Saturday, September 17, 2016

When the players have other ideas, also known as, I did not see that coming

Last outing the players did not achieve what I expected.  Which, on the whole is not completely surprising, as the adventure almost never goes the way I expect it to go.  I do not view that as a bad thing at all, but it does have complications and repercussions.

My Game


I run a story driven game, as opposed to a sandbox.  It is the type of game I like to run as DM, and my players agree to play in it and seem to enjoy it.  Some might view any story driven game as a railroad, as opposed to the 'complete' freedom of a sandbox style game.  I do not see it that way at all.  I do not see a sandbox as complete freedom, nor do I see a story game as a railroad.


I do want the players to make the story within the boundaries of the environment I create.  This has often been referred to as player agency.  I want my players actions to have significant and meaningful interaction with the world, and their actions have consequences and alter the world.

RPG bloggers have debated story driven vs. sandbox and railroad vs. player agency many times, and my intention is not to revisit it all here but rather share my latest experience.  If you want to read about the debates, search for those terms - you will get lots of hits on lots of blogs with thoughtful and insightful commentary on the differences, pros and cons.

My Campaign


We play in a homebrew world, and most of the adventures are of my own design - though I am not above tossing in adventures/encounters from published sources.  The characters are part of a team which have pledged service to a human king, have called themselves Justice Crusaders, and generally go about doing good in the name of king and kingdom.  The latest story arc has the characters defending the kingdom from invasion by an unfriendly island kingdom.  Though clearly the oppressors, the invaders feel they are in the right and their cause is just.

Recent Campaign Events


The Justice Crusaders discovered the enemy plan to wipe out a small elven kingdom which had the potential to be an ally in repulsing the enemy.  The enemy created some diversions with mercenaries to make it look like the primary invasion when in fact the enemy main force was to land, and with the support of two local orc tribes, march on the elves.  With the orcs coming from the east and south, and the main enemy army from the west, they intended to slay every last elf.

The human king has directed the Justice Crusaders to enlist the help of the elves, which means, the Justice Crusaders need to save the elves first.  As part of saving the elves, the Justice Crusaders:

  • successfully reclaimed a human village from an orc subjugation, and discovered more of the plan
  • rescuing captured villagers who were being marched to a life of brutal slavery with the orcs
  • made a daring raid inside an orc stronghold which housed over a thousand orcs to remove the enemy provided incentive for those orcs to march on the elves

The last item was at the request of the elven leaders, who made it a requirement for getting some help from the elves to repulse the imminent invasion and for further help in fighting the enemy.  So far so good.

No Adventure Survives An Encounter With Your Players


Here is the summary of the events as I planned it out.  (note to my players: there are no spoilers here, you already lived through all this)

  • The enemy invasion happens on a fixed date/time, and the characters do NOT know the date/time but only that it is imminent
  • The characters have a series of challenges to overcome to get to the invasion site in time to attempt to prevent it which included the items noted above which were successfully navigated
  • The characters have a choice of priorities, and need to make a choice between breaking the siege of a small human city low on food or preventing the invasion
  • The invasion is from three heavy ships on three different beaches at the same time and each consists of about 100 well trained and armed soldiers and 40 war clerics
  • The characters by themselves would be insufficient to stop all three simultaneous landings by simple use of force, some additional help or subterfuge would be required
  • Potential resources were provided in the adventures if they could convince them to join the cause, elves and an enemy mercenary company

So what happened?

About that enemy mercenary company...  The Justice Crusaders did intimidate it into surrendering rather than destroy it, setting up the possibility of getting them to change sides.  Then they pretended to guard the mercenary company while they and the elves scouted the landing sites.  Hours go by, and the mercenary company discovers it is no longer guarded by its captors, so it peacefully retakes the town it gave up when they surrendered.  Some hours later, the Justice Crusaders return to find the town is again in the control of the mercenaries, and the Justice Crusaders are livid (some good role playing here) that the mercenaries, after finding themselves unguarded would find it necessary to do what they were paid to do.  More intimidating, some battering around of the mercenary leader, and many harsh words later, the mercenary company is now back as captains but this time with a decidedly unfriendly view of our heros.  Now in order to scout the landing site again (they do not know the landing time), they need to leave the elven unit behind to guard the mercenaries.

Scouting this time they encounter an enemy hobgoblin unit with worgs and a giant.  Dispatching them after a good fight yields a rescued elf prisoner who has information regarding the landing site, and a good place to listen in to the plan.  The heroes take advantage of the listen, learn the plan, and are nearby when the enemy advanced landing party is ready to give the signal to start the landing.  There hiding spot is close enough to attempt to interrupt the signal, but awkward enough getting out of and into the combat to make it a challenging encounter.

So what happened?

The heroes decided it was too risky and retreated from their hiding spot to a more advantageous attack position.  The result?  They steam rolled the encounter, absolutely crushing the enemy advanced landing party...  several rounds after they gave the landing signal.

Low on resources, the Justice Crusaders by themselves decide they are not in a position to thwart all three landing groups, so they rush back to town to get the elves and to recruit the mercenary company.  You know, the one where they just created a hostile relationship.

I let them role play it, gave them some rolls and all that, but they just couldn't make the connection.  There is now an invading army on the ground in a place where I was not prepared to have one.

The Story Continues


Though not prepared, I will go forward with this because it is what the player actions ultimately decided.  It does create work for me as DM, but hey - it is what I signed up for when I created this epic story where the players really do decide what happens next.

Now excuse me while I figure out exactly what the enemy thinks of all this and would do.  I am sure it will be epic, and I am equally sure the players will surprise me again.


The dice never lie.




Monday, May 2, 2016

D&D 5E common mistakes

Dungeon's Master has a good post on common 5E mistakes.  Many of these are related to 'conversion' mistakes, changes 5E makes from previous versions but maybe we are still using the old version rule.

The post can be found here.  Or here is the full URL - http://dungeonsmaster.com/2016/04/10-mistakes/

I did pretty good, I only missed the spell ready part of #8.  There is one area that I cannot confirm, it is the >20 on the second bullet of #10.  I have never heard of that.

Otherwise, I nice list and useful for your players.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

My Converted Campaign: Converting Magic Items


As I mentioned in my last post, bringing over magic and masterwork items as is, or as now described in the core rule books would HUGELY break the bounded accuracy of the game. The current campaign was based on the 8th level characters having legendary weapons which effective balance quite a bit to start, and then add in the copious amounts of magic stuff 3.5E and I allowed in the game would create a difficult to manage situation. 

I wanted to:
  • keep the story continuity - limit items just disappearing
  • avoid making the players feel like they lost out
  • have some sense of just how much of what I do allow them to keep impacts what kind of challenge I need to throw at them
  • not make a stupid mistake and need to retcon something because I broke my campaign
After only played in the Lost Mines of Phandelver up to a 3rd level character, this may have been a tall order to meet.  I read the rule books multiple times, went on line and read other peoples experiences, and relied heavily on other editions of the D&D gaming experience I have acquired since 1979.  Here is what I did.

Items Which Mostly Stayed The Same


Magic Weapons


If they had a +1 weapon in their possession, they may keep it. If they had any > +1, it is now a +1. This did not include their legendary weapon (campaign specific weapon)

Magic Armor


Magic Armor is rare and the maximum plus for anyone to own at this time is 1. If they had +2 armor, we discussed if it might have another advantage instead of the additional plus.

Bracers of Defense


This would be another rare item with a maximum of +2 AC, and it requires attunement.


Cloak of Resistance


If they had one of these in their possession the max I would allow is +1 (bonus to all saving throws), and it requires attunement

Items Which Changed


Masterwork Weapons


These are now nicely made, perhaps with fine materials, metals and gems, and worth money. They no longer have numerical advantages in combat.

Ring of protection


This would instead be a lessor item with limited uses/charges:
  • Use a bonus action to activate, the next attack roll against this character within the next 1 minute is at disadvantage.
  • Roll d6 for number of charges. No recharge.


Ability Score Plus Items


If they had one of these we converted it to a limited use item related to ability

Amulet of Natural Armor


We converted to a limited use item
  • Use reaction to gain resistance to one weapon damage type for one attack; bludgeoning, piercing, slashing. 
  • Roll 2d4 for number of charges. No recharge


MetaMagic Rods


If anyone had one of these I asked them to assume that any metamagic rods they had were items which had charges and the last time they used it was the last charge it held. These items do not really fit any more, as far as I can see reading through the spell descriptions. I don't think they are worth the time to figure out how to make them fair, easy and fit.

The Game Specific Legendary Weapons


In our campaign in 3rd edition, I build the campaign around a group of legendary weapons which once located, with the approval of the King who you were supposed to support, would become soul bound to a character for its life.  This was a sort of permanent attunement.  As part of our conversion I just ruled these weapons used up an attunement slot. 

Additionally these weapons are crazy powerful.  At 8th level characters they had unlocked +2 weapon status and a host of other abilities and damage bonuses.  Now, this really does stretch bounded accuracy.  To compensate, I have been treating them as 10th level characters for building encounters and I may need to bump that even to 11th level.  Of course I do have to manage the top level challenge rating of what they encounter and watch closely to make sure there is not an ability they cannot handle as 8th characters, especially with a max of 4th level spells.

Experience point calculations because of this bumping up of challenge are not a problem, I do not experience points for this campaign.  After what feels like the appropriate amount of time I let them level up.  The players are fine with this and it eliminates some overhead to managing/tracking the game.
So far this is all working out fine.  The limited use items are largely gone now, mostly consumed during dangerous moments as the players learned their characters in the early sessions after conversion.  It turned out to be a good safety net, and now its gone.  I can now operate in a more magic stingy environment better suited to the new 5E rules and the transition did not feel forced.


As a side note - I do not recommend creating this problem.  Knowing what I know now about 5E I would definitely done the legendary weapons differently but they were created in a different time and place.  The campaign survives and thrives, and that is what is important.

The dice never lie.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My Converted Campaign: Character Conversion Retrospective

Last year a made a number of posts about converting my homebrew campaign edition on its return from hiatus from 3.5E to 5E.  I wrote about my plan for character conversion here.  If we get to play once a month we feel fortune.  So here we are, a little over a year later and fourteen games under my belt as DM and a little time to share some thoughts.

Basically I am happy with my decision to rebuild characters rather than convert.  I think I made the right choice to use the default array, even though the original characters were rolled.  As much as I grew up in the everything is random rolled first edition environment, I like that I understand the relative power the characters have, and all the characters have about the same relative power.  Although I am not saying that each class is equally powerful, or each player's character choices are equally effective.  5th edition characters really do rely heavily on their stats for their bounded accuracy power - or in other words the addition of a small number of points to a success role feels very powerful in this game.

The players initially grumbled about not being able to exactly match their previous score, but in the end they built characters which for the most part feel like their earlier edition counterparts, and more importantly play and role play close enough that no one feels in game a character is significantly different. Important note: we converted eighth level characters to eighth level characters and I have not had them level up over the course of the game yet - my focus is on them learning the new rules, and their abilities.  I expect to start letting them level up soon. Fourteen games in and everyone is enjoying the game and focused on the story and the challenges facing them.  Success!

Now, there are places where the conversion had challenges, or is still untested.

Paladin/Sorcerer multi-class character: We had some concerns how this would play out, as the original character was a bit of an optimization experiment, or in other words depended quite a bit on some specific 3.5E rules for combat tactics.  My impression is the character is still at its core what it was before, a hard to hit, hard hitting against a single opponent, fragile if you get through its AC build.  No question in my mind a full effective contributor to the game.  Now, some of the spell and attack combination tactics this player used previously do not work thanks to changes in spells and the buff limiting concentration rule, as an example the player no longer sees the enlarge spell as pragmatic use of a spell most of the time.  The net effectiveness in combat has been replaced by the smite feature.  Most of his spell slots get burned using smite, and of course the extra slots from the sorcerer often go that way too if they don't get used by a well timed shield spell.  I am open to be a little more lenient if this player wants to swap out spells.

Mounted Combat fighter: Our fighter build his character to be a mounted combat monster.  That does not translate as well to 5E, as there is only one feat and feats are harder to come by in 5E than they were in 3.5E.  Now, in practice in our game mounted combat opportunities were hit or miss.  If they ended up doing in city, in building or in dungeon adventures it certainly was not conducive to a mounted rider.  About half of our campaign is in the outdoor or wilderness, and sometimes it goes in long spurts of one or the other.  Having advantage from horseback against hordes of orcs certainly gives the feel of something special for this character, but the feat does not give advantage against large creatures (makes sense) so even out of doors the positives from the feat are limited.

House Ruled Ranger: One character had a house ruled ranger (does every game have one of those?) which was basically a woodland expertise fighter without spells.  I have not been happy with the ranger options in the Player's Handbook, or the unofficial test versions published by WoTC.  Since this player did not return after the hiatus, it has not significantly effected our game.  I used his character as an NPC, and hand waved a bunch of rolls, which was no problem.  I am hoping the player will return in the future, even for just a cameo, and I am determined I can build another house rule ranger to give him the feel he had!

Cleric Domain Conversion: This is largely untested.  Our cleric did not return after hiatus, and converting NPCs is just not the same.  Overall, I am pleased with what I see in the cleric options, but that is not the same as seeing how the conversion of a cherished character is implemented.

Magic & Masterwork Items: Bringing over items as is, or as now described in the core rule books would HUGELY break the bounded accuracy of the game.  As it was this campaign was based on the characters having legendary weapons which effective balance quite a bit to start, and then add in the copious amounts of magic stuff 3.5E and I allowed in the game would create a difficult to manage situation.  I had to cut back on the magic.  Sounds like a good topic for my next campaign conversion post!

The dice never lie.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

5e My Paladin Experience First adventure at level 3

We just leveled up!  I posted some notes about my experience playing this character in my last blog entry.

I continue to be happy with the role play opportunities of the character, and it performs well enough in play so I do not feel like I am penalized by 'bad' choices.  Good on you 5e.

In our first outing since gaining third level we encounter a bunch of gnolls in close quarters situation.  I through myself in harms way repeatedly to protect the squishy characters, and my AC 19 splint and shield hold up very well, especially when the DM rolls poorly for the monsters.  I take minimal damage, and without resorting to dodge.  In these encounters with the gnolls we are in small rooms with doorways and not a lot of room to maneuver.  The party casters unload lots of literal fire power in the very last encounter: flaming sphere, burning hands, firebolt, sacred flame, channel divinity radiance of the dawn.  I somehow manage not to get caught in the flaming sphere and burning hands, so my fire resistance continues untested!  Not that I am complaining however.

Also speaking of fire, the tiefling racial ability at third level is Hellish Rebuke.  Technically, this requires a free hand to cast which makes it not very useful for a sword and board paladin.  In the spirit of rulings not rules, we discussed this.  Though it has a somatic component, the spell description basically says you point at the bad guy who hurt you and utter the words.  From a color perspective, I make those words be in infernal.  So basically we discussed what would it hurt if my character could use a sword hand to point a finger at the enemy, would that really break anything?  We decided not to change the spell per se, but to say tieflings, or at least this tiefling had a little more flexibility with this racial spell as a somatic component.  I am happy to abide by the letter of the law, if I cannot use the hand at all - such as restrained or carrying a heavy load or something like that, I could not use the spell.  Rulings let me keep a cool ability which has perfect color for my character.

As to spell casting, I get another slot and a my oath spells which are always prepared.  I am not sure if I will ever choose Bane of one of the other choices, and I am on the fence whether Hunter's Mark will turn out to to be useful.  It may see use in situations where I can drop minions with a little extra damage beyond what I normally can do with my weapon.  I will have to test it.  For now, Divine Smites continue to use most of the spell slots but the additional choices are nice to have.

I did not get to use my main oath ability - Vow of Enmity.  I was about to use it on the gnoll I had just Hellish Rebuked, when it ran from the room and time ran out.  See if I can get him next session!

The dice never lie.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

5e My Paladin Experience Level 1-2

Hi all, Happy New Year.

I am lucky enough to get to play in a game in addition to the main campaign I run, and which I have posted irregularly on our conversion experience.  The other game is also 5e, and we are playing in Ptolus.  There are four players: a human wizard, a human warlock (who is covering our stealth requirements), a human cleric of light, and me playing a tiefling paladin (handling our tank duties).  We started at 1st level.

I chose the paladin more for roleplaying purposes than for effectiveness covering the party damage soaker, though I did want to see how the paladin class plays out to understand it better when I am on the other side of the DM screen.  I had no delusions the paladin is a top notch tank.

At first level the Lay on Hands feature came in handy, especially since the party is a bit like cockroaches when the light switch goes on - when combat starts everyone heads off to their own personal bit of excitement leaving the paladin to his own devices.  The Divine Sense feature might be a bit misplaced as a 1st level feature; unless your campaign dives right into undead thingies (and ours did not) it is not a feature which has much use.  (as of this writing at 2nd level approaching 3rd I have yet to use the feature).  The Thaumaturgy cantrip (gained from tiefling race features) has been fun for role playing but not particularly useful in most combats, but the darkvision is always useful.  Surprisingly enough the party has yet to 'accidentally' catch me in a fire spell so my resistance there is untested.

Given a suboptimal choice of race and the desire to split my best scores amongst strength, constitution and charisma, my character was not a combat power house.  I could bottle up the enemy for a round or two at an opening, but I usually needed to rely on dodge to survive until the party remembered to work together.  Paladin at 1st level feels a bit weak.

2nd level for paladin seems pretty big.  Since I plan on selecting the Oath of Vengeance for roleplay reasons, I chose the dueling fighting style as it fit the need for extra damage and the lack of interest in being a protection type character.  Spellcasting of course is huge but more because of burning the slots with Divine Smite.  With the exception of Shield of Faith, Divine Smite tends to be a sounder choice for using a spell slot at this level.  In most cases the guarantee of damage after a hit is a better choice than the potential damage, side effect and the risk of losing the spell which requires concentration of most of the spells.  Sure, if you have an opponent who is vulnerable to a specific damage type, or happens to be hanging around at the edge or a cliff or raging river to be pushed, or you are desperate to have an opponent be afraid for a round or two while you take care of other business, then Searing, Thunderous or Wrathful Smite can be useful.  But mostly, I am finding Divine Smite is the main item in the tool bag.  Since paladins have no spell recovery until a long rest - use those smites wisely oh noble (or not so noble) paladin.

With the 2nd level hit points, and the Divine Smites available, I thought I could control doorways and dish out damage.  So far, that has not been very effective for me.  All it takes is a little turn of the die rolling luck and I am in trouble.  Seems the better choice if one must control a bottleneck is Shield of Faith and the dodge action.  From there trust your party to recover from cockroach syndrome and get the job done, while you soak up attacks and get the occasional attack of opportunity.

Still just trying out the options and having fun.  Looking forward to 3rd level and both the mechanics and roleplay opportunities for Oath of Vengeance features.

The dice never lie.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

5e official retcon - our experience

My last post talked about the 5th edition retcon situation.  I will take a few paragraphs to share our experience since restarting the campaign with 5th edition.

The shield spell has been the most common retcon.  I have two characters who can cast it (wizard and multi-classed paladin-sorcerer).  My first concern was me remembering from game to game to behave differently when player characters are about to be hit.  This has not been so much a problem, I am learning.  Seems whenever those two PCs are about to be hit by something the shield can affect, I successfully pull of the "it looks like you will be hit" or some such phrase and then sit silent staring expectantly at the player for a few seconds.  As I had hoped my players did 'get' it fairly quickly.

No player has so far taken the Lucky or Defensive Duelist feats, so I don't have experience there.  Therefore I have not needed to change my rolling behind the screen preference.  Also, my players roll their own d20s in the Cone of Fate when they should not know the outcome.  For example, if I do not want them to know how stealthy they are... or are not.

The most challenging play so far has been the wizard, who is a diviner with the portent feature.  So now any attack roll, saving throw, or ability check is fair game for a retcon.  The first few sessions had some awkward moments.  I first erred by simply saying the outcome, only to be corrected by the diviner who said differently.  Next I spent way too much time staring expectantly and then have nothing happen.  I eventually settled in to staring expectantly only when something 'big' is happening.  I let the little things go by and they rarely get corrected, and mostly the corrections happen when a player makes a poor roll and the diviner sees it differently.  These small amount of retcons does not seem to be busting our immersion, especially since the wizard only gets two d20 pre-rolls with each long rest.

So far so good, retcon is not making our game less fun.  On the contrary, the shield spell is making them less risk averse, and the portent feature has been jolly good fun when worrisome moment gets quickly turned to a sigh of relief and cheers.

The dice never lie.
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