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Thread: GM Tips, Tricks, & General Advice

  1. #121
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    What are some subplots you've used or would like to use in your games? What makes them so great?
    Want to be a Game Master? Training and Tips at The D Academy

    In retrospect, Marcy probably did the right thing. After all, she did let Black Leaf die.

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    I ask the players for goals and possible life changing events and use that to create custom side quests for the PCs. I do take ideas from the back stories also. The recent side quests I had/have went it a weired direction I didn't expect. What I learned from that is I spent way to much time plotting out story beats. What I do now is think about what the next two story beats are instead the next ten. I also learned that the unplanned side quest might be more interesting than the one you planned out.

  3. #123
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baron Of Hell View Post
    I ask the players for goals and possible life changing events and use that to create custom side quests for the PCs. I do take ideas from the back stories also. The recent side quests I had/have went it a weired direction I didn't expect. What I learned from that is I spent way to much time plotting out story beats. What I do now is think about what the next two story beats are instead the next ten. I also learned that the unplanned side quest might be more interesting than the one you planned out.
    I like that. Asking for player goals is a great way to come up with subplots and side quests. It's another advantage we have in this particular story telling medium. We can just ask our audience what kind of thing they'd like to see.

    You have another good point about needing to stay flexible in RPGs. For as much time as we spend making these little adventures the fact that we have almost no control over the main characters definitely keeps us on our toes.
    Want to be a Game Master? Training and Tips at The D Academy

    In retrospect, Marcy probably did the right thing. After all, she did let Black Leaf die.

  4. #124
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    Adding Excitement to an Encounter (combat)

    Let's say you're running a module that calls for a basic encounter. There's an ogre and four orcs your PCs are supposed to take on in a pretty standard cavern. Your group consists of your classic fighter / cleric / wizard / rogue. For flavor we'll say the cleric is a dwarf and the rogue is a half-elf.

    Your group is 3rd level so by now you've seen them in action, and you know exactly the strategy they're going to use. The dwarf fighter will engage the ogre, with the cleric staying close for healing support. The rogue will flank the ogre in the meantime, and the wizard will hang back and blast creatures with her spells.

    It's not a bad encounter. An ogre and four orcs is a CR 5 encounter at least, and its going to test them. It's pretty straight forward though, if you just line up the bad guys on one side and the PCs on the other.

    So lets throw in some foreshadowing. First off, lets give the ogre some identity. We'll call him Ragash the Nailer, and we'll throw in the corpse of a local soldier earlier in the cave that has a big club with some large nails sticking out of it embedded in his skull. Let's make them rusty nails.

    Then, we'll throw up some dwarven trophies in the dungeon, near where the ogre is found. A pair of dwarven axes hanging on the wall over a broken shield... and they are from the dwarf cleric's clan. Later, when they find what appears to be a carpentry workshop with some rusty nails in it, the dwarf recalls a story he heard about an ogre named Ragash the Nailer. He hates dwarves as has for a decade, going so far as to raid dwarven merchant caravans just to slaughter the men and rape and kill the women. It's said he will eat dwarven children. (see the post on pissing off players.)

    Guess what the ogre's weapon of choice is? That's right, a great club with some big nails that give it a +2 on damage rolls. Let's apply the advanced monster template in the bestiary (Pathfinder) to make him a slightly more memorable monster.

    We're almost done. Let's let the fighter and cleric - tromping around in all that armor - tip Ragash off that they are coming. He sends two of his orcs out wide in the caverns to flank them. They'll arrive on round two of the combat. The other two will stay to each side of Ragash and fight with him as a unit. They won't let a rogue flank easily (attacks of opportunity and they'll wail on the rogue even if he slips past them.)

    And remember Ragash hates dwarves, so he'll be concentrating all his attacks on the cleric.

    So now what we have isn't just a monster, but an NPC. In addition, he's using some tactics that are going to take the PCs out of their normal routine. The fighter will close with the ogre, but he'll be ignored as the monster suddenly brings the pain against the party healer. The cleric is going to have a great chance for a glory kill, knowing that he's fighting an enemy of his people. The wizard - who was going to hang comfortably back and cast spells - is now going to find himself in melee against two opponents, which will likely make the fighter have to choose between backing up the cleric and helping the wizard.

    It's going to be chaos, and that's exciting. Fighting a named NPC and adding in a personal vendetta for the dwarf just makes it better. The ogre swinging a nasty, filthy club around gives him character and makes him more memorable.

    But we need one more touch here... just making a battle a little harder doesn't go as far as we want to. If we want a really exciting encounter we have to engage the players (not just the characters) on an emotional level.

    We're going to do that, and we're going to add a 'ticking clock' element to this scene as well.

    All we need is a prisoner. It seems Ragash has captured a comely dwarven adventurer and has her chained to a wall by her wrists. As the PCs enter, he will stab this poor girl with a large nail right in the chest, and she will start to die.

    The battle now goes like this:

    [hr][/hr]

    You follow the ogre's footprints to the opening of a large chamber. Inside you hear a woman's voice cursing in the language of her people, but her words are answered only by a deep bellied laugh.

    You peer around the corner and you see Ragash the Nailer, who is just as you heard him described: a mountain of a creature with a savage scar down his face, and one blind eye. His grotesquely muscled body is marred with scars, and he is accompanied by two orc warriors, who are already holding their battle axes and waiting.

    the dwarven woman is dressed like a warrior, and a hammer and shield from the frostbeard clan lay at her feet. Her chainmail has been ripped open and both belly and breasts are bare. She's obviously been beaten, but her eyes remain defiant.

    Ragash turns to you as you watch.

    "Mmm... more dwarves in my cave. I'll eat your guts you runt! Come on! Come fight Ragash and die!"

    Ragash hefts a club nearly as tall as your cleric. He's hammered nails into the head, which stick out at every angle, rusted and bent. It's a primitive, savage weapon and he grins as he picks it up.

    It's then that you notice that Ragash is holding a big, rusty spike in his free hand.

    "Get me out of here so I can kill this pig!" The dwarf woman yells.

    "Die!" Ragash shouts. "Die like her!"

    With that the ogre drives his spike into the woman's chest and her scream is horrible. He rips the nail back out and bright red blood spurts from the wound. The wound is obviously mortal. Without healing she'll die in minutes.

    (OOC - you have six rounds to get to her with a healing spell or she's history.)

    Ragash and his orcs advance, and Ragash is staring death right into your cleric. You know without doubt all his attacks will be directed towards him until he is dead - roll initiative.



    [hr][/hr]
    Okay, so now the PCs get to act. Predictably, the fighter and cleric rush to engage the ogre, and the rogue moves to flank. As soon as she does though, both orcs close on her. Now she's flanked!

    The wizard blasts the ogre with a pair of magic missile, but he's tough enough to withstand the first round of PC attacks.

    So we start the second round:


    [hr][/hr]

    Wizard - as you are getting ready to cast your next spell you hear a loud roar from behind you and turn to see to see two more orcs charging into the room. They both get a surprise action against you.

    (Wizard posts: $@%! - Can I cast shield? Guys, help!)

    (fighter posts: Damn it! Sorry dwarf, gotta save the wizard!)

    (cleric posts: I can't take this sucker on my own, what the heck?!? Is there any way I can get to the prisoner without this thing crushing my skull? )

    (rogue posts: AHHHH! They're all over me!)



    [hr][/hr]NOW you have an exciting encounter. Hopefully your players saved up some hero points, cause they might need them. Hopefully you have some time to post that day, too because your players are going to light that board up.

    We added excitement by adding the following elements: We gave the ogre the advanced monster template and an enhanced weapon and added some back story and a name for him. We gave the orcs some basic tactics and we added a subplot and ticking clock element with the dwarf prisoner. By doing just those three things this encounter went from a flat dice rolling session to an intense, memorable encounter.

    Remember, a good campaign is made from good adventures, and a good adventure is made from good encounters.
    Last edited by cailano; 08-08-2013 at 04:09 AM.
    Want to be a Game Master? Training and Tips at The D Academy

    In retrospect, Marcy probably did the right thing. After all, she did let Black Leaf die.

  5. #125
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    Welcome new GMs

    Looks like our number of views is going up here in the D Academy's fancy new location. I'd love to hear from anyone reading this. Are you new to GMing? Just interested in stepping up your game? Just want to see what inane advice I offered today? Let us know who you are and what you're playing!
    Want to be a Game Master? Training and Tips at The D Academy

    In retrospect, Marcy probably did the right thing. After all, she did let Black Leaf die.

  6. #126
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    For the BRAND new GMs

    An idea I'm working with Blackfox - the founder of D Academy - on is the idea of mentoring one or more new GMs. The idea here is that I or another experienced GM would take someone new to the hobby under his or her wing and help with everything from posting a recruitment add to creating characters to running the first few combats. After that the new GM would "graduate" and run their game on their own. Communication would be in the form of suggestions in PM not in the actual game forum, so it would be pretty much invisible to the party.

    What do you think? If you are someone interested in game mastering, would you like to participate in the program? If you are a player, would you be interested in signing up for a game run by a GM in the mentor program?
    Want to be a Game Master? Training and Tips at The D Academy

    In retrospect, Marcy probably did the right thing. After all, she did let Black Leaf die.

  7. #127
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    Fantasy games not your thing? There's also an SRD for Mutants and Masterminds

    I just found out the other day that the super hero game Mutants and Masterminds has its own SRD, which means learning the game is free to all. I truly believe that in order for a system to become widespread in the modern, Internet driven world it simply must have an equivalent to the SRD. Really, if a game does not have one, you won't catch me talking about it much on here.

    I love supers games. I played the HERO system for years, and I had a long running Champions campaign. I haven't actually played Mutants and Masterminds myself, but it is a modified version of the D20 system, so the learning curve for D&D and Pathfinder players should be pretty gentle. I also understand it to be a fairly versatile system, and I'm looking forward to learning more about it in days to come.

    The thing about supers systems is that they tend to be able to do anything. To allow the incredible variety of power levels and character concepts that can exist in the out-of-control fantasy world of super heroes, a system has to have a really wide range of things it can handle. That can easily lend itself to high powered fantasy games, sci-fi settings and just about anything else you can imagine. The HERO system realized that about Champions decades ago, and they spawned dozens of spin offs using that same core system. Westerns, Espionage, Sci-Fi, Vigilante Action, you name it.

    What have your experiences with M&M been? Would you recommend the system?

    You can find the SRD for Mutants and Masterminds HERE.
    Last edited by cailano; 08-10-2013 at 01:12 AM.
    Want to be a Game Master? Training and Tips at The D Academy

    In retrospect, Marcy probably did the right thing. After all, she did let Black Leaf die.

  8. #128
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    Dragons


    Valeros and Seoni realize they have chosen possibly the worst place in
    the world to fight a dragon.





    Every Game Master I know loves dragons. They are fun as heck to run in combats, and players absolutely love dragon hunting. They are the icon of our entire hobby, and half the name of the original RPG, Dungeons and Dragons.

    That being said, you can't just drop a dragon on the board and have at. They are a very complex creature to run, and each dragon should be a unique encounter that deserves some prep time from you. For a lot of players, this is going to be a highlight of their gaming career. When you pull out a dragon, you need to bring your A game.

    My next few posts are going to deal with dragons in fantasy gaming. As usual, I'll concentrate on the Pathfinder RPG because that is the game system I'm best with. 99% should also apply to the 3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and some will also be applicable to other game systems.

    For my example creature, I will be using Kilthrakis, an adult red dragon. This magnificent creature weighs in at a challenge rating of 14, and would be suitable as a boss for a campaign ending with PCs of 10th or 11th level, or a mid-campaign boss for PCs of 12th or 13th level. I will talk about ways to up the CR of this beast even higher, to create an even more memorable encounter, or for PCs that are of slightly higher level. The buffed version of Kilthrakis will be CR 16.

    But before we get into the crunch of actually doing battle with this monster, lets talk about the all important set-up.
    Last edited by cailano; 08-15-2013 at 07:29 AM.
    Want to be a Game Master? Training and Tips at The D Academy

    In retrospect, Marcy probably did the right thing. After all, she did let Black Leaf die.

  9. #129
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    Setting up the Dragon

    "
    I thought Godzilla was a mess, the monster had no character and the humans didn't either. They forgot to make the movie that went along with all these wonderful effects."
    ~ George Romero

    "That's no claw, by the gods... its a tooth! You want me to do battle with that?!?"
    - Ulrich, from the 1981 movie Dragonslayer


    Of all the monsters in the Bestiary, dragons benefit the most from a great set up. The quotes above show the results of opposite ends of the set up spectrum. In the first, we have a master of the genre handing us the exact problem present in the lesser Godzilla movies, especially the truly terrible 1998 version. Godzilla was just a giant iguana on a rampage. He (she?) had no personality, and very little set up. He was just there to be killed. Terrible.

    The second quote is from the fantastic 1981 movie Dragonslayer. If you haven't seen that before, put it on your must list. It stands the test of time far better than most movies, and special effects are astounding for the time period. In fact, I'd rate Dragonslayer creature effects as decent to this day. Considering that they had zero CGI to fall back on, this is amazing.

    Effects aside, the set up for Vermithrax - the dragon in the movie - is outstanding. There will be very little in this post that you couldn't learn from really studying Dragonslayer.

    When you build a dragon for your campaign, the very first things you should think about are a name for your creature and a history. The second thing you should think about is the dragon's plan. Remember, dragons are highly intelligent creatures, and they don't tend to just sit on the bottom floor of a dungeon waiting to be killed.

    I tend to favor long, arcane, sibilant sounding names for dragons. Kilthrakis fits the bill nicely. I know I'm trying to challenge a group of 10th level PCs, so a CR 14 dragon should be about perfect. I flip through the Bestiary and find that an adult red is a CR 14, and is a classic fire breathing dragon. Now I know what I'll be working with.

    So where did Kilthrakis come from? The PRD tells me that an adult dragon is between 101 and 200 years old, and I think I'll put Kilthrakis at the lower end of that age range. He'll be a relatively young dragon, looking to carve out a niche for himself.

    This also reduces the requirement for history, though that can be a challenge as well for the set up. Since my hypothetical campaign is set in the frontier region of Varisia and red dragons tend to lair in mountains, I will base Kilthrakis in the Stony Mountains outside Riddleport. (If these place names mean nothing to you, don't worry.)

    For the last 50 years, Kilthrakis has been keeping a low profile. Though he was still a powerful creature in his own right, he was not the only dragon in Varisia and was smart enough to not threaten the territories of others of his kind. He lived in the northern Stony Mountains, eating cattle raised in nearby villages. He occasionally ambushed mining camps, caravans and parties of adventurers, and so is known to people from his territory. I can work that into the campaign later on. Perhaps a ranger from Kilthrakis' home territory can tell horror stories.

    I do some research on red dragons and read that they are extremely egotistical, cruel and greedy. Kilthrakis will be all of these things, but I think that each dragon should be unique, so I'm going to give Kilthrakis a taste for music as well. He particularly enjoys the female voice, and wishes to add a human or elven slave to his treasure hoard so that she can sing to him when he wishes. His ideal slave would be a child or young virgin girl or surpassing beauty and or course singing talent.

    Kilthrakis didn't see much opportunity for wealth in his remote territory, and so he started widening his aerial patrols far to the south. Riddleport seemed a rich enough city, yet one so disorganized it was unlikely to have an answer for an adult dragon lairing nearby. Kilthrakis found a tribe of stone giants living in an ancient ruined castle, one with an extensive cavern system near by. Kilthrakis attacked and enslaved them, using the giant's shaman as a figure-head ruler. The shaman of course worships Kilthrakis. This doesn't grant the shaman any spells, but pleases the dragon's colossal ego.

    The giants began to raid local caravans, farms and forts, taking any treasure they could find and bringing it back to their living god.

    Riddleport wouldn't take all this lying down, so it assembled a small army of would be dragon slayers and sent them to the Stony Mountains. They won a battle or two against the giants, but they weren't prepared when their prey took the fight to them.

    Kilthrakis attacked by air and decimated the army. Warriors were fused to their armor by dragon fire. Mages were outmatched not only by the dragon's natural powers, but by its surprisingly deep understanding of the arcane arts. The army commanders were outsmarted and outmaneuvered, and hundreds died for their failure.

    This effort to slay Kilthrakis angered him. He attacked Riddleport, setting a terrible fire in the northeast part of the city before leaving of his own accord. A few days later a small group of giants delivered the dragon's demands. 10,000 gold pieces per year, every year, on the anniversary of the day he destroyed their army. If they are late, he will burn Riddleport's farms and outlying villages to the ground and laugh while their children starve to death. (See pissing off your players and raising stakes in a campaign.)

    He also finds a local elven village and demands that they offer the daughter of their high druid to him as a sacrifice. He wants this woman - a wonderful singer - to be his slave for the many centuries of her life. Or until he tires of her, at which time she will become a snack.

    This is where the PCs come in. They will hear from some of the soldiers who faced Kilthrakis before. They will hear from the old ranger who hunted the dragon in his younger days. they will hear from the elven high druid.

    In the Stony Mountains, they will have to face Kilthrakis' stone giant minions. They will hear the giants worshiping the monster, and tales of his terrible power. They will also have to fight their way through the ancient castle the stone giants have claimed in order to learn where the entrance to Kilthrakis' lair is. Then of course they will have to enter that lair, and meet the dragon on his home ground.

    I have one more important element to add - the initial encounter. I don't like PCs to be able to dictate the time they will face a monster as mobile and intelligent as a dragon. Kilthrakis will at some point learn of the PCs, and he will probably try to eradicate them at a time of his choosing. Perhaps he will hit their camp at night, or them while they are making their way through the mountains.

    An airborne dragon is a very scary thing. A dragon can easily rain death on a party of unprepared PCs using his breath weapon and spells, all without ever having to land. If the battle goes poorly he can easily escape.

    This provides a good opportunity for your party to meet their foe, and for your dragon to establish some respect. Perhaps he can even land on a nearby cliff and exchange a few arrogant words with your heroes, before challenging them to find him at his lair. It should be a limited encounter - the dragon won't look to finish off your PCs unless that would be a very easy thing to do - but the initial encounter is an important set up element for your story.

    I hope this post - and the mandatory viewing of Dragonslayer - helps you to understand the importance of setting your dragons up correctly. It starts with a name and history, and understanding what your dragon wants. Once you have those things down, you will sometimes find that your whole adventure will grow organically from there.


    My next post will deal with building your dragon, and planning out his tactics.




    Last edited by cailano; 08-15-2013 at 11:54 PM.
    Want to be a Game Master? Training and Tips at The D Academy

    In retrospect, Marcy probably did the right thing. After all, she did let Black Leaf die.

  10. #130
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    Building Your Dragon


    “My armor is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears,
    the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath... death!”
    - J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit

    A dragon is a deadly foe. This is a beast that is very capable of taking on an entire party of characters and providing a serious challenge. Let's break our example dragon down into defense, offense and special abilities.

    Defense

    Kilthrakis is an adult red dragon, and a quick look at the Pathfinder PRD shows us that it has an AC of 29, Damage Resistance 5 / magic, impressive saving throws, immunity to fire, paralysis and sleep, a whopping 212 hit points, and a spell resistance of 25. Ouch.

    Now we are building this dragon to be an end boss for a group of tenth level characters, so lets compare our dragon to two of our tenth level characters (a fighter and a wizard) and see what we get.

    Our tenth level fighter swings a greatsword +2, has a strength of 18, and uses power attack. He has weapon focus and weapon specialization with his sword, and he has an average amount of hit points for his level. This gives him an attack bonus of around +15 and damage in the range of 2d6+11, an average of 17 points of damage per hit. He'll hit on a roll of 14 or greater, and since he has a magic sword the dragons damage resistance won't apply.

    Our wizard can cast spells up to 5th level, and has several high damage spells including lighting bolt and ice storm. Ice storm in particular is a threat because our dragons lone weakness is one to cold. You can bet our wizard is going to load up on that spell - and other cold based spells - before the end fight.

    Our dragon has spell resistance of 25 though, which is a solid defense. Our wizard will have to roll at least a 15 on a D20 in order for his spells to not simply be ignored, which is 3/4 of the time. He can mitigate this by learning certain feats, but this does show what a game changer spell resistance really is.

    So Kilthrakis' defenses look good relative to our party. With over two hundred hit points and good defenses, he is going to be able to last several rounds against the PCs, even in a straight fight.

    But can they last against him? lets see how he hits back.

    Offense

    In melee, during a full attack action, Kilthrakis has six, count them six melee attacks. The most damaging of them - his bite - has a +25 to hit and inflicts 2d8+15 points of damage. Relative to this, our fighter has an AC of 23 and 65 hit points. On any of our dragon's attacks, the fighter will be struck on anything other than a natural one, and that is the party's "tank."

    Kilthrakis has a better weapon though... his breath weapon. Roaring out in a 50ft cone and potentially hitting several characters at once. The breath weapon does 12d10 fire damage, for an average of 60 points of damage and has a save DC of 24. Our party rogue should avoid this entirely some of the time thanks to a high reflex save and greater evasion, but the rest of our PCs are in trouble.

    Of course, our party cleric has buffed up our party with protection from energy to mitigate this near death-sentence, but see below for how our dragon will deal with that.

    Special Abilities

    Our dragon can cast spells up to 3rd level. He has a wide variety of them, but some that leap right out are invisibility, haste, and especially dispel magic. Remember that protection from energy buff? There you go.

    He also has the suggestion ability, with a DC of 16. Hope our party fighter has good will power, or he might find himself deciding to check out the magic sword in the corner instead of joining his companions in battle.

    Lets not forget the frightful presence ability. With a save DC of 21, only the strong willed characters in the party have a hope of not being shaken throughout the battle.

    So as we can see, Kilthrakis is more than capable of going talon to toe with our entire party of PCs. However, such a battle would be a simple affair unworthy of a final encounter. Kilthrakis is an intelligent creature, after all, and a living god to his servants. He will have a better plan than this.

    My next post will deal with planning the final encounter with Kilthrakis, one that contains a surprise twist, and will really push them to their limits.
    Last edited by cailano; 08-29-2013 at 05:22 PM.
    Want to be a Game Master? Training and Tips at The D Academy

    In retrospect, Marcy probably did the right thing. After all, she did let Black Leaf die.

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