My players are too good, I’ll just up the DC’s

Recently in my travels online I stumbled on a discussion that made me want to pull my hair out. It went something like this.

My players are too good they always are able succeed in their DC checks because “X,Y,Z” reason what should I do ?

As I began to scroll through the advice and replies to this comment, time and time again I saw the response to this question runs along the lines of…

Up the DC’s so it is harder for the player to succeed. Or make one or two of the monsters have a higher perception score.

Now, this, not the first time that I have seen this question and these type of replies come up in conversation. Every time encounter it infuriates me to no end both as a player and a game master.

When a GM makes the conscious choice to “Slide” the difficulty bar up for some or all of the players at the table under the banner of “Game Balance” is unfair to the players and let me say just plain crap. It’s not fair in the sense that just because one or more of your players are “GOOD” at something.  That because of this said thing should then become harder for them to do.

This by its very nature is not just punishing your player once, but session after session for the entirety of your campaign. For nothing more than being good at something! What sense does it make that just because one of your players at the table has a +10 to a skill? They have devoted experience and skill slots into to be amazing at a thing. Yet, suddenly every rock wall in the world overnight has become 5 DC harder to climb? That sounds crazy when you word it that way. Yet often no one seems to argue when you suggest essentially doing the exact same thing to deal with high stealth or perception skills at the table.

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The Solution?

So what are some ways to deal with situations that arise when one or more of your players are exceptionally good at something in the game? Here are a few ideas that are much better than upping the DC on your players.

Handwave or Yes And…

When players have reached a level in a skill that leaves you asking yourself as a DM
“Why do I even bother asking you to roll?” DONT ASK THEM TO ROLL!!
Thus speeding your game up and allowing your player to feel that the skill points they have invested have been well spent. Personally, I also think this is the reason why 5E creatures have passive perceptions as well to speed up this portion of gameplay.

Hazard Rolls

This would be pulling from the Cypher System for inspiration on another way to handle this situation. Again I would no make a player roll arbitrarily to see if they fail. Instead, If I felt the situation story might benefit some added tension from a roll I would use a “GM intrusion” or call for a “Hazard Roll” as an example

Amber’s Monk wants to scale the towers wall to slip into the wizards lab. Her monk has a +10 to climb and the tower has plenty of handholds vines. The climb should be an easy one with a DC of 5 or 10 at most.

You could declare the climb is easy enough but halfway up the encounter lose bricks and mortar. Necessitating the need for a roll at a slightly higher skill check than a standard climb DC.

Incorporate other skills (Skill Challenge)

uldane__iconic_rogue_by_benwootten-d31gmibThis is my personal favorite method to handle a situation like the one above.  Simply inform the player that the climb is easy enough but every 15 feet of the climb she needs to make a Hide check as the patrolling watchmen pass by. Additionally before Amber begins her climb she could roll a Climb and Perception check to asses the difficulty of the climb. Allowing her the opportunity to spot the Hazard much like locating a trap. A successful roll would allow Amber to locate the best path to make her accent to the top of the tower and avoid all the hazards.

This turns the whole event into something reminiscent to the 4E skill challenge that I personally was a huge fan and also feels more real. In all of the examples here the fact that Ambers monk is going to climb the tower is handwaved. It is already understood that her monk is more than skilled enough to make the climb.

 

SO how do you all feel about when DM’s slide the scale of difficulty for skills? Have you done it and why? Have you had this done to you or think that your DM has in the past and how do you feel about it? I would love to hear your input on the topic!

Tabletop Crafting Project: Laser Puzzle

As a Game Master that uses terrain in my tabletop RPG games, I am constantly on the lookout for good items that I can pick up and turn into something else. My preferred hunting grounds is the flea market and several of the thrift stores locally nearby to my home. Often while out and about I fail to find anything. But from time to time I find a gem like this one.

This Mother’s Day weekend I was making the rounds and just as I was beginning to think that nothing was going to be found for another week I found a rare gem for the crafting. Khet 2.0 the Laser board game. For a whopping $3 bucks. Well, if you have never played Khet let me tell you straight off. Many crafters out there that have played Khet are cringing at the thought of me crafting these pieces for an RPG game.

The way Khet comes with several pieces and a play board, the Pieces consist of several Pyramid mirrors, Anubis blockers, as well as scarab 2, sided mirrors and your sphinx laser. There is one other piece in this game is the pharaoh. This is your king. The concept of the game is simple, you fire your laser and bounce it off the mirrors on the board in an effort to strike the other opponent’s pharaoh and win the game. There are more rules to it than that but that is the general theme. Overall it’s a great game and if you have the chance to give it a try I highly recommend it.

Now, like I said I picked this game up for $3 bucks, and the reason it was sold for so low is it was missing one piece and the play board. SO, with that said it was home to the craft bin from this game for me. As soon as I saw it I knew exactly what I was going to do with these pieces.

Years ago I had run a demo game of D&D at a mini-convention I helped run called Gathering in the Park. One thing I did that day was a physical puzzle that my players need to solve before they could move on from one section of the dungeon. The puzzle was basic but fun for all the players to solve. They needed to aim a laser and bounce it off a series of 4 mirrors to strike a door and make it open Ala Indiana Jones style. Back then I used a   plain non-fantasy looking set from a game called laser deflector to accomplish this. It did not look pretty but it accomplished the job.

So, with theses Egyptian tokens on hand I set about wanting to make them look more fitting for dungeon delving play. So, I pulled out the painter’s tape and began the task of covering up all the mirrors and the Laser portal. See Khet fans, you can breathe easy I have every intention of leaving these pieces 100% playable. After all, I need them to work to allow my players a to properly solve my puzzle!

Once properly taped up I set to putting a fine layer of primer on the pieces. Once dried I whipped out my secret stone texturing weapon, stone effect spray paint. This can be a tricky job as if these types of paints can clump or spray with an inconsistent watery texture if you are not careful. Always spray from about 12-14 inches away and pre-spray a sample shot to make sure your paint is ready. Once all your precautions are taken its time to get underway. After two layers of light mist, I had the desired result. I let the paint dry overnight.

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My finishing touches on this project was to take the Anubis blockers and set a gem in each of their eyes. I did not have small enough gems to make the pharaoh look right so I decided at least for now not to add gems to his eyes. The results speak for themselves and I am happy with the results. What do you all think? Did I improve on the set or ruin it? In the grand scheme of things I only improved on it as they will see far more use in my home like this then they would have as they were. I hope you enjoyed this little crafting session. Until next time!

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GM Inspiration Dice & GM Compells House Rules

Today I decided to that I would like to share with you a favorite Homebrew Rule of mine for 5E D&D. This is a Homebrew rule that I developed because you see I love the Inspiration mechanic. Inspiration is simple and elegant in its both its intent and its use in the game. I have found that one constant with all players is that they love to roll dice. What is better than rolling one dice, rolling two! Inspiration is a wonderful carrot to encourage your players to roleplay and act on many or all of their background aspects.

As much as I love Inspiration, from the moment I read it I felt many GMs would miss the opportunity to not do more with this wonderful game enhancement. From the start, I feared that they would be treated more like Hero Points of old. Only to be used as a last ditch effort to pull one good roll and save a characters life. Sadly from what I have seen across many game tables. That is exactly how they are widely used by both players and GM’s alike.

Inspiration is a wonderful carrot to encourage your players to roleplay. Rewarding them for acting on many or all of their background aspects good or bad. In my opinion, inspiration was intended to be given fast and free to promote and reward roleplay. Hence why it is limited to only one point. When I look at how inspiration is written I think I see what the issue here might be. If you only focus on the first portion of the rule it sounds as if inspiration is given to you by the GM when you do something compelling or roleplay to one of your traits. Yet it goes on to say that the GM will tell you how you can earn Inspiration in the game. This is a key thing that I think may GM’s overlook.

Inspiration

Your GM can choose to give you inspiration for a variety of reasons. Typically, GMs award it when you play out your personality traits, give in to the drawbacks presented by a flaw or bond, and otherwise portray your character in a compelling way. Your GM will tell you how you can earn inspiration in the game. You either have inspiration or you don’t – you can’t stockpile multiple “inspirations” for later use.

The FATE system uses something very similar mechanic. Called Invoke and Compel. When a player wishes to gain the benefit of one aspect of their character they can invoke that characters Aspect. Much like inspiration they then gain a bonus to their next action. FATE then goes on to describe that the GM can also compel a player. If the FATE GM compels a player and they accept the compel they are given another FATE point (Inspiration) if they chose to accept on the compel. A player may choose not to act on a compel and play as they wish, but they will not get the FATE point.

Compelling

If you’re in a situation where having or being around a certain aspect means your character’s life is more dramatic or complicated, anyone can compel the aspect. You can even compel it on yourself—that’s called a self-compel. Compels are the most common way for players to earn more fate points.

 

So my homebrew rewrite of Inspiration is not really needed but helps to make clear how Inspiration works in my game. Reads as follows.

Inspiration & Compelling.

The GM can choose to give you inspiration for a variety of reasons. Typically, GMs award it when you play out your personality traits, give in to the drawbacks presented by a flaw or bond, and otherwise portray your character in a compelling way.

If you’re in a situation where any of your traits make your character’s life more dramatic or complicated, anyone can compel the you. You can even compel it on yourself. Compels are the most common way for players to earn more insperation. You may refuse any Compel but you are not awarded inspiration if you do so.

You either have inspiration or you don’t – you can’t stockpile multiple “inspirations” for later use.

Even my rule say that you can not Stockpile inspiration. I still wanted to encourage my players to use their Inspiration often. It is often hard to pry that D20 out of their hands unless it is a clutch roll. That and I often find that I have given out inspiration for good roleplay and my players just can’t burn it fast enough.  Enter the GM inspiration Die

GM Inspiration Dice

If my players do something creative or commit an act of good RP.  I award them an Inspiration point. The trouble I had was that Often my players had Inspiration and I still want to give them something. After some thinking, I decided to do the following. This is also a nice little alternative for some of the GM’s out there that prefer using inspiration as a “Hero Point” The benefit is smaller but players seem more willing to burn it over Inspiration often.

  • If the player has no Inspiration. I reward them with an Inspiration point.
  • If the player has a point of Inspiration I award them a “GM Inspiration”.
  • “GM” inspiration dice is not a D20 with advantage. It is treated like a Bardic Inspiration dice. It can be used at any time to add to a D20 roll.
  • The GM Inspiration Die is a D6.
  • Players can be awarded more than one, but only one dice may be spent at a time.
  • Once used it is gone it’s only useable for one roll.

Lastly, GM inspiration dice go away at the end of a session. USE EM OR LOSE EM!

 

Mixing Figure Flats & Standard Minis.

I have a massive collection of plastic and lead figures and they take up a huge amount of space in my game room. Regularly this has me thinking about better ways to use the space that I have. Now I have a considerably large game room and if I am thinking about it. I know some of you must think about it from time to time as well. Recently I have been pondering ways that I could incorporate figure flats into my games. I love my collection of figures way too much to make the move from Figures to Flats entirely space saving factors be damned. Yet there is no denying that the space saving potential alone is a good motivator to add Figure Flats to your collection.

So I began the process of trying to find ways and reasons that I might use figure flats that would benefit my games in addition to saving space. There were a few things that I did not want from flats that would make one of the easy go to options not right for me.

  1. I did not want paper token monsters. NOT going to do it!
  2. I needed to be able to have several of the same style figures.
  3. I wanted to focus on NPC types that players might encounter in towns.
  4. I did not want to use silhouettes

This ruled out the easy option of “Pathfinder Pawns” as they do not do me any good for several reasons. If I am going to incorporate Flats at the table I would first prefer it not to be Monsters. Second I do not use the Pathfinder system. So I turned to DriveThruRPG and set to searching out some options. I had already been pointed in the direction of Kev’s Lounge for paper mini’s since they were on GM’s DAY Sale I picked up a few of his sets.

The sets that I picked up were

I have settled on the intent that if I am going to use Flats I want to use them to represent NPC’s and “background extras” as well as standard city and town folk. This has several benefits at the table that I foresee. First, it will be so nice that my NPC box will shrink to a binder of figure flats.

8cfdd1f9-3396-4379-8baf-d1096f7ba2deSecondly, at the table, it has the added and much-desired effect of drawing your eye to the key figures on the table. I really liked this effect as it felt like it will make crowded scenes pop when laid out. Also, I like the idea of using flats in other ways at the table as well. I can see laying out a room or a market with several figures all as flats. If a player rolls a high enough perception I can reveal NPC’s token replacing it with Mini. Thus moving the NPC from the background of the story and into the story itself now as an active character.

 

Another Idea I had would be for use with thieves, assassins or anyone attempting to go unnoticed in a crowd. Leaving these NPC’s literally now hidden in plain sight until the moment they attack or are perceived by the players on the table as Flats. Needless to say, I have come to the decision that there are many interesting and worthwhile options.

Kev’s Lounge Paper mins give me just about everything I need to round out the town atmosphere. Additionally, every figure has several layer options that you may set before you print them. Each color on the models has if I recall as many as options in some cases. This gives you a tremendous amount of options if you desire them.

e270ec51-6ed2-44ba-9de6-4edcc06254bcThe thing that impressed me most was his cool basing system. With a fold here and a cut there you are left with a reusable slotted base for your Figure Flats. Allowing you to swap any of the Figures into only just a handful of Bases if you don’t want to make a base for each mini. Additionally, the bases come in Stone or Wood. I just did not print any wood ones out at the time of my taking the photos.NOTE: you might notice pennies on the picture there. I wanted to add a touch of weight to the bases to keep them from blowing around the table. They are well designed and do not knock over easy. But in my game room, I have two ceiling fans that run at a good clip most games. This would help them stick where I put them. As it turns out it worked perfectly.

 

So I am glad that I have decided to move forward with bringing this option of added atmosphere to my table. What do you think? Would you use Flats at your table? Do you mix Figure Flats with your Minis already? Or do you use Flats or Figures exclusively?

 

Homebrewing tip Reskin Monsters.

Today my thoughts fall on Homebrew creature creation. Creating creatures is one of my favorite things in all of RPG gaming. In the land of rules lawyers and grognards who have digested volumes of monsters, it’s nice to keep them on their toes. We all know what a Minotaur is. We also know what to expect when we encounter one in the game. Yet with a subtle tweak, say a Rhino Warrior we can throw something entirely new at our players and keep them guessing as to what it is that they might be facing. 

Giving a monster a Reskin has several benefits over crafting a creature from scratch. Chiefly when we Reskin the creature instead of crafting it from scratch we save time. Time is a commodity that few Game Masters have. The other major benefit of the Reskin is for game balance.  Knowing that the monster is already balanced to a certain CR. Allows us to quickly craft a creature and move on to other portions of our game prep. 

Using the example above let’s take this simple Minotaur and reskin him into a Rhino Warrior. Giving us something new but with very little effort on the GM’s part. First, we pull out the Monster Manual and bookmark both the Minotaur and the Rhinosuars. Often you likely will not have a second creature’s stats on hand to assist you in your reskin. But in this case, it speeds up the creature creation process even more.

For reference, it is simple enough to look at the Rhino and Look at the Minotaurs 5E stats. We can see that The Rhinosaurase and the Minotaur have very much the same stats. I this instance I will pretty much port everything over from the minotaur to our new creation with the exception of Labyrinth Recall. In its place and to represent the Rhinos Thicker Hide and slightly larger size I will just up the AC a hair more.

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Minotaur
Large monstrosity, chaotic evil

Armor Class 14 (natural armor)
Hit Points 76 (9d10 + 27)
Speed 40 ft.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
18 (+4) 11 (+0) 16 (+3) 6 (-2) 16 (+3) 9 (-1)

Skills Perception +7
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 17
Languages Abyssal
Challenge 3 (700 XP)

Charge: If the minotaur moves at least 10 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a gore attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 9 (2d8) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 14 Strength saving throw or be pushed up to 10 feet away and knocked Prone.

Labyrinthine Recall: The minotaur can perfectly recall any path it has traveled.

Reckless: At the start of its turn, the minotaur can gain advantage on all melee weapon attack rolls it makes during that turn, but attack rolls against it have advantage until the start of its next turn.

Actions

Greataxe: Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 17 (2d12 + 4) slashing damage.

Gore: Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 13 (2d8 + 4) piercing damage.

 

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Rhino Warrior
Large monstrosity, chaotic evil

Armor Class 16 (natural armor)
Hit Points 76 (9d10 + 27)
Speed 40 ft.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
18 (+4) 11 (+0) 16 (+3) 6 (-2) 16 (+3) 9 (-1)

Skills Perception +7
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 17
Languages Abyssal
Challenge 3 (700 XP)

Charge: If the minotaur moves at least 10 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a gore attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 9 (2d8) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 14 Strength saving throw or be pushed up to 10 feet away and knocked Prone.

Reckless: At the start of its turn, the minotaur can gain advantage on all melee weapon attack rolls it makes during that turn, but attack rolls against it have advantage until the start of its next turn.

Actions

Greataxe: Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 17 (2d12 + 4) slashing damage.

Gore: Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 13 (2d8 + 4) piercing damage.

 

 

Monday Muse hand waving Rules

Today’s inspiration for my Mondy Muse comes from my good friend over at Rolling Boxcars Blog. My good friend gave me a call and we were chatting about his upcoming Burning Wheel game that is looking forward to. This led us on to the discussion of how systems like Torchbearer are built around the foundation of things that often get overlooked and hand waved in D&D and other mainstream games.

You see it’s not just monsters that could get you killed in Torchbearer. In fact, it is the much more simple things in life that could lead to you and your player’s demise. Poor preparation. Delve too long underground and you could find yourself racing to the surface as the last of your torches begin to die. In addition, your party ranger might be drawing his blade and joining in melee combat far more often in order to preserve his precious ammunition. Pack lightly and being eaten might be the least of your worries as you starve to death.

When you think about it an adventuring party of 6 heading off into the unknown for several weeks is going to need to bring a lot of food and water. Likely more than they realistically will be able to carry if they are not going to be able to resupply along the way. So now we need pack animals & or wagons for feed for the animals. Hirelings to maintain the beasts of burden while the adventures delve the dungeons and so on. Suddenly the life of an adventure begins to look a lot more like an expedition instead of the lone heroes journey.
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Often in most of the games these days, these things are handwaved. It is assumed that our heroes have been living this lifestyle for long enough that they know how to prepare and be ready for any of these hardships. Additionally, in games like 5E and Pathfinder, even the lowliest of adventures can use magic to acquire nourishment with the casting of a simple spell making this element of game moot. In Pathfinder Minor spells can even replace Ammunition.

This brings us to the balancing element being magic. If magic could not be used to replace the need for these items or would prove too costly to be anything more than an emergency replacement. These factors would have weight in the game once again. Yet when we begin to look closer at the casting classes we see the root of where much of this began. Spell components. Likely the King of handwaving. So much so that there were even feats made to justify the handwaving of needing all but the most expensive components!

Imagine if a mage had to find, craft or purchase all of their components and keep track of the consumable ones like a Ranger would his arrows. Spellcasting might become far more stingy in your game worlds and many of our RPG worlds wold be a much different place.

Now I am not saying this is all entirely bad. The handwaving of many of these things came about in a very organic way. The players and GM’s all agreed that it for their games slowed things down, or took away from their enjoyment of the game. Thus the first wave of the hand was made. In the end, as long as your table is enjoying themselves that is all that matters.

So I put the question to you my fellow gamers. How does your group handle and feel about handwaving? Do your groups do it? Do you advocate it or hate it? What are some things that you think should or should not be enforced at the table?  Let’s hear your thoughts.

Monday Musing: Graceful Recovery.

Today’s musing is about gracefully recovering and moving on. We are all human, and we are not perfect. We invariably all at one time or another have moments where we screw things up. Sometimes more dramatic than others. Sometimes we hope that we can recover before anyone notices.

This weekend I had one of those moments. I have not regular weekly 4+ hour D&D game in over a year. Tack on this holiday sessions games that our group has missed and I can say I have not run a game back to back for months. Well, the rust showed this week and my initial recovery was less than spectacular. But with some determination, Good friends and a bit of patience, I was able to recover gracefully and move on.

As most of my readers know by now I run a homebrew game. Our recent campaign kicked off and I am running a homebrew of a published adventure. But not to make things easy on myself I decided that I wanted to mash up much of the first portion of Princes of the Apocalypse with Storm Kings Thunder. Somewhere between my notes and my homebrew plot timeline and a week before the game began I made a change. Instead of running the story out of Triboar. I decided to run the story out of Red Larch. I had also taken little to no notes on Red Larch. I had read over the town several times. Each time I read it for whatever ever reason I just could not seem to retain the information of what the heck was going on in Red Larch.

Maybe it was because there were two of several of the storefronts and such. Or I was overcramming that part of my game prep. I am still not exactly sure what it was. But a few days before the game I decided I was going to pull Red Larch and use another location in place of it. Yet when game day hit as my players arrived I pulled out my books and gave Red Larch a once over one more time.

The game went wonderfully in the early goings. Right up until we hit Red Larch.. and then everything went pear shaped. The next few moments were like an out of control dumpster fire. As soon as the players arrived in town one of the PC’s inquired about where he could find the mayor. Another stated they were going to the local tavern to inquire about a person they were searching for.

It was in this moment that my brain exploded. Where was the Mayor?

He hangs out in the tavern ..you can find him there around dinner time.

Thinking to myself that will buy me time to sort myself.

But no, no it won’t. Because half of my table had already played the first portion of Princes of the Apocalypse when my other player started to run it… half a year ago. I get a moment of pause and a questioning. Umm Red Larch doesn’t have a mayor it’s got a council of elders. From there, things spiraled out of control as every scrap of what I did recall from the Larch Fleed from my skull leaving me staring at the pages of the book like I had never read it before.

This is the moment of graceful recovery, It is in moments like this that you can recover or just stoke the flames and pass out the marshmallows. I had two options, I could wing it or ask for a moment to collect myself. This is when my table shined and showed me the class acts that they all are. After a moment of me flipping the pages and blankly staring at the mess, I had gotten myself into. One of my players took the initiative and stood up from the table. Called for a smoke break and a snack run.

It was in those moments that I was able to collect myself enough to sort some of the I had made out and pick up the pieces. I tried not to dwell on the error. I apologized to the table for the FUBAR and set to taking advantage of the snack run. It was just what I needed. I cobbled enough of the town together in my mind to get them on task and adventuring again.

The rest of the night ran without a hitch. All & all it was a good night. One of my players thanked me for a good game I chuckled apologized for my tragic flub. His reply is what inspired today’s blog.

Yeah, but you recovered and the game went well.

My moral today, if your game flys off the rails and you lose control of the moment there are a few things you can do as a GM.

  •  Improv way more of D&D is improved than most DMs will ever admit anyway.
  • Take a moment, Call for a bathroom break or smoke/snack break.
  • Ask for help, were playing a game and most of us have a rules lawyer in the group.
  • Drop a Random encounter in hopes that you can sort out what went wrong while the players are dealing with your encounter. (buy yourself a few rounds)

If none of these thigs help or its just that damn bad. I hope you have some marshmallows on hand. After all, everyone loves SMORES.