower jaw fang-like tusks), and she was ostracized growing up in a human village. She has dedicated herself to the goddess of home and hearth, the protector of families and children. Merka will be a paladin of the oath of devotion, and will be a strong fighter with healing abilities and other buffing spell casting abilities.
Over the course of an evening of rolling characters, plotting and planning, creating backstory and how we connect with each other, I think we are off to a very enjoyable start to this endeavor. The first level or two should be a challenge given that we have little spell casting power and very little healing,  but I can't wait to get started.

Session1 is scheduled for June 2nd, and I can't wait...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Adventures in Chainmail

As a Dungeons & Dragons fan with roots dating back to the late 1970's, I've been pleased that a bunch of us have been playing in a leisurely paced campaign, DM'ed by me, for the last ~3 years. This after a hiatus of about 30 years. My Myaran Realms blog, although a bunch of sessions behind in updates, details that campaign and the home-brew world that it exists in.

I'm starting this blog for a couple of reasons. It is my expectation that the current campaign that I am DM'ing will wind down, and hopefully be replaced with a new campaign, and a new world. I've learned an awful lot in the last 3 years, and have some very different ideas about approach, scope and a lot of other things. Making a clean slate for the new phase of our gaming makes sense to me, and having this as a new place to document that effort seems reasonable.
Watchtower on a hill

Secondly, my random ramblings on D&D and fantasy gaming will need to continue to exist somewhere, and if the old campaign and world shuts down, then drawing the curtain on that blog as an active thing also seems to make sense.

Lastly, one of our players in the current campaign reached out to a few of us and said that he was interested in trying his hand at DM'ing for a small group, and would we be interested. My answer was an immediate "yes". I love world building, DM'ing, and all of that, and the result has been that in most of our playing as teenagers, and in the recent campaign, I have been the DM. The idea of actually being a player again after all these years is thrilling. I can document my view of that campaign here as well.

So, hopefully, more to come...