Archive for the 'Dungeon Mastering' Category


D&D Encounters: Undermountain (Session 3)

My dice bag.

D&D Encounters: Undermountain

Another Wednesday and that means I get to have another D&D Encounters night!  Aero Hobbies was again the setting for our Encounters session, and this was yet another totally different experience.

I’m getting the feeling that I’ll need to show up yet earlier as the tables were full when I showed up at 6:45.  I tried to go early to talk with the DM from last week, but everyone was seated already and it didn’t seem appropriate to interrupt at this point and cause a further delay to the whole group.  There was some shuffling involved and one of the players graciously agreed to wait and play in the second round of encounters so that I could play in the first batch of encounters.  One of the regularly scheduled DMs was out of town, and as since the RPGA has a very strict policy on who can run an RPGA game, there were not enough slots for all the players with only two DMs.  However, they staggered the game play so that as soon as one ended another started and eventually everyone that showed up to play got through the encounter.

My session this week was run by yet another DM, so that’s three different DMs for three different sessions.  I suppose it could be a real curveball if you’re used to playing with the same crew week after week, but they made the process seem smooth and managed to integrate the changes without any hubbub.  In addition to a new DM, we also had a change up in the rolecall list.  I like the idea that for this campaign the faces change each week.  No one really mentions the fact that we’re adventuring with a different group of heroes each week, but we all just go with it.  This week’s party was shockingly balanced, with 2 defenders, 2 strikers, a controller, and a leader.  Now we would have no excuse on the battlefield.

The players make a quick introduction of their characters so the players can all get acquainted, and then it’s off to more delving.  We pick up immediately where we left off last week, and having just defeated the thugs who ambushed us, we move on down through Undermountain into ShadowHome, a shanty-town of riffraff and various monstrous denizens.

The DM this week made a conscious effort to have a little more story, even going so far as to explain the resurrection of our formerly dead companion.  My character has a sneaking suspicion that we’re going to be docked the price of a Raise Dead ritual from our total earnings.

As for specifics, this week’s session was a little different, because we actually had no combat.  It began as a Skill Challenge, and with a little luck and a little clever thinking, we managed to not fail the really dangerous encounters and make it through to the Inner Chamber of the Halls of the Sleeping King.  Though no actual attacks were rolled this session, it was really enjoyable nonetheless.  This just reinforces how much I enjoy the Skill Challenge system of 4th Edition, as even in our failures we were glorious and we worked together as a team to solve the riddles of the tomb.

For those of you who’ve played, you know that there were 6 little slots of blue flame and 6 team members, so sure enough we were each responsible for figuring out how to light one of the magic runes.  A great challenge designed to involve all of the players.  Unfortunately for the two defenders, our skill set seems to be limited to “bashing” and “crushing”, so with a little luck and more than a little brute force, the dragonborn and the minotaur managed to ham-fist their way through a delicate, arcane lock.  No Athletics check options means that fighters are slightly limited in their contributions.  I’ll keep this as a mental note to make an attempt to include a way for fighters to contribute in my own games.

All in all, a fun session of roleplaying.  My favorite moment?  Two players standing up and acting out how they would “distract” the otyugh long enough for the party to run past it and escape.  Yes.  Having permission to stand up and yell at the gaming table made for instant fun.  And for sticking my two horns into the remaining two locks and trying to unlock them at the same time, I achieved a Moment of Greatness.  It didn’t matter that it didn’t work.  Sometimes the attempt is what matters.

During the time I live-Tweeted the incident with my minotaur damaging himself and potentially losing one of his horns, Kyle (one of my fellow Tweeters, @d20plusmodifier) drew up this pic, scanned it, and posted it.  Genius.  I love the internet.

I now present Koroth, the uni-taur.
I can’t tell you how much I admire Kyle’s ability to produce in such a short amount of time!  The speech bubbles were part of a dialogue from a thread between @Wizards_DnD, @d20PlusModifier, @Level30Yinzer, and myself (@4eDnD).  This is also why I love the internet.  Incredible stuff.  Also, this is now my official character portrait.

SIDE NOTE: @Wizards_DnD posts various bonuses at various times on Twitter during Encounters for players with access to the internet, so depending on what time you play, your experience could vary.  We experienced two different potential benefits — one allowed a PC to reroll a Thievery check once this session and keep the 2nd roll.

The second (and most terrifying) of these was the following gem:
#dndenc Divine power washes over you. Each character can ignore the first attack that Orcus makes against you this session.

Yes. You read that right.  Implying that Orcus would be showing up in a 1st level adventure.  Guess WotC is getting a little jump on April Fool’s Day.  Nice one, guys. 🙂


Live Tweets every Wednesday at D&D Encounters: Undermountain on Twitter @4eDnD!


Death & the Hero: Pulling the Trigger

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk in the DMing community floating around lately about when it is (and isn’t) appropriate as a DM to kill a player character.  This is a touchy subject with a lot of gamers, as a player’s character can be a very personal extension of their own personality, and — depending on how much time and effort you spent creating and playing the character — a fairly emotional event.

As a DM, you should not discount this trauma as trivial or inconsequential.

While the 4e rules concerning death and dying in the game are covered in both the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the effects of a character’s death last far beyond any given session.  As a DM, our monsters and creatures die all the time.  It’s no big deal for us.  That’s what they’re for, after all.  We forget that fact from time to time, and I for one have been accustomed to creating monsters with the sole purpose that they are to die.  A little morbid perhaps, but when a monster or enemy lives, it only makes it that much sweeter for me.  Plus, it sets up an almost guaranteed recurring enemy for the players, so we all win.

But characters die in Dungeons & Dragons, we can’t deny this.  It wouldn’t be much of a challenge if there was no consequence for failure.  It’s a fact of the game that where there are challenges there will be successes and, therefore, failures.  But I think perhaps some of the fault lies in viewing death as failure.  Do we automatically assume that death is the end?  How many times have the heroes faced ghosts, ghasts, vampires, ghouls, zombies, liches and other supposedly “dead” creatures.  If anyone should know better, it’s the heroes.

And then there’s Raise Dead.

You only need a part of the PC’s corpse that’s less than 30 days old.  Granted, it’s an 8th level ritual, but if you’ve got the 500 gold and a big enough town, there’s no reason your DM can’t make a cleric available to a low-level party.  And don’t forget about Gentle Repose, a 1st level ritual which extends that time period to 150 days.  What’s that you say? There’s no high-level cleric in your town?  That’s probably because your DM’s being a dick.

Seriously.  If the DM controls the world, and all the weather and monsters and people in it, and there isn’t a cleric of sufficient power to cast Raise Dead in your town, it’s because you are dealing with a malevolent being.  It’s pretty much my argument against God, too.

So when is it okay to kill a player character?

I’ll be the first to admit that not every player character makes it out of my games alive.  Characters have died in my game and been reincarnated (remember the random tables?), and some players have had to leave the game so they went out in a heroic blaze of glory.  Some PCs died when they were overwhelmed in the final boss encounter, and some fought their last fight when going up against too many kobolds.  But I never did it to be mean, or to “get some payback”, or to flex my power.  The DM is all-powerful.  No player can deny this — see Rule Zero.  As the DM, we don’t need to tell the players who’s boss.  If a DM really wants to kill off his party, then a) throw them up against the Tarrasque, and b) be prepared to not have those players come back.

The heart of the matter is that viciously (and needlessly) killing off a player character erodes the inherent trust in a roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons.  In computer games, we trust that a certain amount of neutrality and balance is built into the game.  In D&D, we have to trust the DM to be fair and impartial, and we rely on his (or her) interpretation of the rules.

Now, sometimes, let’s be honest, players do stupid things.  Every DM has experienced this.  Whether the players are trying to Bluff the gelatinous cube or engaging the drow queen with Diplomacy, tactics just aren’t every player’s strong suit.  Every DM has a different threshold for when character stupidity equates to character death, but my point is: If a character’s death serves no purpose, then why do it?  And don’t blame the dice.  If you want the players to live, they live.  Simple enough.  If it’s all truly the result of random dice rolls, then what do they need a DM for?

So when do you think it’s okay to kill off a player character?


July 2018
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