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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Know When To Hold’em, Know When To Fold’em

After a long absense, our gaming group was finally able to get together for a game. The real world sucks sometimes (like we’re actually required to attend jobs to make money, which is dumb), that’s why we escape to a fantasy one. So we were all excited to be entering our one-shot verse again and leaving our troubles behind. Except that’s not how things worked out.

By the time we were an hour and a half into our game, our DM was ready to murder us all. We players had decided to be petulant. All of us were tired from the week and taking a nap on the floor was sounding like a really nice option. And much like 2-year olds, we expressed this through immaturity and temper tantrums. So in this hour and a half we insulted some people in a tavern, poisoned each other, had a stand off with the good guys (we’re an evil party, remember), burned down another tavern, attempted to extort money from the tavern owner in exchange for saving him from said burning tavern, stole all of this tavern owner’s valuables, and then once again fought amongst ourselves.

It didn’t help that our party was made up of a female Drow assassin (who somehow ended up being the group leader and spokesperson), Zugg the half-Orc Fighter, a falsely philosophical Dragonborn Monk, and a samurai with a lot of swords and truly questionable morals.

It was about dinner time, so our DM declared it time for a break. He needed a reprieve from our in-fighting and really scary decision making processes, and a trip to the game store and a local fast food joint would be a perfect distraction. About an hour (and some ibuprofen) later, we reconvened.

The game improved from there. Energy was low for a while after our dinner break, but by the time our samurai got a hold of the time travel artifact and went back in time to change his back story in order to save his master who had been murdered, we were all invested once again. The DM was able to handle our antics and we finished the adventure on a high note, ready for the next game.

The moral of this story? Sometimes, you need to step away from a game in order to reinvest yourself in its success. This could mean taking a 5-minute water break, an hour dinner, or even putting the game off to another day. If you feel that you can’t enjoy playing because you’re tired, or unfocused, or you developed a headache because your Drow just suggested letting a bunch of people die in a fire because they couldn’t pay her to save them, call a time out. It will be more enjoyable for you and for all of your fellow players if you can bring your best to the game table.

Baby DM out.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Duel

“You killed my sister!” Arissa Embers called out.
“She touched my stuff,” Carolina Braxwell responded.
Then all hell broke loose in Nine Mead Hall. Crossbow bolts were answered by bolts of fire and a final bolt of lightning from Arissa Embers brought Carolina to the ground with a smoking hole in her chest.
“This is for my sister,” Arissa said as she knelt down to finish Carolina off. But Carolina rolled a nat 20. Twice.

Lords, ladies, and variations thereupon I must apologize for our recent lack of content. The reasoning is good. Or at least moderately not bad. Life happened. Specifically teenagers. Teenagers that need me to teach them history. So I’ve been out of commission for a bit. I come back to you now at the turn of the tides, on this Friday when I feel I’ve had enough sleep.

Combat in tabletop roleplaying games is the main draw for many players. Zugg, for example, doesn’t really pay attention unless he’s fighting something, about to fight something, or making attempts to pick a fight with something. It’s amusing but can sometimes detract from the tension or drama in a roleplaying scenario. Still, having him regularly fist bump orcs hard enough to sever their wrists is worth all the times he has ruined or destroyed my plans.

I like running combat, especially in DnD Next. I feel I’m pretty darn good at it largely because my players and I care more about combat feeling and sounding epic than if it strictly follows the rules. In many instances combat might only function for one round before roleplaying gets in the way. This is why a Samurai and a Warforged Cowboy can have a philosophical stare-off down a tavern hallway while a Drow Poisoner waits to make her move and Sarven Sylmaris fish-flops his way over a balcony into the waiting arms of an orc below. Sure the Warforged shot at Sarven and the Poisoner is about to hit the whole second story with a Darkness spell but for a moment everyone’s poised and thinking about how cool their next move will be.

My favorite use of combat, though, is the duel. I will admit that I’ve watched the fight between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black more times than I can count (at least a hundred) and my favorite instance of written combat is the duel between Oberyn Martell and the Mountain in Storm of Swords. I love duels for their tension and their drama and their awesome vocal exchanges. In a tabletop setting a duel can be the perfect cut away during a moment of roleplaying or the epic conclusion to a night of tavern based debauchery.

I try to create villains that my characters hate or have pissed off enough to create the kind of situation that would necessitate a duel. With my recent group I’ve hit 3 out of 4 (though technically Zugg’s was with a shark and he duels things all the time). What follows are my helpful hints for creating duels and running them:

  • Establish the stakes of the duel at the start. Is it to the death? Are there healers nearby who will intervene? Are there healers nearby who won’t intervene? Is anyone betting on the outcome? Are the combatants evenly matched? Having your low health sorcerer duel a barbarian at the end of the day when the magic-user has burned through all of their spells but one lone burning hands is certainly a tense moment but it isn’t exactly a fair fight. If you want your players to care about a duel then it needs to be one that they could possibly win but they could also easily lose.

  • Make sure it’s a show. The duel between Inigo and Westley is done in a remote location but the audience sees it and can enjoy its energy. In a tabletop setting a player should be in the right setting for a duel with the right atmosphere. A misty mountainside with two armies starring one another down is a good place to start. The entertainment stage of an inn isn’t bad at all. The deck of a pirate ship evokes the right kind of swashbuckling feeling. Even a duel fought in an open field can be intense if done right. Two skilled swordspersons starring one another down across a field of grain before charging and meeting blades is kind of cool to think about.

  • It’s ok if the other players are just the audience. Unless you’re running the duel for the person who is always the star of your games. Exercise caution when starting a duel with a player but if the other characters are passive observers that’s ok. Duels should have audiences and sometimes a conflict doesn’t need the interference of the whole party, particularly if it’s an emotional or dramatic confrontation.

  • If a player wants to intervene then you need to be careful. Hopefully your party is already working well together but sometimes a player has to be a hero and try to save the day. Approach situations like this with tact. You should know your players well enough to know whether the interference of a party member will be welcomed or met with fury.

  • Make it more about roleplaying then about dice rolls. This is more about personal preference but I will always yield in the face of good roleplaying. Even if I’m rolling 17+ on everything. Any effort a player makes to create a situation that is memorable and grand is going to be rewarded in the course of the duel. Of course, I as the DM am going to do everything in my power to have the villains do the same thing.

Arissa lifted Carolina’s head up and made to finish her. In that moment Carolina twisted lithely, tripping her foe. Arissa hit the stage face-up just as Carolina brought down a vial of acid right into her open eyes.

“Say hi to your sister for me, bitch,” Carolina smirked over Arissa’s screams and finished her with a smooth slash of steel.