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‘The way you play’ Articles

Leader and Striker

When you are playing D&D with less than four players, your party obviously cannot cover all character roles. If you have three players, you can refer to Chapter 1 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for some advice on how to cope with that. If you play with only two players, there are six possible combinations of roles. Well, actually ten, but you do not want your players to play characters with the same roles.

In “Controller and Defender”, I’ve already had a look at one of these combinations. Today, we will see, what difficulties a group only consisting of a leader and a striker has, and how they can survive, although this is one of the more difficult combinations.

When your group only consists of a leader and a striker, the striker has to sacrifice his mobility in order to defend the leader. So it is a good idea to put some effort into making the leader stronger.

To strengthen the leader, its player should focus on defensive powers and items. If you, as a DM, are feeling generous, you can also give him a more powerful armor than he should have at his level. Now that you have a really sturdy leader, he can also try to fill in for the defender.

A good choice of classes for this combination of roles is, e.g., a Shaman and a Sorcerer. The shaman, as a leader, can also be the party’s defender, and the sorcerer, as a striker, can lean towards the controller role.

When choosing monsters, bear in mind that artillery, controllers, skirmishers and lurkers will be the monsters your players can deal with quite well. The skirmisher can engage the artillery monster in melee quickly. The striker can follow the skirmisher and defeat him. Controllers and lurkers do not pose a special threat to this role combination, as far as I can see. The other monster roles, though, are more powerful in this situation. Brutes might charge the leader, while your striker is in melee with other enemies. Soldiers might gain too much control over the battlefield. Also big groups of monsters (especially minions) will last longer due to the lack of a controller.

What do you think about this role combination?

Picture by Markus Röncke under a Creative Commons license.

Controller and Defender

When you are playing D&D with less than four players, your party cannot cover all character roles. If you have three players, you can refer to Chapter 1 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for some advice on how to cope with that. If you play with only two players, there are six possible combinations of roles. Well, actually ten, but you do not want your players to play characters with the same roles.

In this article, I will present one of these combinations and present its weaknesses, and ways to ease the lack of the other two roles.

When your two players play a controller and a defender, they have two problems: dealing damage and healing damage. Nevertheless, this is one of the easier combinations.

As there is no striker in the party, your players should optimize their damage output as good as they can. If you are feeling generous, you can also give them more powerful weapons or implements than they should have at their level.

The second weakness is the lack of a leader. The defender probably will not be able to keep all the monsters away from the controller, so the controller will need some kind of healing. You should be generous with healing potions, to avoid your controller being knocked out.

A good choice of classes for this combination of roles is, e.g., druid and paladin. The druid can fill in the leader role, and a paladin can be built to be a capable striker.

When choosing monsters, bear in mind that lurkers, skirmishers and soldiers will be the monsters your players can deal with quite well. The controller can try to keep the skirmisher from moving around, and the defender can focus on him. Lurkers and soldiers do not pose a special threat to this role combination, as far as I can see.

The other monster roles, though, are more powerful in this situation. Artillery can attack your controller from a place the defender cannot reach quick enough. A brute might charge the controller, while your defender is in melee with other enemies. A controller monster might keep the defender from attacking in some way. Finally, monsters with the leader keyword also are dangerous, because they can make their allies deal more or take less damage.

What do you think about this role combination?

Picture by Francois Bennett under a creative commons license

The End

In the D&D campaign I am currently running, one player has to quit. He will play one more session with us, but that will be his last one. The campaign will continue without him, though. So I should find some in-game reason why his character won’t continue adventuring with the group.

There are several possibilities to do that, but this player had one wish: He wants his character to die a memorable death. So now I’m wondering how I can fulfill this wish.

I could simply make the last fight of the session extremely hard and let the monsters focus on the character of the quitting player. The good thing about this strategy is that it’s quite flexible. It is quite easy to tell, if a fight is going to be the last fight of the session – just look at your watch. So with this strategy, the character will not die early. But I think I won’t use this, because last session, I already overwhelmed my players with nearly unscalable encounters.

Or I have someone assassinate the character. In general, this is not a bad idea, as it automatically provides a plot hook – the players might want to find out who wanted their comrade dead. But this assassination should not come like a bolt from the blue. Otherwise this is too much a deus ex machina.

I think, I will choose the following way: The others characters have to flee from the fight, leaving their friend behind. Why should they do this? Maybe they have to rescue someone or have to retrieve something and get the person or the item away from the monster as fast as possible. The fleeing characters should see how their friend fights to hold back the monster, and finally dies, so they will always remember him and his sacrifice for their quest.

What do you think? How would you handle such a situation?

Foto by Ran Yaniv Hartstein under a Creative Commons license

No-shows

How do you deal with the situation, when tonight is your gaming session, but some of the players cannot come?

Usually, with a fully staffed group this is no problem, just reduce the difficulty of the encounters a bit, and you’re almost done. But if you only have two or three players, it isn’t that easy.

Canceling the session or playing a different game that night is one option.

But there is more you can do.

The focus of D&D is clearly on fighting. Of course, you can put as much role-playing and storytelling in it as you want, but the rules focus on fights. So if you usually don’t do much role-playing or storytelling, you could try this on a day, where someone’s missing. This way, you avoid unbalanced fights.

You could, for example, plan the next steps of your party in character.

Or you could just describe what happens the next days or weeks cooperatively.

If you do want to fight, your characters might find a place to exercise their powers, with some, say, sparring partners. Maybe you are in a city, where the Mages Guild or the Fighters Guild offer such training. This way, you can play through some fights, while you can always stop them, when they turn out to be unbalanced, without feeling too bad about it.

What do you usually do in such situations?

Picture by Samuel Byford under a Creative Commons license.

Custom Character Sheets

The 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons has all been about streamlining. Making the rules easier, making the fights faster, and so on…

But there still seems to be one thing, which is a little bit bulky, a bit hard to use: the character sheets. They just seem to be too long, with two pages of stats and many pages of powers.

Some people have suggested solutions for that. There is the one page essentials character sheet made by Wizards of the Coast themselves, which is quite nice. And there is, for example, the character sheet by Dixon Trimline, which has all stats and all powers on one page.

But I don’t think it really matters if your character sheet consists of only one page or of ten, as long as you find the information you need. I think, the biggest problem is to remember what your character can do in certain situations – on your turn and on the enemies’ turns.

As your character advances to higher levels, he will gain more and more powers and conditional bonuses. And there is no way you could remember all those things. So you probably will forget that one of your powers is triggered when an adjacent enemy gets bloodied, or that you can add a +2 bonus on attack rolls against enemies that wear a hat, or whatever…

So I suggest expanding your character sheet pile by one more sheet, something like the trigger sheet that Dixon Trimline uses. But it must not happen that you “wind up outsourcing [your] confusion to a brand new document, and face an intimidating block of powers and effects”, as Dixon describes it.

On such an improved trigger sheet, I would write down a chart like the following containing all the triggered actions, sorted by who has to do what to trigger the power. I included the name and short description of each triggered power, and a shortcut describing if it’s an encounter or a daily, which level it is and if it’s an interrupt or a reaction (e.g., E3R for an 3rd level encounter power that is a reaction).

Plus there would be a list of conditional bonuses and such things, which reminds you of these tiny little bastards…

I don’t think, this sheet will look like “an intimidating block of powers and effects”. What do you think?

Foto by Laenulfean under a Creative Commons license.

Infinite monsters

Today, I will continue to browse through issue #76 of Dungeon magazine looking for inspiration. I started to do so two weeks ago in the article “Cold as Ice”, where I was looking at the magazine’s cover.

No I will risk a look inside. On the inside of the cover, there is an ad for a video game – “Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu”. Never heard of it. Should I know it?

Anyway, the headline of the ad reads “Infinite monsters” reminds me of an adventure I’ve run. There was some kind of portal in a dungeon, where nasty monsters came slipping through. They would not stop coming through until the portal would be closed. But the players had no clue yet, how to close the portal. So they decided to collect everything, with which they could jam the portal: doors, tables, etc. So the monsters would be held back for a while, and the players had enough time to find a way to close the portal.

So there actually was an infinite number of monsters, with which the players had to cope. There are other ways, the players could be faced with a number of monsters way to high to fight. An entire army, for example, besieging a city. Anyway, I think, confronting the players with “infinite monsters” is a great way to challenge their creativity.

What do you think?

Picture by Fantasy Art under CC licence.

Cold as ice

Today, I’m going to steal an idea from Jeff’s Gameblog. Jeff started a series named “One Issue Campaign”, where he takes an old Dungeon magazine and tries to build an entire campaign by squeezing “every possible of iota of usable information out of that magazine and nothing else to flesh out a campaign”, as he explains it.

I’m not going to build an entire campaign, but I will try to get some useful ideas out of the old Dungeon magazines that are gathering dust here. The first issue that I grabbed was #76 from 1999. The cover, which shows a warrior fighting some kind of ice monster in the snow, reminded me of a list I put together a while ago.

In that list I had collected some ideas for adventures in ice and snow. I never finished that list, but now that I am aware again that it exists, I will continue working on it. Until I have finished it, here are some ideas for usable terrain from that list:

  • a sheet of ice that you can make crack by a forceful step
  • icicles that you can make falling down on your enemies
  • setting off an avalanche

If you have any ideas for adventures in ice and snow, feel free to discuss them in the comments.

Let’s see, what ideas I can get from the actual content of the magazine…

Picture by Alan Vernon under a Creative Commons license.

Controller & Leader

When you are playing with less than four players, your party obviously cannot cover all character roles. If you have three players, you can refer to Chapter 1 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for some advice on how to cope with that. If you play with only two players, there are six possible combinations of roles.

Your party could for example consist of a Controller and a Leader. As you have no Defender, the Leader has to protect the Controller. So you might want to choose a Leader with Defender as his secondary role. Additionally you should make sure that the Controller himself is not too vulnerable, for example by choosing a class, which grants many hitpoints.
So what about the combination of a Seeker and a Shaman? What do you think?
And what about the other five possible combinations of roles? If you have any suggestions, feel free to discuss them in the comments.

This is a first sketch of a part of the guide to playing D&D with only two or three players, that I’m currently working on. Please tell me what you think about it in the comments.

Image by Markus Röncke licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Dominated

When you are playing D&D with two players, effects that keep the players from taking actions can have a devastating effect and can easily lead to a TPK. So you can either avoid monsters that daze, dominate, petrify, etc. your players. Or you change the way these conditions work.

For example, you could allow dominated characters a saving throw for each action they are forced to perform. If one succeeds, he can perform the action himself. Or maybe better let the dominating creature have to make an attack vs. Will instead of the saving throw.

Or replace the dazed condition by the following:

  • -2 on attack rolls
  • slowed
  • can’t take immediate or opportunity actions
  • grants combat advantage
  • can’t flank

This is a first sketch of a part of the guide to playing D&D with only two or three players, that I’m currently working on. Please tell me what you think about it in the comments.

Image by Dariog136 licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Brothers

When two of your players decide to play brothers, you might allow them to reflect this strong connection by one or more of the following ideas:

  • Allow them to give healing surges to their sibling as a minor action.
    There’s a strong but mysterious connection between brothers.
  • Allow them to use a standard action to grant an instant saving throw to a brother on a successful DC 15 Heal check without being adjacent to him.
    Brothers know how to push their sibling on.
  • When both brothers make a skill check for the same skill, let the brother with the lower result roll again and take the higher result.
    No brother can stand being inferior to his sibling.

This is a first sketch of a part of the guide to playing D&D with only two or three players, that I’m currently working on. Please tell me what you think about it in the comments.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Public Domain License.

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