Adjusting Monster Stats, Monster Synergies, and Hiding

At our last game, I decided to do something a bit different and did an across the board changing of monster stats. In this case, that meant giving the monsters a -2 to each of their defenses and a +2 to their attack rolls. The reason? The number of misses on both sides of the "screen" were just to high to be fun and seemed to drag out the game. My players now hit more, which made them happy, and were also hit a little more often, which lead to drama and tension. My husband even sent a tweet during the game when his halfling rogue went down for the count.

Once my players have made it through the entire little adventure, I'll post it here with more details. However, another point I would like to stress is the use of monster synergies. For instance, I used Kenku sneaks in this encounter, and they have the ability to become hidden if they have cover from another Kenku. This makes it very important for them to hang back in the crowd. In our case, they were behind a group of minions, which was great for them until the monk unleased an area attack that took out most of the minions.

Finally, I find the stealth and hide rules really confusing. I hope the new D&D rules compendium tries to make it much simpler. Either that, or someone should write an article that sums up all the information in one place with a section on frequently asked questions. I tried to look up most of the rules before the session but with the information spread across multiple books, I found it a bit difficult. Since the first part of the encounter involved them dealing with hidden guards, it meant a slow start to the encounter, especially since they found the rules a bit confusing as well.

A Dragon and His Minions

During a recent gaming session, I tried something a little new. I decided it was time for my players to meet one of the dragons inhabiting Newham Shire. To play the role of the dragon who was to terrorize the small town of Lolling Green during a kidnapping, I chose Razecoreth, a young green dragon warlock [DDI]. All I did was adjust his level to be more in line with the level of my players.

However, I was concerned that since the player characters would not be in a confined area and the dragon is a solo monster, those PCs with ranged attacks would just hang out too far away from the dragon for it to be an effective menace. To make things more interesting, I added some Shadar-Kai minions into the mix, based off of the Shadar-Kai Gloomblades [DDI]. To set up the scene, I explained that the inn in the center of town was on fire and that they could see figures running around in the dark causing general mayhem. I introduced the Shadar-Kai after the first round and added more each round, rolling a d4 to determine the number to add. These minions were one level lower than the PCs and could easily come up behind PCs who were hanging out far from the main scene of action.

While I thought it worked out pretty well overall, it did bring up one big issue with using the minion game mechanic. My players treat minion characters differently than they do "regular" characters and try to translate the game mechanic of 1 hp into a role-playing tactic. For example, they tried to convince the last Shadar-Kai warrior to surrender because one hit would kill him. I feel it's a long-standing problem with D&D's hit point system and I'm not sure the best way to play around it. If I hadn't gotten thrown off by the obvious meta-game comment, I think I would have explained that these guys had already been through a heck of a fight (which they had) and that's why they were such easy kills. But such story solutions don't always present themselves. How do you deal with the issue when it comes up?

Are you up for the challenge?

Going to PAX East? Looking to show off your adventure design prowess? If so, Wizards of the Coast is giving you a great opportunity to show the world just how much better than Christopher Perkins you really are. At 7 pm on the Saturday night of PAX, WoTC will be holding a DM tournament of sorts. Participating DMs are asked to create an adventure, using Underdark source material, for five 6th-level characters. The expectation is that the adventure will last for about 5 hours and encompass 3-5 combat encounters. However, DMs are encouraged to add other elements to their game to increase role play opportunities and to develop a mini story. In addition to bringing their adventure, DMs should bring everything they need to run the game, such as maps, tokens, minis, tiles, etc. Players and their characters will be provided. DMs will be rated by their players so keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to go for the TPK. People who would rather play than DM can show up 10 minutes before the scheduled time or sign up beforehand by emailing the organizer, Willi Burger at RPGAMarshal@aol.com.

I don't think I'm anywhere near the level I would need to be in order to enter this contest. I am tempted to write up an adventure anyway and pass it out to friends or submit it to NewbieDM's downloadable delves. However, I will definitely be there Saturday night, and would love to meet as many of you all as I can.

Wizards D&D Name Generator

Wizards of the Coast released their D&D Character Name Generator. So far, it seems pretty neat, allowing the user to adjust the name guidelines on a wide variety of settings and providing not only first and last names, but also nicknames. When I first got to the page, I received the following name:

You can save the names generated as well as link to names created. Following the link appears to show you the criteria used to generate the name, although the drop-down menus for first letters of the first and last name are off by one. The tool also automatically saves the last 20 names it generates for you.

The number of options is pretty nice. Beyond specifying letters for the first and last names, you can choose gender, race, class, character's background, societal class and renown. The last is mostly tied to the level tiers. I can see this being useful to DMs and players alike.

Notes from the Table: Treed! Edition

This past week I really didn't have the time to create the well-thought out, challenging encounter that my players deserved. So I looked through adventures from Dungeon magazine and found a great side trek that I could easily fit into my campaign called Treed!. Without giving spoilers, I would like to mention a few things about the adventure. First, my players really enjoyed it and they had a lot fun with it. There is enough of an element of danger with the monster choices to keep the heart rate up and, if my dice didn't decide they were too tired to bring their A game, potentially to kill a PC or two.

However, it's a bit of a tricky encounter to run. There are four different monster types to run, terrain features and a leash. It probably wouldn't be so hard to run with more time to plan and prepare, but for a weeknight game during a busy two weeks, I had some problems keeping things straight. That is more a fault of me than the adventure itself, but it bears noting. Also, if I ran it again, I would use something physical to represent the leash. It was too difficult to remember that it was there and to use it effectively.

Overall, I'm really glad I ran it and it really can be an easy mini adventure to fit into just about any campaign. Time to plan for next week.

The DM's Lament: There Just Isn't Enough Time

My new job is kicking my rear end. During my first week on the job, a huge, high priority job got added to the tech team's plate. While I'm really enjoying it, the work has me a little outside my wheelhouse. As a result, I don't have a ton of time to prep for this week's game and I found myself browsing through the RPG adventure database in search of some adventure ideas to steal. Figuring that there are a few other DM's out there in a similar position, I thought I would share some of my ideas on how to plan in a hurry.

If you have some time, don't limit yourself only to adventures in your system and setting.

Converting an adventure from one system to another can take a lot less time than developing one from scratch. With 4e's simplified encounter design, the combat portion of the game can be a lot easier to create and modify.

Feel free to steal bits and pieces instead of the entire adventure.

Maybe you really love to design your encounter groups, but hate drawing maps. Or maybe you want to populate your town with engaging NPCs but don't feel like figuring out what trades they should have or what to name them. Or maybe you came across a great encounter in an adventure but the rest of the adventure doesn't fit with your world. Regardless of the reason why using the whole adventure doesn't make sense, grab the bits that grab you and make them your own.

Build off of a Trope

We use tropes a fair bit because people know how to react to them. Emphasize a full moon, and your players are likely to look for a werewolf. They are not only useful in setting player expectations, but they can help you get through a session with a little less planning than normal since you are also likely to be comfortable with the story you're telling. You can find some tropes on TVTropes.org.

For a few weeks, at least, design your game in bits.

Dave Chalker had a great post about this on the Critical-Hits website. He was designing the second chapter of his campaign and wanted to give some overall structure to it without going into too much detail. His solution was to create 5 major quests and, for each quest, create a list of 5 things that must be done to complete the quest.

Hope these ideas help get your brain going. In the meantime, I found a side-track to use and need to add it to my combat manager.

Blogs I Love: Spend a Healing Stirge

There might not be a ton of entries in the Spend a Healing Stirge blog, but the entries are full of great tips, especially for DMs. The author is especially interested in bringing music to the table, with tips on how to incorporate it and, just as importantly, provides some recommendations on music to use. In addition, there are a number of sensible, buy-from-your-local-store DM tips, such as using non-stick kitchen rubber mats to keep dungeon tiles in place and using pipe cleaners to mark figures.

Recent Posts

Product Review: Azagar's Book of Rituals

About 7 months after the release of D&D 4th edition, Goodman Games announced an open call for ritual submissions. After receiving over a thousand entries, they compiled over 300 of them into Azagar's Book of Rituals. The book is narrated by a hobgoblin general, the afore-mentioned Azagar. Each chapter begins with him trying to explain the type of rituals found in that chapter along with a funny story about how one of the rituals saved him at some point in his travels.

The book is organized into 9 chapters, each with a different type of ritual. Each chapter has a list of rituals across all ranges of play, from heroic to epic. The ritual information is organized just like the rituals in official Wizards of the Coast products, with level, time, duration, component cost, market price and key skill(s). The majority of the rituals are tied to Arcana with most of the rest being tied to Nature or Religion and a smattering of Heal.

Types of rituals

Binding Rituals (30)
Like warding rituals, these rituals offer some protection, but generally by keeping things from doing things or going places.
Creation Rituals (37)
These rituals allow the caster to create something, sometimes out of thin air.
Deception Rituals (29)
Generally, these rituals create illusions to help fool even the most perceptive and insightful friend or foe.
Divination Rituals (24)
Information is the name of the game. These rituals help the caster determine everything from what's happened to what's happening to what might happen.
Exploration Rituals (91)
More of a generic category, these rituals don't easily fit in any of the 8 other categories. However, that doesn't mean that they are any less useful.
Restoration Rituals (18)
Often utilizing divine magic, restoration rituals seek to help with everything from disease to bringing back the dead.
Scrying Rituals (17)
Like divination rituals, these rituals are all about information gathering, in particular, how to gather intelligence remotely.
Travel Rituals (28)
Sometimes, getting there is half the battle. These rituals aim at making transit time shorter, or at least more comfortable.
Warding Rituals (27)
Want to protect a place or an object? Or maybe you want to keep certain creatures from getting in or make certain types of magic less effective. Then warding rituals are what you need.

Sample Ritual

There are many rituals that are more useful, but this is a particularly amusing example.

Brownberry's Annoying Companion
You set the sigil and when it goes off, the target is going to wish it had exploded and killed him. The screaming ball never stops, never rests, and haunts the unfortunate subject until the end of time.
Level: 8 Component Cost: 250gp
Category: Warding Market Price: 680 gp
Time: 10 minutes Key Skill: Arcana
Duration: Special

You place a magical mark upon a lock, latch, or any object the target can interact with. When the target touches the object, the mark vanishes and is replaced with a floating flesh-colored ball the size of a fist. Although it appears solid, the ball has no actual physical presence. The ball rises to the shoulder of the target, a mouth appears over the ball, and it begins screaming annoyingly in the target's ear. Every minute, the scream pauses for one round -- the ball gives the illusion of taking a deep breath -- and starts up again. Your arcana check determines how long the annoying companion lasts.

Arcana Check Result Duration
19 or lower 6 hours
20-29 12 hours
30-39 18 hours
40 or higher 24 hours

Anyone plagued by an annoying companion suffers a -5 penalty to all Charisma-based skill rolls, a -2 penalty to Perception checks, and cannot take extended rests. In addition, the target automatically fails all Stealth checks and cannot surprise opponents. The ritual can be dismissed by you or by any arcane caster that studies the orb for 10 minutes and then beats your Arcana check with his. You may replace the scream with loud laughter, moaning, or other noises generated by other parts of the body. The mouth cannot form words.

Product Information

Rules Set: 4E (GSL).
Contributing Writers: Tavis Allison, Cedric Atizado, Jobe Bittman, Jeb Boyt, Aaron Brosman, David Caffee, Jarrod Camiré, Steven A. Cook, Patrice Crespy, Joseph D’Amico, Chris Dias, David Dolph, Douglas R. Edmundson, Alan Z. Eisinger, Raymond G. Falgui, W. Daniel Fichtel, John R. Flemming, Joshua Gervais, David Gibson, Rob Green, David M. Guyll, Lee Hammock, Matthew Hannum, Matthew J. Hanson, Morgan Hardy, A. G. Edward Haskell, Isaac Hicks, Dwight Hulse, Matthew Kaiser, Charles W. Kiley III, Chris Kümmel, Phillip Larwood, Matthew Lawrence, Hannah Lipsky, Lizard Lizard, Chris Longhurst, Lucas Mackay, Hal Maclean, Paul Matthews, Dan McAllister, Derek Meurer, Nick Miller, Scott Moore, Tim Rose, Aeryn “Blackdirge” Rudel, Mark Steinmann, Harley Stroh, Stefen Styrsky, Chris Tandlmayer, Greg Tito, Chris Torrence, Austin Watkins, James Whitman, Doug Wideburg, Robert Clayton Wyatt, Jr.
Cover Artist: James Ryman
Interior Artists: David Griffith, Doug Kovacs, Hunter McFalls, Jesse Mohn, Matt Morrow, Chad Sergesketter, Mike Wilson
Graphic Designer: Erik Nowak
Editors: Dwight Hulse, Aeryn “Blackdirge” Rudel, Harley Stroh
Publisher: Joseph Goodman

Other Reviews

More Information

Goodman Games released two pre-release pdfs: one with the introduction, table of contents and the binding chapter and another of indices organizing the rituals by name, level, category, and key skill. The book can be purchased from RPGNow (as PDF), Paizo (PDF and print), and Amazon (print). I purchased my copy from my local gaming store.

Announcing the RPG Adventures Database

Being a GM can be hard. Games can take a lot of time to plan, especially if you are designing foes and encounters from scratch, drawing your own maps and creating all your own NPCs. At least, those are some of the problems I run into when planning my own game. Pre-written adventures are great, but not every group is keen on them and it seems like finding suitable ones is half the battle. With that in mind, I started an adventure database to help me in my planning and I wanted to share what I've created with the rest of you.

The database is still in its infancy, with about 175 modules spanning from early D&D to today. Since I run a 4e game, it's heavily populated by D&D modules in general and 4e in specific. Since my hope is to continue to grow this into a much larger resource, I thought I should outline my initial goals and how people might be able to help.

Initial Goals

  • Add as many adventures as possible with title, level information, author, publisher, system and published setting.
  • Figure out a system for keeping up with new adventures as they are released.
  • Work with the community to determine what additional information is desired and how to collect and add that information in a way that helps both people using the content (e.g. GMs) and the people producing the content (e.g. authors, graphic artists, developers and publishers).

How You Can Help

  • Game Masters and Players: Use the adventure database. Let me know what's wrong, what's missing and what can be better. Let your friends know about it. And, most importantly, if you find it useful, let me know. It takes a fair bit of work to add in this data and it would be nice to know if further development would be useful to others.
  • Publishers: Let me know how much information you are comfortable with sharing. Ideally, I would love to tag each adventure with additional information such as location, maps included, monster types, level of magic, etc. This sort of information will be of great use to your audience without giving away the store.
  • Authors: I'm creating a page for each author which will list their works, but which would also ideally include a bio, a pic, links and social media tools like a twitter handle. If you could send me information you would like to have included, that would be great.
  • Retailers: Tell me you exist. I want to add links to a number of places where people can purchase these adventures. If you don't have an affiliate program, don't worry. This is about giving the customer choice.

To Infinity and Beyond

My goal is to help game masters pinpoint adventures that contain information they can use in their current campaign. This information could be a complete module, a map, an NPC or adventure hook, a skill challenge or the like. Thus, one of my near-term goals is to increase the types of information available about the adventures. However, I'll need help to do this. Over the next few weeks, I'm hoping to figure out the best way to make it possible for interested community members to enter data. Since I want this data to be easily searched along a number of facets, a wiki is probably not the best way to go. Also, until we have enough people who can help monitor for spam, completely open editing will probably pull too much of my time away from more important things such as feature development.

Finally, just a quick note about affiliate programs. Yes, some of my links have affiliate codes in them. The site takes money and time to put together and run. So far, all of the money I've made from this site has gone on to purchase more gaming supplies and pay for the cost of the server. I don't see that changing any time in the near future as there are lots of cool books and tools out there.

Blogs I Love: Sly Flourish

Just by itself, the Sly Flourish blog would be considered a great resource for those 4e DMs out there. Written by Mike Shea, the posts are concise, well-written and accompanied by excellent pictures. The monster optimization series alone is a great resource. Not only does it give DMs monster combos to place into their own campaigns where appropriate, but he explains what it is about the combo that makes it awesome, effectively providing a learn-by-example tutorial on encounter design. It definitely makes you look forward to Mondays.

Recent Posts

If you need your fix more than once a week, fear not, Mike gives out great ideas throughout the week through Twitter. Followers of the @SlyFlourish twitter account are treated to small nuggets of DMing and story telling wisdom.

Recent Twitter D&D Tips

  • Cross-train your RPG reading with King's "On Writing", Tharps "Creative Habit", and Edwards' "Drawing on the Right Side o/t Brain"
  • Try out a Stephen King style and foretell coming events: "That was the last time you saw your home town before it burned."
  • When using published adventures, don't be afraid to replace NPCs with those already known and loved (or hated) by your PCs.
  • Give your players a lot of different quests, each with a well-designed quest card so they can keep track of them.
  • Does a PC have a big moment coming? Try using a music playlist based on that PC selected by that player.

In addition to the blog and twitter account, Mike created a really nice 4e blog aggregation site, 4eBlogs.com.

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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