Rolls for role-playing

"The White King Learning to Conduct a Kitchen Burgkmair"I don’t like the way D&D Fifth Edition and lots of other “modern” games handle skills. As a player, I don’t like spending time deciding which skill should cover a particular task. More than that, however, I intensely dislike using Charisma rolls to cover role-playing. In 5e, for example, Charisma skills include Deception, Intimidation, Performance, and Persuasion. When these situations come up, I prefer to act them out.

I want to convince the guard that we have arrived at the court as ambassadors from a faraway land. I have proficiency in Deception so my modifier is +5. And I rolled a 12, so that gives me a 17. That should do it, right?

If that works for your group, fantastic, but it just bores me to death. Instead, I want a player to tell me what their character says. They don’t have to use flowery, exaggerated medieval language. They don’t even have to fake an accent.

Sir, I come to you in the name of the sovereign nation of Breouria. As the ambassador of my land, I would bid your lord welcome and discuss matters of great import. My entourage and I must pass at once!

To follow the spirit and letter of the rules as written, we have to roll sometimes for fairness to the players. If the skill scores never come into use, after all, we have forced the players to “waste” some of their potential power due to opportunity cost. For example, the personal guards of a paranoid tyrant might require a DC 20 check, or DC 10 for a commerce-minded noble in a peaceful land). If the player put everything into it, I give them advantage on the roll. Still, they could roll a 1 and fail. Perhaps the guard did not sleep well and doesn’t want to deal with unknown travelers with a carrying a letter written in some foreign language.

The new Dungeon Master’s Guide contains a lot of variant rules. (I didn’t take part in the play test of D&D Next but others have said that some of these came directly from that.) For social interaction and role-playing, we can tweak two different systems: reactions and skills.

Reaction Rolls

On page 244, the DMG explicitly outlines two different ways to handle these. In the first method, the DM determines the starting attitude of the NPC: friendly, indifferent, or hostile. The conversation plays out, possibly changing the creature’s attitude. The text emphasizes the use of ideals, bonds, and flaws. The player then “can attempt a Wisdom (Insight) check to uncover one of the creature’s characteristics.” At some point, the DM calls for a Charisma check, including any relevant skill proficiency. Based on the NPC’s attitude at that point, the DM interprets the roll on the Conversation Reaction table. Except for using the Insight skill to determine a characteristic, this describes what we already do. The reaction roll system in Basic D&D could almost function as a drop-in replacement.

The next section discusses role-playing. Voicing a character can provide some of the most fun moments in a game. For example, I had a wonderful time playing the “fat, pompous old fool” of the town master of Phandalin in Lost Mine of Phandelver. I dropped my voice an octave, puffed up my cheeks, and blustered like the mayor of a small town in some old movie my mom would watch. The players loved it!

In these circumstances, I just decide how a character would react based on the interaction. Creating the most fun in the story also becomes a factor. In the above example, the guard might let them through with a stern advisory or he might have them thrown into the stockade.

That still raises the issue of opportunity cost for the players. Worse, it penalizes players who like RP. They are the most likely ones to choose social type skills for their characters, reflecting their interests and preferred play style. 

An apothecary publically preparing the drug theriac, under the supervision of a physician. Woodcut.

Skill Variants

Among the other rule variants, we have several options to handle abilities and skills. These start on page 263. All the skill variants replace the skill system with something else. This section also provides for the replacement of a flat proficiency bonus with an appropriate die roll. As an example, low level characters can roll a d4 instead of the normal +2.

The first variant, Ability Check Proficiency, replaces all skills with the base abilities. A player chooses one based on their class and another based on their background. Expertise counts as one ability rather than two skills. Background and Personality Trait Proficiencies both rely on deep histories and concepts for characters. With these variants, the DM decides that a character can apply their proficiency bonus when their background or traits apply to the situation.

These all feel “old school” to me. In fact, they remind me of the systems in Microlite20 OSS (Old School Style).

Application in my future games

Taking all this together, I would use both Background and Personality Trait Proficiencies rather than build a skill profile. That will speed up character creation! I would only have a player roll for the success of a social interaction in unusual circumstances. They would then get to apply their Charisma modifier and proficiency bonus. If they played it really well or clearly appealed to something they’d discerned about the NPC, I would give them Advantage.

In these ways, 5e can feel a little more old school.

Initial Impressions: Fifth Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide

Kyle holding his DMG

Happier than I should be

I went down to my friendly local gaming store this morning and picked up the new Dungeon Master’s Guide. (They had a 15% discount on all D&D stuff, which gave a little extra bit of unexpected happiness.)

A full review of this book would take significant time due to the density and amount of material in it. But I wanted to see right away how to build & modify monsters. I also have been looking forward to learning how to distribute treasure (especially magic items). This post mostly discusses those two areas. Other brief impressions include:

  • I see Robin Stacey in the credits. More Microlite20 love.
  • The art matches my expectations and deserves its own post. In fact, it probably even exceeds them. During my upcoming business trip, I could spend hours on a plane just examining the illustrations. I recognize a few of them from earlier products. The goblin illustration on page 107 comes directly from the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure.
  • Yay for “low-level followers” and “hirelings” – torch bearers! This doesn’t contain nearly enough information for me, though. I will need to refer to older DM guides for this sort of thing.
  • Successfully noticing and bypassing a trap should provide XP. I don’t think that the book gives any guidelines for that, or even credence to that idea. I may have missed it, of course, in the brief time since I acquired the book.
  • Reaction rolls on page 244. As a rule, I don’t like to roll for social interaction. But since players “spend” some power to have those skill and ability scores, I can’t just ignore it, either. These guidelines will help a little.
  • HEX RULES!!! I spent many years playing war games, both tabletop and computer-based. So I have a special love for maps using hexagons and the tactical play they create even if I don’t like using D&D as a tactical game itself. Come to think of it, this may help me get into that mode when it fits.
  • The Madness section on page 258 will assist me greatly with the upcoming “Madness of Iliasha” campaign (spoilers?).
  • Appendix D: Dungeon Master Inspiration looks like an “Appendix N” with more specificity. The list largely consists of non-fiction books with a few true classics in the greatest possible sense. For example, in addition to lots of books by Gary Gygax and TSR, it includes Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.

Monsters and CR

Page 312 sample mapSince the Monster Manual came out, I have wanted to roll up my own monsters. Other DMs have already started, of course, but they have far more experience at it than I do. The section “Creating a Monster” in Chapter 9 starts on page 273. It discusses reskinning, including minor changes such as adding special traits or switching weapons. The section also includes a table on Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating. For each rating, the table lists the proficiency bonus, armor class, hit point range, attack bonus, damage per round range, and save DC. This table fits those situations where you just need something quick, such as an on-the-fly conversion.

Then it has a procedure for “Creating a Monster Stat Block”, allowing us to brew up a full-fledged monster. That procedure has 20 steps, some of which themselves have several parts. Obviously this requires much more effort than the process for games like Microlite20. But as the introduction to the whole section notes:

Part of the D&D experience is the simple joy of creating new monsters and customizing existing ones, if for no other reason than to surprise and delight your players with something they’ve never faced before.

This zooms in on the abbreviated process described before. It discusses things like damage and special traits in far more detail. We also have a Monster Features table that covers two full pages. Finally the section discusses the mechanics of creating NPCs from scratch (not the preview section on mannerisms and backgrounds and such).

Magic Items

Illustration of an adventuring group reviewing a mapPlayers get excited to see the actual magic items themselves. People like me get excited to see how we can distribute them. Chapter 7 (“Treasure”) should satisfy us both.

The distribution frequency for magic items in this edition in particular has confounded me a little. Page 135 shows a “Magic Item Rarity” table showing the expected character levels per rarity type. For example, common and uncommon items correspond to all characters starting at first level. But rare items typically go to characters at fifth level and higher. Of course the text makes clear that DMs should do as they wish according to what fits their campaigns. The book only makes suggestions, not rules.

For more specificity, of course, the book has several treasure tables. It has four different Individual Treasure tables for different CR ranges. The same applies to the Treasure Hoard tables. Gemstones and Art Objects have several different tables by value. Some of these tables refer to Random Magic Items of various types. You can enhance those with tables on magic item flavor (e.g. What Is a Detail From Its History?). Between this and Appendix A on “random dungeons”, I should have no trouble populating environments generated by Donjon or using maps created by other people.

Time to go tweak tomorrow’s adventure!

Dungeon Masters Rulebook (Red Box version)

Basic Dungeon Masters Rulebook

I picked up the Dungeon Masters Rulebook from the old BECMI D&D edition (aka “the Red Box”) a few days ago. Most of the OSR products I’ve read didn’t have enough guidance for this rusty old DM.  What better source for guidance on running an old-school game than the actual old-school guidance?! The rest of this post consists of my thoughts as I took notes during my second reading. It isn’t really a review in the critical sense but in the “let’s go back over what’s here” sense.

The Most Important Rule: BE FAIR. That fits, since we control everything about the world and universe in which the characters exist. The world itself may not be fair, but our rulings should be consistent and even-handed.

Hewlett-Packard 48GX

“An electronic pocket calculator is helpful.”

Quite a few pages consist of “your first game”. Actually, this game is first for the DM, which comes after the solo game in the players guide that teaches the initial rules. The players go after some magic user named “Bargle“. Most of this doesn’t apply to my games or needs. The map of the dungeon’s second level looked interesting, though, and would make a great candidate for conversion.

The rulebook includes advice on issues like arguments and complaints. That reminds the reader that RPGs are social in ways most other games are not. Given the age and inclinations of the target audience for D&D (especially at the time), I suspect Gygax and even Mentzer felt themselves in something of a fatherly position.  Related to that, the rulebook gives advice on providing clues appropriate for the player skill and experience level, including the admonition that “extreme danger with no warning is not very fair.” ROCKS FALL EVERYONE DIES! Also, the Deities section obliquely refers to some sensitive issues and takes a diplomatic approach: “The DM should be careful not to needlessly offend players and current beliefs should be avoided.”

For the first time, I finally understand how early editions treated demi-humans. Dwarves consisted of both a race and a class, so that all dwarf characters basically act like Gimli: short, squat fighters all up in your face who know everything there is to know about stones and gems and dungeons. Most modern players probably would not like this. Generally speaking, I don’t either, but there’s a certain mindset where I can see that working.

Experienced dungeon masters may select results instead of rolling dice.

See, the old school includes fudging rolls! I remember reading a quote from Gygax to the effect that the real secret to being a good DM is that the dice are just for show. That perhaps goes a little to the extreme (which could be a product of my faulty memory) but the sentiment is useful.

Reaction rolls seem like a core mechanic in this old edition. I’ve seen these in Microlite20. If the new Fifth Edition DMG doesn’t contain something like this, then I will likely incorporate some version of it in my games. Often I just roleplay the NPCs and “select results” as discussed above, but a little unpredictability in some situations can go a long way.

Lost spell books? Now that’s evil. I wouldn’t do that to a player unless they actively did something that clearly would result in losing the spell book. “I throw my spell book at the fire elemental.” “Um… okay.”

Mapping SymbolsMapping has changed considerably in the last thirty years. I don’t think most groups really treat it as a player skill anymore. Certainly those of us who primarily play online on Roll20 or similar can’t do this effectively without significant restructuring. Perhaps allowing one of the players to draw on the map…? I do like the old-school concept of player skill mattering at least as much as character skill, and this fits into that philosophy much as the clues discussion does.

During the play of the game, a player will eventually try something not explained in these rules… Be sure to write down any rules you create, and apply them fairly to everyone.

If by “eventually” we mean “within the first five minutes”, then sure! Otherwise you could send a self-addressed stamped envelope to TSR with a rules question. Things about the 20th century I don’t miss include SASEs and snail mail.

Timekeeping still presents a challenge for me outside of combat rounds. I’d hoped for some guidance here but it honestly doesn’t help much:

You may simply make notes on the time used during an adventure, or you can create a system (check marks, boxes to cross off, etc.) for keeping track.

Transferring characters remains a touchy subject. I just had a player ask me about it this past weekend, in fact. For some sorts of campaigns, it would feel odd just for narrative reasons. It could also create the perception of fairness issues with other players. But in other cases it might work fine, and so Mentzer gives some guidance on balance considerations.

Then the book goes into some lengthy monster references, including stat blocks and reactions and everything else. The treasure tables, though, really come in handy for me. I frequently find an old-school adventure I want to use that refers to “treasure type H” or something. Now I can cross-reference that.

Dungeon stockingFinally we have some guidance on dungeons, especially adventure motivation. The table on stocking dungeons reminds me of the so-called Barrowmaze method. But now I know the real source, because the method here is to roll 1d6 twice. The first roll tells you what’s in the room (e.g. a trap or a monster) and the second roll tells you whether the room has treasure.

I still look forward to getting my 5th Edition DMG in two days.The material in this rulebook will help fill in any gaps, plus provide additional stuff for my Microlite games.

Microlite20 monster: Ormyrr

OrmyrrThe Practical Guide to Monsters has a few monsters that don’t have Microlite20 versionsOrmyrrs stick out to me more than the others. For reference: Thri-kreen, Yuan-ti, werebear, wereboar, ghost, and lich do not have M20-style stat blocks that I have found. Some of those have enough substitutes you can reskin (lycanthropes and generic undead), while “lich” can be applied as a template. But I like these slug-looking characters that clearly have no relation whatsoever to Hutts. In fact, the D&D Fifth Edition doesn’t have them, either.

Orymyrrs have enormous grublike bodies that possess powerful arms, a mouthful of extremely sharp teeth, and a surprisingly intelligent brain. They aren’t particularly aggressive, tending to keep to themselves.

While (or perhaps because) these creatures have no talent for casting spells, they find magic absolutely irresistible. They will lie, cheat, and steal to obtain a scroll, spellbook, or other magical object, and can be mesmerized by a skillful display of magic powers.

The book also notes that they tend to live in a solitary state or in small tribes of no more than one dozen. I would use the following stat block. DMs may want to adjust the to-hit numbers (especially slam). They should also target magic users of whatever flavor first.

Ormyrr: HD 7d8+7 (43 hp), AC 15, Slam +6 (1d4+1), spear +8 (1d6+6), constrict (2d6)

Play Report: Dyson’s Delves level 1

My Lost Mine of Phandelver group has been sporadic lately due to real life causing scheduling difficulty. So I ran a dungeon crawl in Roll20 on Sunday using the first level of Dyson’s Delve. After I picked it up in a recent Bundle of Holding, I knew I wanted to find a way to use more of the work from that site.

Real life scheduling caused problems again, and I almost had to cancel since only two players showed up. But one of them used his Phone-a-Friend special ability and saved the day. In old-school fashion, I didn’t spend much time on backstory. Instead, the characters belong to the Relic Hunters Guild and ventured out in search of treasure. This party consisted of a human noble fencer named “Alexander”, a paladin half-elf named “Halder”, and the warlock half-elf “Kraz”. The conflicting alignments & belief systems led to some fun interaction between the characters.

That approache worked well. RHG will evolve into a type of open table campaign. It won’t run every week, especially before LMoP completes. But when it does, we will look to fill open slots with new players. And the campaign has no penalty for not signing up for a given session other than the obvious opportunity cost. Repeatedly signing up and cancelling at the last minute might cause some issues, of course.

19th-century goblin illustrationIn this session, the party only ran into goblins, hobgoblins, and a giant badger (which I used in place of the giant ferret as originally written). Halder and hobgoblin had engaged in an epic sword-and-board duel. After four or five rounds, neither had landed a blow with any success. But goblins swarmed the fencer and finally stilled his rapier. The surviving goblin turned to attack the paladin. This distracted Halder enough for the hobgoblin to drop him, too. But Kraz strode forth into the room, charmed the remaining monsters, stabbed the goblin in the back, and felled the hobgoblin with poison spray. They searched the room with care and found the key to unlock the treasure.

During their rest, though, a hobgoblin patrol found them. They threw a flask of oil at the ground in front of them, then set a salvaged bow on fire and threw it into the puddle. This frightened off the hobgoblins and gave them time to complete their regrouping. Later, when a goblin patrol found them, they again improvised a molotov cocktail from scraps of clothing on dead goblins and an oil flask. They used that tactic one more time in their final fight, so I think the hobgoblins will have to consider how best to counteract it for next time.

Hobgoblin squads prepare to repel adventurers throwing flasks of oil

Hobgoblin squads prepare to repel adventurers throwing flasks of oil

By the end, they’d recovered a total of 36 electrum pieces, 5000 silver pieces, and a badger pelt for the noble to fashion into a cloak.

I loved how much roleplaying we did in a simple dungeon crawl. Most of the time, they played characters rather than character sheets. This earned them several Inspiration awards during the three hours of play (including an hour of character creation). When they came up with particularly creative solutions and got the dice to fall their way, everything really clicked. Certainly it provided more entertainment than the railroad adventure of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. In truth, I think I liked it even more than Lost Mine of Phandelver – which says a lot considering how much I love the Starter Set adventure. That stems at least as much from roleplaying cinematic moments as it does the adventure writing itself. The rules as written tend to encourage cautious tactical play that doesn’t get the blood flowing. Instead, how about mocking goblin mothers and stabbing burning creatures that bear an odd resemblance to Rodents Of Unusual Size?

 

Review: “A Practical Guide to Monsters”

A Practical Guide to MonstersI recently got a copy of A Practical Guide to Monsters. An in-universe reference volume for apprentice wizards, it lists 53 different monsters by my count. Each of them has a bit of fiction, a fact box (e.g. height, weight, habitat, diet, attack methods, etc.), and an artistic representation. If you think this sounds like a Monster Manual, then you’ve got the idea, but the book includes no game statistics. In effect, you can think of the guide as a monster manual for kids. Some of the monsters even have associated maps and marginalia.

The illustrations bring out the ideas behind each monster without scaring small children. A few of them include a child-like goblin running away or otherwise engaged in some activity. This gives kids a way to imagine themselves interacting with the monster but in a reasonably survivable way. Several intermediate sections list weapons, armor, and equipment that an adventurer might need. My kids and I have had a nice time looking through it and talking about what it might feel like to run into some of the monsters.

A sleeping goblin adventurer

I don’t want to give the idea that the guide only works as a children’s book. The free Dungeon Master’s Basic Guide lists statistics for a little under half of the listed monsters, and the Monster Manual for 5e includes almost 90% of them. Exceptions include the Yrthak, Ormyrr, and Athach, among others. The Microlite20 expanded monster list includes about the same number. A GM could easily convert the exceptions from other editions.

So in addition to the coffee table aspect, this book works well as a way to illustrate monsters to players. A game with children or using a retroclone would particularly benefit. Wizards of the Coast first published the book in 2007, so lots of stores carry inexpensive copies. They published a whole series of Practical Guides (“wizards”, “dragons”, etc.) and I look forward to getting a few more for my home library.

Play Report: Isle of Malimont

Open table night #dnd #d20 #dice #rpg #tabletop

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Last night, I attended an open table session at the Animefest office here in the Dallas area. I didn’t know what to expect, so I took my D&D 5e Player’s Handbook, dice, and gaming notebook. I also had a hard copy of necessary Microlite20 bits and Scenes of Chance in case we needed another GM. I forgot my miniatures, which did cause a momentary bit of embarrassment later.

When I found the place, I found two tables with people. One had a full group deep into a Pathfinder campaign. A few people sat at the other table and had started a new 5e campaign a couple of weeks ago. They graciously let me join, so I sat down and filled out a character sheet using Omonac. I wrote her out at 1st-level, though, since this campaign doesn’t have anything to do with the Adventurers League. For a moment, I considered leaving, since that made a total of 7 players. The DM assured me that he would scale the encounters to the group size and that I shouldn’t worry about it.

Play session

In previous sessions, the group had survived a shipwreck caused by a rampaging giant squid or kraken. As the ship sank beneath the waves, they found themselves trying to make the nearby Isle of Malimont. A dwarven sailor had screamed that no one had ever returned from this cursed island before he went down with the ship. The DM used this to include the two new characters (his RL girlfriend and me). We played other survivors who’d landed a little further down the beach.

The party had split during an earlier session when a couple of players hadn’t attended. So the first part of the adventure consisted of us trying to link up the entire party. Those who’d already explored bits of the island exercised more caution and stealth. Previous experiences with monsters here had demonstrated the local dangers. My little half-elf cartographer, of course, had no such notion. She simply wanted to find other survivors for mutual protection.

So when we saw them above us on a rope bridge in front of a waterfall, I shouted in joy and greeting. This woke some sort of crystalline bats with red glowing eyes and green acid blood hanging under the bridge. They swooped at us and began to attack our faces with stabbing beaks and tails. We made short work of them, as one would expect. A half-elf paladin created an epic moment by jumping off a twenty-foot cliff to attack a crystal bat in the air before crashing to the ground on top of it. The player had the right idea: RPGs like this work best when we eschew careful play and go for cinematic moments.

After the fight, I noticed a small cave behind the waterfall and a trail that led around to it. We went inside and found a grotto with skeletons, ancient rotted crates, and rusted old weapons. One skeleton, though, had embraced a wooden chest that had not rotted. The skeleton had a cutlass in good condition in its chest and a key around its neck. We carried out significant investigation, including a detect magic ritual performed by a gnomish wizard. This only indicated that key as a magic item. I decided to open the chest as no one found any traps.

The chest contained gold coins, inscribed with the symbol of an ancient nation none of us recognized. As a naive explorer (albeit Cthulhu-touched), I rejoiced in the gold and started running my fingers through it. On cue, a portcullis slammed down to lock almost all of us in the grotto. Bones started to fall from the ceiling and form into skeletal warriors. Several of the party members started to stuff as much gold as we could carry into our pockets and stomp on the bones. A bard pulled out a skull idol he’d found in earlier exploration and inserted it into a skull-shaped indentation in the wall. This had the dual effect of opening the gate and halting the flow of the waterfall. As the lagoon drained out into the ocean, the bones kept forming. Outside, a robed figure appeared. This figure had no face, though, only one large eyeball for a head. A rogue prepared to face it, but our monk bounty hunter ran outside. She performed some sort of acrobatic flip over the rogue, then smashed the eye creature with her staff. She followed that up with a roundhouse kick and a quarterstaff jab. This turned out so well (two natural 20s!) that she destroyed the creature’s head while we all looked on in amazement.

We fled the scene down a staircase that the lagoon had hid before. At the bottom, we found a pair of silver doors inscribed with dwarven runes. The runes read “WITHIN THESE HALLS LIES THE TOMB OF THE GREAT KING HARAVEN”. We could hear a skeleton army stampeding down the staircase behind us. The dwarven cleric grabbed the key away from the bard and opened the doors. We slammed them closed behind us in the face of the skeletons.

That might have put us in an even more precarious situation. The stagnant air indicated that the tomb makers had sealed it off centuries ago. Despite the intricate carvings and craftsdwarfship of the tomb, we could feel an aura of unnatural darkness. The tomb appeared to stretch out in front of us for hundreds of feet. Stalagtites reached down from the ceiling, formed by water that had seeped into the tomb over the years. After we’d explored a bit of the tomb, a darkmantle fell onto the dwarf’s head and wrapped itself around him. The paladin next to him ripped it off, and…

…at this point the players got distracted with chat and tiredness. We’d played for something like four to four and a half hours. We broke up and and left for our respective homes.

Results

The group had some interesting house rules that unbalanced things a little but led to more of those epic moments. For example, skill proficiency grants +2 and advantage. This might have had more to do with unfamiliarity with the rules than a house rule per se. And the XP pool gets split up according to group preference. This might mean an equal split as traditional, but could go other ways on a particular encounter if the group decides.

I happily answered other rules questions when they arose, but I did not bring them up myself. After all, the other guy ran the session, not me, and I just wanted to play. No DM likes having somebody else criticizing and trying to take over the table. And running a group of 7 characters provides enough challenge all on its own.

Having a local “game clubhouse” that runs games on non-weeknights also feels nice. Wednesday night Encounters at 6pm just don’t work for my schedule and life. I wish the bill readers on the snack machines had worked properly so I could have contributed a little something to the upkeep of the place.

Next week I’ll go back and see how we finish out this session. I’d like to know a little more about this accursed island, after all.

Race as a trope in role-playing games

The Pigmies as compared with English Officers, Soudanese, and Zanzibaris

An image from the D&D Sixth Edition PHB

I have real difficulty putting down any sort of hard boundaries around role-playing games. Like other things, I know it when I see it. But “race” as a trope seems as core to most RPGs as “classes” and some sort of individual characteristic statistics.

The vast majority of fantasy uses this trope as a crutch – and badly at that. Fantastic Racism is a product of its time, certainly, but that doesn’t make it “good” any more than chainmail bikinis are “good”. An exceptional writer can take almost any trope and turn it into something worthwhile as a commentary and building-block of their world. However, most of us are not G.R.R. Martin and shouldn’t fool ourselves.

Now the whole idea of assigning morality on a per-race basis is ugly when you deconstruct it even a tiny bit. Assigning personality attributes to a race, whether that’s “hill dwarves” or “Latin women” descends into uncomfortable territory almost immediately. Often, we don’t think about this because the traditional RPGer is a white person in Western society. Many of us have said in the past that we “don’t see color” or consider ourselves “color-blind”, but that also raises of privilege and awareness. After all, we may never have had significant issues in our lives because of our skin color or accent or traditional family dress.

I’d prefer to play in worlds where all humanoids should basically be treated as actual races, not species. In this world, human(oid)s just have even more variety than we do in ours. Dwarves and elves aren’t “separate” any more than “Black” and “White” in ours. In our world, race has its origins primarily in sociology rather than genetics. Instead, I’d allow players to choose from a menu of customization options (e.g. “you can add 2 to any single ability and 1 to any other two abilities, plus choose from these features for your character”). We don’t see mechanics associated with gender and sexuality in many games anymore. The reasons for that should apply just as well to race.

As an alternative to that, maybe treat racism in your world as we often do in our. It exists, but that is the world as it is rather than the world as it should be. So call it out in some way, or perhaps make it a theme for character development.

After all, if we can imagine worlds in which someone can personally invoke the power of the cosmos and transition between planes of existence, maybe we can imagine a world where your “race” doesn’t define your identity.

NB: This post was written for the November 2014 Blog Carnival.

Update: Some really thoughtful discussion has resulted on Google+.

Session planning during an off night

Charioteer PapyrusMy intended one-shot dungeon crawl ended up cancelled tonight as half the group had various real-life crises and could not attend. While disappointed, I decided to make the most of it and spent time preparing for the next Lost Mine of Phandelver session.

We still have at least one character a little too far behind on XP and another whose player cannot attend. It occurred to me that injecting a completely new element such as another small dungeon could help even things out slightly. However, a list of the current hooks and quests instead indicates that the group could instead engage in some exploration and role-playing.

Combat shouldn’t comprise the whole of an RPG, otherwise we could just play Battletech. Occasionally it seems like the game mechanics reward combat over everything else. Experience points and treasure generally come from fighting monsters. But adventures can counterbalance that effect by including quests that require the characters to solve problems using something other than an axe and liberal application of magic missile. The adventure as written does this to an extent already, such as granting XP for dealing with an undead oracle who does not fight.

Factions and secret societies can also help here. If a character belongs to such an organization, they might have received some sort of individual mission that grants some reward. That reward could range from experience to a magic item to a favor that the character can use later. The current Tyranny of Dragons storyline explicitly encourages this.

Hopefully the one-shot group can reassemble in the future. With the impending holidays, regular campaign sessions will probably become even more challenging to schedule.

Old-school action in a new-school edition

RonweWe can’t really call D&D Fifth Edition “old-school” since, you know, it just came out. But it appeals to some of those sensibilities in a way the previous edition did not. With that in mind, I’d like to run some adventures from Dyson’s Dodecahedron in 5e. I have a LFG ad on Roll20 for Tuesday evening. If the experiment goes well, I will run some more later, perhaps as sort of an open table.

In addition, hopefully those of us who enjoy this style and gel together can use this as a stepping-stone to a real campaign. One-shot adventures seem like a good way to find players – and for players to try out a GM before decided whether they like the GM’s style.