Tempting Fate with FATE Dice in D&D

Recently on Twitter, I saw a Tweet from Mike Mearls on the topic of Using Fate Dice in a game of D&D. The idea was to allow players to tempt the fates for luck. His example in the game he ran was this.

House rule I used in AD&D this last weekend: Get a big pile of FATE dice, d6s with two blank sides, two with plus signs, two with a minus. At any time, a player can tempt fate and roll the whole mess of them. More pluses, something good happens, more minuses, something bad happens Literally works for almost any RPG ever invented, so how is that for platform-independent design? Best sequence was a horrid role leading to the party stumbling across a huge guard patrol, and then a crazy good role leading to the guards mistaking the PCs for new recruits.

Now, this got me thinking about how I might use a rule like this at my table. Essentially it is just the implementation of a narration dice into your game. This mechanic has existed in one form or another in several tabletop games over the years. They are an excellent tool to add a bit of creativity and storytelling into even in the simplest of dice rolls that occur at the table. In many RPGs like the newest edition of Star Wars, narration dice have been implemented wonder into their games.

My Take on the Idea

Use one Fate dice along with all your D20 rolls. You could use it as a narration aid. The blank = result as expected, on D20 + = Something beneficial in addition to dice result. A – = Something Negative occours. 

So my thought process on the topic is this. When you want to add a mechanic to your game you need to take into account a few things.

  • Will it improve an aspect of your game?
  • Is there already a rule that exists for this?
  • Is this a needed rule?

 


A narration or fate dice might improve aspects of your game if you as a GM like prompts of this type to help you add a deeper element to your game. There really are no rules that exist at this time that could do it better. Lastly, if you want to add more narration elements to your game then the could be an easily adopted rule.  Just remember when you want to insert new mechanics like this into your game.  You need to make sure it adds to the game and does not complicate or slow the game down.  This is the reason why I would choose not to roll a handful of dice but just one FATE die with a D20.  

Do you think this could help your game? Could you see your group adopting something like this at your table?

If using FATE dice in your D&D game is going too far, or not far enough.. Give a look at my mini review of FATE Freeport!

FATE Freeport My Impressions & a Mini Review

Tips For When Players Sidestep The Plot

Any storyteller will tell you that no matter how hard you try and prepare. Once the game starts everything is out of your hands and the direction the game will take is largely up to your players. Often most games go the way you expect. Resulting in no need to make tweaks to your story as events unfold.

Other times, the players will for whatever reasons of their own, approach the story from a direction that you had never seen coming. It is this moment that your game has gone off the rails. Leaving you to have to make a few quick-thinking decisions to keep the story moving.

The end goal is to guide the players back in the direction of the plot. But how do you go about doing this? Well, there are several ways it can be done.  In this blog, we will discuss a few things that you can do to help you get your game back on track.  I will also outline a few things that you should avoid doing at all costs when this happens at your table.

Things You Can DO

Improvise

Improvisation is a wonderful skill and like any skill it requires practice. The good news is the more that you put this skill to use, the stronger your improv game will get. Inevitably the more you run games the more you will find yourself improvising because the two simply go hand in hand.

Many Game Masters are very intimidated by the mere thought of improvising. Yet, when you sit down and think about it you do it all the time.  Any time a player talks with an NPC in your world it is likely that on some level you are improvising. The same is true when your players inquire what the Blacksmith has for sale or what the Innkeeper is serving that passes for drinks in the local Pub. Likely none of this ever crosses your mind as improv but it is.  You don’t think about it because you have done it so often it has become second nature to you.

Trust in your abilities as a storyteller, your player’s faith in you as a GM, and your knowledge that you know where the stories plot is heading. If you have prepared a strong cast of NPC’s to help move your players in that direction of the story as well as a few side plots planed that can help steer them back to the plot when they wander off script. You will be fine

Run a Prepared Side Plots 

I often have one or two side stories going on in the background of my games for situations where the players go off the rails on me. If you have the luxury of being able to introduce one of this side plots instead of a random encounter this may even buy you an entire game session. Giving you ample time to figure out what you are going to do to steer your players back to your main story.

Ideally, you have prepared some of these in advance they should already be in a position to lead the players back to the main story as these side plots wrap up.

NOTE: Do not run a side quest if it does not fit into the moment, It will feel forced and your players will feel like they are being railroaded. Railroading=BAD. Only do this if you can make the transition feel organic. 

Run a Random Encounter

If you have the opportunity and are in a situation where a random encounter will not feel forced, this is one of the best things you can do as a GM. The use of a random encounter serves you well on many levels.

  1. You are providing your player’s with some in-game action.
  2. You are buying yourself some time to do a little multi-tasking so you can decide how you will address the unexpected direction that the players have taken the story in.

In games like D&D and Pathfinder this option not only will serve to keep the play at the table moving but depending on the level of play and how many players are at your table. This might buy you a considerable amount of time to regroup.

Take a Bathroom/Snack Break

lml3c9z_4880If you find yourself in a place in your story where a Random Encounter would not make much sense and you feel like you only will need a moment or two to collect your thoughts. Call for a bathroom break or hop up and get a drink and a snack. The few moments that it will take for you to step away from the table and get a breath or two of fresh air might be all that you will need to get your creative thoughts going again.

If you find yourself still stumped on the way back to the table, consider a side Plot or a random encounter to give you more time at the table to come up with a plan of action.

Ask your Players For Their Input

There is nothing wrong with asking for the input of your players. They are helping to shape the story with you. This may seem awkward for some old school Game Masters. But many new systems encourage such player input and a few are even build around group storytelling. So if you find yourself stuck ask for some suggestions or party input. You might be surprised at some of the creative ideas your players have floating around on their side of the table.

Politely ask for a few min

Be upfront and honest and tell your players they have thrown you a curve ball. Let them know that you need a moment to look over your notes and figure out just how to proceed from this point. Suggest they take a few min to stretch their legs or grab some snacks while you gather your bearings.

 

Things Not To DO!!

The following are some things that you should absolutely never do. In my years of gaming, I have seen all of these things take place and they destroy player agency and can be utter fun killers.

sbjggcmvr5sxDo Not Put Up Invisible Walls
We all know how frustrating they are in video games, but when a game master puts up invisible walls and tells his players that they simply can’t go that way. It is utterly infuriating.

This is one of the quickest ways to see your entire table collectively sigh and lose complete interest in your game. This solution might work once or twice at your table but it will leave your players feeling like they are stuck in a giant hamster cage.

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Never Railroad The Story
It might seem like the easiest way to get your story back out of the weeds. But your players will resent it. Do it enough and your players will not only resent it but they will grow unmotivated to find their own creative answers to problems in the game. Instead, they will begin to rely on you to spoon feed them the information you want them to follow from plot point to plot point.

Do Not Call The Game
It may seem like a good option to tell your players that they have taken the story in an unexpected direction and you need to time to plan your next move. But before you pull the kill switch on a session of gaming think about this.

Your players have set aside time to be at your game and calling the game will likely leave some players with sour feelings. Also, you have to admit that whatever changes you make to your story to adjust for WHATEVER the players may have thrown at you. It is highly unlikely that you will need several days to make adjustments to account for what has happened.

I can not urge you enough that if you feel like you need to call the game session to sort out what has happened at the table. PLEASE consider instead taking an extended snack break or order a Pizza go out to lunch and have some food for thought. Then regroup in 30 min to an hour. Calling the game, in my opinion, should never be done if at all avoidable.

Note: There are exceptions to every rule. In the past I have called games when things have gone off the rails. For example due to an unexpected combat about to occur at the end of the night due to players choices. In this example, I can only recommend calling the game and ending it as a cliffhanger, due to the fact that your players may not be able to stay late past your normal game time to deal with an extended combat.

 

Please feel free to comment and add your own suggestions to both lists here!

Mondays Muse, Run What You Love.

Today I am going to talk a little bit about one of the hardest things to do as a Game Master. Run what you love, I know it sounds easy. Yet ask a handful of GM’s and you will likely find that many of them are not running games they love. Often they are running games the group wants to play not what they themselves want to run. It’s an easy trap to fall into with more than a few ways to fall into it.

Most often we are just running the games that the group wants to play and someone needs to be the Game Master, Welcome to the trap.

The group has decided to run a game system that everyone knows rather than one that you as the GM know best. Welcome to the trap.

You are going to have to learn how to run the system some time this is your chance, Welcome to the trap.

The list goes on.

Granted there is a case to be made that there is nothing wrong with any of this. But in reality, if you want to be a game master for years to come head my advice and run the things that you love.

Everyone that runs games has enough to do with juggling game prep, manning the helm during the game and coordinating everything else in between. Why heap on the added weight of motivating yourself to even get into the mindset to run something that you are not enjoying. Because let me tell you if you struggle to find the motivation to run the game for your players. Everything else becomes exponentially more difficult.

So I wrap up my short little muse tonight stressing that if you or your group want you to try your hand at running games or tag you to run a game, Wonderful! Jump at the chance, embrace it and take it on with all that you are because it is one of the most rewarding parts of playing games you can do.

JUST RUN WHAT YOU LOVE and have faith that if you love it, your players will too!

Until next time.

#RPGaDay2017 25th Day. What is the Best way to Thank Your GM? SAY IT!!

Thanking your Game master is not hard. Look when it comes to saying thank you to your Game Master. There is just no other better way than to just saying it. Don’t just say it once said repeatedly after good games and bad. Let them know that you appreciate the work that they do for your group. Being a GM can be a thankless job and often the smallest of encouragement can keep us going.

Beyond that here are a number of other things that a group can do to say thanks. Over the years I have hand players purchase adventures that the group would like me to run. As well a helping out in other ways such as purchasing paper, minis or ink cartridges for the ever hungry printer. All of these things are both helpful and appreciated by your game master.

Beyond all of these things, by far the best way you can thank your game master is to enjoy the game. When a Game Master can sit back and watch his players as they have forgotten him for the moment as they are playing in character with one and other. That is a huge moment as a GM because you know you have them then, that they re fully committed to the story and are wrapped up in being a part of it. When all eyes are at the table and no one is paying attention to their phones, tablets or flipping through a book. These are the times in game that you know it was all worth it.

Player Characters Backstories are Not Stories.

Not long ago I got in a twitter conversation about character backstories. One of my followers @CrossingNewLeafe chimed in on a conversation that I had commented on with @theGodDamnDM about making an awesome backstory that will impress your DM. One commenter had stated that they felt that a short backstory was the best. Others had stated that there was nothing wrong with a long and amazing backstory.  My reply was this.

Hot backstory tip. Do not make your backstory better than the story about to be told or there is no character motivator in your future.

This sparked a shift in the topic to the idea of: is there such a thing as too much backstory and should the GM just embrace it and rise to the challenge of penning a better plot to keep up with the tone set in the backstory. Also, the conversation went on to find many GM’s of the opinion that be backstory can never be too long. My last bit of voice on the subject was this.

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A good backstory is like a resume. Short & Informative with interests and motivations & some NPC references added at the end. 1 page is plenty.

Now that the stage has been set I will elaborate a bit. In the context of writing a backstory, it can be long or a prolog. In some cases, it can even be a prequel. In this situation, we are talking about handing your Game Master a backstory. So we are not writing a novel thus, the above intents of a backstory are not what we’re looking for. In this case what we have left is the other uses for a backstory.  A flashback, dialogue narrative exposition or a summary. Flashbacks are interjected into a scene. Dialogue is spoken backstory in character or by a narrator. What we are left with the only one that fits. A player Character backstory is a summary of events.  By definition:

sum·ma·ry
noun
a brief statement or account of the main points of something.
“a summary of Chapter Three”
adjective
dispensing with needless details or formalities; brief
“summary financial statements”

So a player characters’ backstory is not a story nor should it be a story even though many want it to be one. I want players to understand that backstory in the case of an RPG is at its core. A brief accounting of the players past. It is also used to reveal motivations, influences, fears and obstacles that made the character who they are as they step on stage for the first game.

I know you want to flex your inner author and I am all for creativity as the next guy. Even so, there are several reasons why I am making this blog to help understand that you can have a compelling backstory and still keep it in the space of a page or less.

 Reasons why you should keep a Backstory Brief.

  • The longer your backstory that more info that will fall through the cracks.
  • You are adding unnecessary workload on your Gamemaster.
  • It is lacking in any Gamemaster input or influence.
  • Less is more, You and your GM can always add to less. It’s hard to cut away More.
  • . Think back to your own life. It’s the defining moments we recall not the daily grind.
  • Your backstory tells the events that lead up to the moments of your stories beginning.

Tips to think about when writing your Backstory

  • Does the GM need this info?
  • How can I shorten what I have written?
  • Is this relevant to who my character has become?
  • Did I leave room for the Gamemaster to add input?

Be sure to add

  • Any Life changing moments
  • Achievements and Failure
  • Fears and Flaws
  • Motivations and Goals

All that said, what do I think a good Character Background would look like. Well as above I mentioned something akin to a resume. Something that would let the GM know my main traits. A few experiences or adventures that helped shape my life. As well as any contacts or rivals that may still be creeping around in my past and what kind of influance they may have.

This is mostly inspired by one of the best Character background sheets I have seen over my years of gaming. The Dresden Files Character Phase worksheet. Here is my version.

Your Name Here & Your PC’s Name Here

Class:
Personality Trait:
Bond:
Ideal:
Flaw:

 Long Term Goals

List one or two goals that your player would like to achieve.

Background (List three past events & how they affected you)

Event One, Location– Note here if any other PCs were involved

  • What Happened?
  • How were you Affected?
  • Was the Event Resolved?
  • Name a contact or Rival Gained? Roll 1d6 Even Contact Odd Rival

Event Two, LocationNote here if any other PCs were involved

  • What Happened?
  • How were you Affected?
  • Was the Event Resolved?
  • Name a contact or Rival Gained? Roll 1d6 Even Contact Odd Rival

Event Three, LocationNote here if any other PCs were involved

  • What Happened?
  • How were you Affected?
  • Was the Event Resolved?
  • Name a contact or Rival Gained? Roll 1d6 Even Contact Odd Rival

Contacts & Rivals

Contact/ Rival Name :
Influence & Resources:

Contact/ Rival Name :
Influence & Resources:

Contact/ Rival Name :
Influence & Resources:
Description:

 

Please let me know your thoughts! Thank you, fellow followers for the inspiration of this blog. I hope you all found this helpful. Did I change your mind or are you now further entrenched in long form backstories? I look forward to your replies.

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!

 

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.