The Many Hats of DMing: The Head Mirror

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I apologize for the late post! My life has been hectic of late. I recently got laid off for budget cuts at my old job and was frantically trying to get a new one. I work a late shift now and my sleep schedule has been off-kilter lately. Anyways, here’s the newest article.

After the end of my last campaign that spanned almost 2 years, I decided to take a break for 3 months and recharge my brain. It was a long adventure in Eberron for my players. In game time, they played through 6 years of incredible journeys, epic battles, and unresolved mysteries, but the one who suffered the most strain after that adventure was myself. I admit, after that last session I was almost relieved to be done with D&D.

There were several things that played into those emotions:

1. Life had finally started to catch up with me. This campaign lasted through my junior and senior years of college. Through those two years I was the captain of a national championship winning soccer team, maintaining my GPA to graduate with high honors, going through my first years as a husband, being a dad, working 3 jobs, and volunteering on weekends as a teacher and mentor. My plate was full, and my eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach.

2. I had quit playing D&D with a group of guys at school recently because I felt as though they played the game completely wrong. I’m all for spending time with friends, but I believe the world my characters live in is bigger than my characters. There comes a point when cookie-cutter characters and metagaming ruin the experience, and suspend my disbelief. This was hard for me to break away from, but it was necessary. My time is too precious to waste it playing a game I love in an agonizingly stupid way. There’s nothing between these guys and me as people, just disagreements on how the game should be run.

3. Myself. I’m a perfectionist at heart. My greatest competition is always myself. Because of my drive to always craft a perfect game with a story designed to blow you all away, I found myself simultaneously energized and worn out from story crafting. I put a lot of work into story plot, meaningful battles (not just time-fillers), meaningful discoveries, plot seeds (plot points that are planted early on, then grow into beautiful plot twists), NPC dialogue, and NPC accents. I hate when all NPCs sound the same and act the same. I enjoy making each character speak uniquely, and act individually. Again, my world is never cookie-cutter. It’s worth saving. I remember spending hours splitting my concentration between school, campaign plotting. It got to the point that I couldn’t keep my mind off of the story. As a storyteller, and novel writer, I had been sucked in too far. I needed to separate.

So what does all this have to do with the head mirror of the doctor? Simply put, it means this: Know when to take a break. Don’t let yourself suffer from DM burnout. Anyone who has DMed for a significant length of time knows that DMing is a labor of love, that requires a lot of patience and care to see your children (players) advance the story the way you always knew it could be advanced in your mind. They may not take it down the same road you had in mind, but the product is what we’re after, and doesn’t it look gorgeous when it’s all said and done?

That’s why DMs care so much about the game they run. No DM wants their game to be run-of-the-mill crap that seems like a video game, or that is clearly ripped off of some movie. D&D is great because it isn’t a video game. It’s free flowing, and bound by your imaginations. If I wanted to play a video game, I’d play FIFA, or Rune Factory. I hate most RPGs, because the characters almost always suck.

What are the signs of DM burnout?

1. You start pointless arguments about the game based on stylistic differences. It’s fine to argue about style when it comes to DMing, but don’t argue about something unless it’s actually worthy changing. This is one that I was guilty of a lot. Instead of arguing, help people see why their games suck, and why their DMing style sucks. Tell them why it’ll help their game improve. This may be tough for some people to hear, but their are universal ways that D&D should be played. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either naive, or full of copious amounts of crap.

2. You find yourself wanting to end sessions of D&D quickly to finish the story. This one hit me hard during the end of my last campaign. I had set an end date with my wife on when my game would end. She needed me, and I needed to let it go for a while. I had come to the point where I was playing the game out of obligation to complete my story with my friends, and not because I loved the game. That’s when I knew that I needed to take a break.

3. The amount of DM mistakes you make in a game on average goes up. As stated before, I’m a perfectionist. I noticed that as the game was nearing its end, my mistakes were going up as well. Boneheaded mistakes that any DM should catch. Sometimes my players didn’t notice, but sometimes they did. What killed me the most was that I wasn’t noticing them as much. Only after the game and I recapped my wife on everything that happened did I catch how many awful mistakes I made. I knew it was time for a break.

Why write all this down? Simple. If you are a DM and you are reading this, please learn when you need to take a break from your game. If you are a player in someone else’s game, learn to recognize when your DM is struggling and suggest a break. Perhaps scheduling an off-week every 2 months or so for people to recharge their batteries would do everyone some good. No one should get burned out on anything, let alone something they love to do.

As we brought my last campaign to an end, the time came to decide what we should do next.

We decided on the multi-award winning system from Monte Cook, and Monte Cook Games called Numenera. If you haven’t heard about this system (I don’t know how that’s possible) then go look it up. It’s thoroughly well made, and has been a blast to play.

I was blessed and honored to be asked by the players to DM another campaign for them. Knowing that I was burned out, I took 3 months off from any and all RPGs to rest my mind and begin with fresh ideas. My mind had to rest, and heal from D&D. I didn’t just stop DMing, but I didn’t read any articles, any books, or listen to any podcasts during that break period. That extended rest brought my mind back to full health, and I was ready to attack another world, and another group of PCs with deadly monsters, frustrating traps, a world that needed help, and people who were looking for saviors.

Ultimately, the job of the DM is to provide a group of friends a gaming experience that they will never experience anywhere else. And you can’t do that when you burn both ends of the candle all the time.

Take a break, learn from other successful DMs, and if you stop loving it, stop running a game. DMing is a labor of love, and only love for your friends, and love for telling a dynamite story can keep you going.

Your learning DM,

Just ra' Xephon Alternate

- Ross

The Many Hats of DMing: The Santa Hat

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As you can see from the picture above, this post is going to be a recap of my last adventure (where several things went incredibly, mistakenly right and wrong). Dang it, Jake. That also involves me talking about what I learned in that session. You’ll see in a second. I’m also going to going to discuss the second of my DMing hats. The Santa Hat. Lastly, I want to talk about more of my modifications I’ve made to 4th edition.
The Santa hat is a hat you wear when you want to show your players that you really care about them. The Santa hat is the hat that says, “I have lots of gifts to give you all, and they’re rad.” The Santa hat is someone who can look at their players and see that conflict is a gift that keeps on giving. Conflict is what drives a story. Any story. Conflict is what keeps it going. The gift of conflict is the wooden spoon that keeps that story stew stirring. As a DM, our jobs, no pleasure, is to don our Santa hats every week, not just Christmas time, in order to present our players with the gift of a great story that really pushes the players to a breaking point. The players need to be faced with the thought, “Oh man, my character could really die here. Their lives hang on this decision, and this die roll, and I need to do this because my character needs this.” If I can get my players to the point of desperation, then I’ve done my job.
I’ve found that when the stakes are highest my players have the most enjoyment. But being Santa is not all PC murderizing. There’s another side to it. Donning the Santa hat is about having fun as well. If your players come to you with a story idea, or something that can really help their character become what they want it to be, at least consider it. If the story idea doesn’t fit, table it for a later date. If that something they want will really help the story of their character develop, consider helping them out. The RP will increase, and the sources of conflict will increase as well. This way everyone wins. This is what it means to wear the Santa hat: to bring the gift of conflict, and cheer all through the year.
And who doesn’t want to be that Santa in the picture?!

Holy Diver

The party sets sail towards a small abandoned city on the continent of Everice. Tasil is taking the party towards the city of Gala. This city is one that is used by the pirate princes for the purpose of councils. The party arrives and is greeted by a primordial who is bound by a spectral chain. The party learns that he is a butler of sorts that cares for the city of Gala while the pirate princes are away.

The purpose of meeting here is tied directly to Tasil’s plan to convince the pirate princes to form an alliance so that they can take down Ryger, the pirate king, and steal his greatest treasure–the All-Seeing eye. Remember, the party needs this All-Seeing eye to revive the heron princess, Saiya Phelheldra. Controlling Saiya is necessary because the heron family is essential for a pivotal ritual in the history of Eberron. That ritual involves the Day of Mourning–a catastrophe that leveled the country of Cyre. But enough about narrative.

Through the efforts of the party, and Tasil (who has now revealed himself as Link Linebrink), the party manages to convince all but one of the pirate princes to join with them. The princes know that Ryger is fully aware of their plans due to his All-Seeing eye. Linebrink though has been able to amass an incredible armada thanks to the efforts of the pirate princes. What this culminated in is an incredible battle on the Thunder Sea, such as has not been seen since the age of dragons.

The party navigates their way through an epic sea battle, boarding ship after ship, slashing their way through pirate wave after pirate wave. As the party nears the flagship of Ryger, they are battered, and nearly broken, but they hear a familiar song. Standing on the flagship of Ryger are the Echoes, Dekker’s mercenaries. They are aiding Ryger, and not dead like the party once thought.

Upon closer inspection of the flagship, the party notices that there seems to be some form of golden wings emanating from Ryger. It turns out that the Ryger is an archangel, 1 of 4 angelic beings that have been chosen to wield great power in the name of the dragon, Siberys. The party boards the ship and realizes that the Echoes are not trying to kill the party, but rather knock them out. The party decides to do the same to them, not wanting to kill adventurers who have helped them so many times in the past. The party focuses their attentions on Ryger. His might brings the party to their breaking point, and just as the party is nearing dire straits, Drizzt (played by Jake, and no, not that Drizzt), saves the day by dealing an incredible 204 damage with his finishing cut/questing blades combo. Drizzt breaks his axes on the archangels body, as the golden wings surrounding Ryger diminish.

Drizzt, realizing a battle is still at hand, immediately grabs Ryger’s sword, and is confronted with a rage filled presence that threatens his life. It turns out that Ryger’s sword is alive, and is the one that chooses who becomes an archangel and who doesn’t. The sword refuses to be held by anyone living who is not an archangel. The sword attacks Drizzt dealing 73 damage, nearly killing him. Drizzt immediately tries to let go of the sword, but he cannot. The sword tells him that he is taking him to see Ryger. Drizzt now has three options. I’m curious which one you’d choose, dear reader:

1. Have the other party members, Larry (Cody’s character), and Saiper (Lucas’ character), cut off your arm.

2. Wake up the unconscious tiefling Leander and have him make a deal with Asmodeus to free you.

3. Take the test from the sword to become an archangel.

Which would you choose?

Drizzt, who was genuinely afraid of anything that Larry and Saiper suggested, decided that his best option was to try to become an archangel. After he agreed, the sword said that he would either succeed and become an archangel, or fail and be vaporized.

I rolled the die to see if he passed the test, and lo and behold, by 1 point, Drizzt succeeded in becoming an archangel (lucky bum). The party recovered the eye, and got some answers from the Echoes.

Things I Learned Last Session

I learned that players must continually be evolving. I learned that as a DM, I shouldn’t be afraid to try and introduce ideas into the story that may not be necessarily orthodox. For example, when I decided Drizzt’s (Jake’s character) weapons broke after he killed Ryger the archangel, I wanted to see what Jake was capable of. I wanted to see what my players would do, if they were introduced into an unexpected scenario that they didn’t think was possible.

1. Jake reached a point as a player that he had never been at before. He became genuinely afraid for the fate of his character. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my players lying awake at night petrified. I just want them to feel what they’re characters might feel.

2. Cody and Lucas were forced to decide to do something radical to help out their teammate. They were quite willing, almost too willing, to help Drizzt stay alive. In all honesty, they probably just wanted to slice off his arm, but it was nice to see that they were willing to do what was necessary to keep their ally alive. But seriously, they just wanted to slice his arm off.

And that’s it. Give the gift of conflict, and keep your players invested in the story. Decisions carry no weight in the game if they aren’t real conflicting decisions. A pivotal plot point is neither pivotal, nor a plot point when a PC can just walk away from it without making a decision. Pump conflict into every battle, and every key decision. The entire game is role-play, not just the story bits. Make it all meaningful, and your players will thank you for it.

Your learning DM,

- Ross Just ra' Xephon Alternate

Also, go here for great DMing tips. angrydm.com

Photo credit:

http://www.zerochan.net/89496#full

The GM Credo:

I’m taking a break from my normal series on “The Many Hats of DMing.” This post will be about something that I believe every gamer, and especially every DM needs to get worked out. Here you go!

One of my favorite websites for D&D, and general game running advice, is angrydm.com. If you are interested in gaming of all kinds, or just D&D, then I recommend you visit his website and learn how to properly run some quality games. The guy comes with years of experience and a highly humorous approach to explaining why gamers get upset at something, and why our games sometimes flat-out suck. His advice has revolutionized the way that I run my current D&D game, and how I design my games for my players.

A lot of his advice is even reflected in my previous Monday Morning DM articles on this same blog. DMs wear many hats, and angrydm.com helps explain what those hats are. Please look him up.

Today’s post was prompted by another fantastic read from angrydm.com. The article is posted here, http://angrydm.com/2014/01/thy-game-mastering-commandments/, andI recommend reading it before you read my whole blog post.

So what is your GMing credo? This question does not have to refer solely to D&D, it can refer to how you run all of your games. As a guy who games in many different genres, my credo will reflect all genre’s of gaming. This credo will also refer solely to me. This credo is personal to me. It reflects what I hold important and dear in my gaming. To understand where I’m coming from, you need to understand my worldview.

I’m a student at Calvary Bible College in Kansas City Missouri. I have no problem stating that I am a Bible-believing Christian, and have been for the past 5 years of my life. My GMing credo will be written with this worldview in mind. This is important for me because my relationship with Jesus Christ influences all aspects of my life.

If you don’t share my opinion of the Bible, or of God, I still want to be your friend. I still want to dialogue with you on gaming. If you want to talk about God at all, then I’m willing to discuss that too. I’ll leave the door open for you, just like I do at my house. My wife and I love to have company over just to talk and be a friend to whoever needs it.

But back to the point of this post, and why you’re here after all. Here’s some guidelines that angrydm.com has given us, and this will deal with the nuts and bolts of writing your credo.

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This is taken from angrydm.com:

Rule #1: A Credo is a List of Rules and Principles on a Single Sheet of Paper

Your Credo should work as a simple, bulleted or numbered list of basic rules and principles. If it takes more than a short statement to put something on there, it is too complicated to be a core belief or principle. But remember that your Credo is a personal statement of belief. If you KNOW what something means, that is good enough. For example, one of the rules on my Credo is “I am a Dungeon Master, no matter what the game.” That means something very specific and personal TO ME. I know what it means. No one else has to. And I don’t have to explain it. Yet. There will come a point when we want to expand on some ideas because we want to communicate with our players, but now is not that time.

In the end, your Credo should fit on one sheet of paper so you can print it out and keep it in your Dungeon Master’s Guide, Core Rules, GMing Notebook, Binder, or wherever you keep all your stuff that follows you to every game. It should always be with your GMing stuff and come to you to every table because your beliefs, principles, and values come with you to every table.

Rule #2: A Credo is System Neutral

Nothing on your Credo should be specific to one specific game system. If something applies only to one game system, that is a house rule. There may be some rules that aren’t applicable to every game system, but no single game system should be mentioned.

Rule #3: A Credo is Rules for You, Not Your Players

Your Credo should never ever address the players directly or state things you will require of your players. If you want to lay down House Rules or Table Rules for your players, do it somewhere else. If you think it is vital to have your players behave a certain way, think about what YOU can do to enable or encourage that behavior. For example, one of the rules on my Credo is “I will never require a player to count squares.” This is an abbreviation for my principle that I would prefer to keep things moving by winging it rather than getting bogged down in the minutiae of any game that I am running. That rules reminds me that, when a player wants to take an action, I need to err on the side of the player’s intentions and play it a little fast and loose so they never feel they have to “count squares” to avoid danger or penalties.

Those are some helpful guidelines. With that in mind, here’s my personal Game Mastering credo:

1. I am a follower of Jesus Christ.

This is something odd to put first in gaming, but it is the most important aspect of my gaming. Personally, this credo reminds me that I have a responsibility not just to my players to work hard to design the best game I can for them, but it reminds me that I have a responsibility to work hard for my players to produce a quality gaming experience, no matter the game, so that God is honored by the quality of character and gaming present. To my players, they can rest assured that I will operate with their best interests at heart (I didn’t say their characters :P) because I care about them as people and as good friends of mine.

2. Rules aren’t always final.

Skycoach Pilot

Just because a game has a rule book doesn’t mean that those rules are a good final product. Case in point, my wife recently bought a game for me involving wild west strategy. I want to first say that the game is high quality, very fun, and very well made. The more I played the game though, the more my players and I realized that the game was oddly designed. Some of the rules made little sense. Therefore, I decided to modify the rules to match the world. The adjustments were liked by my players and the game is now more fun for all of us, as it caters to more play styles. As a GM, it is my responsibility to make sure that the rules make sense, and to suggest modifications if necessary. To my players, you can be sure that I will take suggestions on rules, and listen to ideas you have about game rules. It most likely won’t work, but I will listen after the game.

3. My world is just that.

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As a GM, my world is my design. Even when I run a pre made world, no matter what you’ve known about or read of the world, my world is mine. It has my own interpretations of everything, and my stamp of character. My worlds do not operate according to traditional lore all the time on published works, my world operates on my lore, and my worlds have their own rules of logic. I own my world, and it makes sense. If you play in my world, you are passing through. Respect the laws. As a player, you can trust me to make a world that makes sense. My world will have logic that binds it, and when something ceases to work, there will be a good explanation for it. When the players make decisions, there are real consequences in their characters’ world, just like in the real world. Ideas have consequences, and this doesn’t change whether it’s Eberron, Deadwood, Asara, or Ragol. If you make a decision involving an NPC, or an object in the world, that change is felt. Time goes on, and stories wait for no one. If an NPC is waiting for you to come save him/her, and you keep putting it off, they could die. Priorities. The world, and all it contains, is my character in this game, and I know it well.

4. My games are trust funded.

As a GM, I trust my players to play the game in a fair and honest way. I am not capable of running a game if I cannot trust my players, and vis-a-versa. I trust my players to play my games with integrity as people, even if their characters are nefarious villains. I will be honest with you. My players can trust me to be honest with them in everything. I will not lie about information unless a character in my world is deceitful. You will get accurate information from me. I will roll the dice the same way you will, and my results will be what the dice show, regardless. The only things that hide behind my screen, are my minis, and my story. I often roll in front of the screen just to emphasize this trust. In any game, I will not benefit from a rule if I forget to explain it. I will not take advantage of your ignorance, and my forgetfulness.

5. Dice will never roll needlessly.

Proverbs 16:33 in the New Living Translation says, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.”

This translation of the Bible is sometimes a little sketchy, but I use this verse for my college group of D&D. This applies to my credo in the fact that I will never make my players roll dice for challenges that they can’t do, and challenges that they can’t not do. If the challenge is impossible, I will not waste their time or my time rolling dice. If it cannot fail, I will not waste their time or my time. I have a story to tell, and only one day a week to do it. My wife shares me enough for my players, and I won’t waste her time either. Basically, my players will know this: if it’s attainable and failure changes the game, roll. If neither of those two things can happen, then no roll is required. Carry on, my wayward children.

6. I will not spoon feed my players.

It is not my responsibility to keep you alive, or in the game. I will not coddle egos, nor hate target you. Every challenge I throw at you, you are able to overcome. You are also able to fail. If you fail, it’s not my fault, it’s yours. There is always a solution to the problem. Stabbing is rarely the solution. I will construct challenges that are surpassable, but challenging enough to match their real world difficulty. Either way, it’ll be fun. I am not on the players’ sides, nor against them.

7. You are living in a story.

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In any game, you are playing out a story. In D&D specifically, you are not a faceless, voiceless weapon when you have a character. You will accomplish nothing in my games if you do not interact with my world, and with my real characters that I’ve created. No one is an island. When you burn every bridge, the only thing you cut off is your escape route. Besides, Magic Missile can still hit from 100 feet. Stories drive my world, and as long as you exist within my character, my character will interact with you. Be prepared. My character is friendly, aggressive, tyrannical, trustworthy, and personal. My character changes masks depending on who you’re talking to. In exchange for your participation, this story will be one of a kind, and will blow you away. I promise.

8. I will always apologize when I’m wrong.

As a Christian, I firmly believe that I am a fallible human being, saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I am not perfect. I’m just a guy who knows someone who is perfect. As such, you as a player in my game can rest assured that I will apologize whenever someone feels slighted by me, whether intentionally or not. I will never try to intentionally hurt someone. Games cannot continue until the problem is dealt with. If any of my players offend someone at my table, an apology is in order, or gaming privileges are suspended. Gaming at my table is a privilege. If you break this policy, and make no attempt at repentance, then my table is not for you. You will be welcomed back with open arms when an apology is made. My gaming table is not best served in an atmosphere of strife. I will never speak ill of player who leaves my table by choice, or force.

9. My players can expect to have all the info they know, and all the options they have.

My players will never suffer from lack of knowledge of the world around them if they have the opportunity to know it. I will inform them. They will never have to ask, “What else do I see? or What do I know?” They will already have all the information. Also, when it is time to make a decision that alters something in the world, they will have all the options available to them. If death is an option, I will inform them of the risk. I will never let my players take chances without informing them of the personal consequences they can incur.

10. Point of order/need a Twix moments.

My players will always have the ability to talk out a scenario or a circumstance in the game from a 3rd person perspective. This is important to me and relevant to my players all the time. I’d rather have them play the game and role-play at their best with a grasp of the scenario, rather than run the risk of ruining a potentially great plan because someone can’t role-play, or because of that one dude who always plays a useless comedy character.

11. I always welcome new players.

If you are wanting to learn how to play a game, or want to join in on the fun, you can expect a quality gaming experience that gives you an accurate feel of what a game should be like. You will not have to worry about not knowing how to play, because my players will be helpful to you, and my game will be one that you want to experience again and again.

12. I take my games seriously, and my players can as well.

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I thought angrydm hit the nail on the head with this one. As such, I will use his wording. “There are some things that ruin my ability to run the world or destroy my suspension of disbelief. There are some things that make me upset or uncomfortable. I am allowed to veto these things in the interest of making the game runnable. If there is something that upsets a player or makes them feel uncomfortable or ruins their suspension of disbelief, they may ask me to remove those things or mitigate them and I will do my best to comply or to explain why I cannot.” Games, like sports, can be fun while being serious. As a college athlete, I take sports seriously while having fun.

13. I am a freelance writer by hobby, and an editor as a life principle.

I firmly believe that I am not perfect at my game, nor will I ever be. As a Christian, I never will be perfect as a person this side of heaven. That doesn’t I stop trying to be a better person every day through God’s grace. This applies to me as a GM as well. I will never stop trying to improve my ability to sculpt a quality gaming experience for you. I am constantly editing the way that I do things. I can always improve. I will also constantly learn about a game. Therefore, I better explain the rules of a game, and help new players, and make the game better for seasoned players.

14. Whoever is hosting the game should not have to provide food.

This is a rule I learned from Chris Perkins who works for Wizards of the Coast. Whoever is running the game, should not have the responsibility of providing food for everyone. The players should bring food. It makes it fun for all. Personally, my group’s gaming food is three-meat pizza, and IBC root beer.

15. Answers are not written in the clouds.

My players will not solve problems when they sit around doing absolutely nothing. This rule applies to my rule of gunfights. Doing something is better than doing nothing. No matter what it is, do something. The world will continue to go on, and the bad guys will win, unless the heroes do something. Therefore, my problems have to be complicated enough for them to figure them out after they do something. My players do something, something will happen. They won’t find the answer contemplating their navel, or twiddling their thumbs, or stabbing the wall.

16. Excitement breeds memories.

Lightning Rail

The games become most memorable when the players are involved in the best kinds of conflict. Those conflicts depend on the characters that my players have made. Without fail, my players have the greatest memory of our games, when they were challenged greatest. For some of my players, character death was their most fun fights. Even though they lost, they loved those fights the most. Excitement is the key to making lasting memories in a game, and my players can expect great memories from their games, because their games will be exciting.

17. Minutae can be vetoed at any time.

Minutae is just that. If it becomes the source of an argument that takes time away from gaming, then I can veto it any time. Miutae arguments suspend disbelief for me, and therefore, can be stricken from the record. I like to keep the players focused. I’m a GM. I adjudicate how I want.

As of right now, that’s my GM credo. It is subject to change, and editing. I am always in the business of reevaluating the way that I feel a game should be run. Therefore, who knows what this credo will look like down the road. But as of now, if you’re ever in the Kansas City area, and want to join in on a game, feel free to join. You know what you’re getting into, after all :)

Please like this post, share it, comment on it, and give me your thoughts please! I’d love to dialogue with you. Follow me on twitter https://twitter.com/JustraXephon

Your learning DM,

- Ross Just ra' Xephon Alternate

Also, go here for great DMing tips. angrydm.com

What’s in a Name?

Choosing the “right” name for a character is very important, and often the most frustrating and time consuming process of character creation. The name should be unique enough that they aren’t confused with already existing and famous characters (such as Conan, Drizzt, Aragorn, Merlin, etc.). Melvin the Wizard and Ed the Barbarian, while being potential names, fall flat at evoking any sense of immersion or eliciting any feeling of a fantasy character. It also fails to reveal any sort of personality, other than being a “flat” character that hasn’t had much though placed into their creation beyond statistics on a sheet.

 

A name also shouldn’t be too long, or else it turns into a long string of syllables that people forget. While a character might have an exquisitely long name and list of titles, it is best to give them a shorter “common” name that can regularly used. For example, “Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons” is often referred to as “Daenerys” or “Dany”.

 

The most indispensable tool in naming characters is lists of baby names. Many sites also allow for filtering depending upon demographic origin, allowing you to determine a character’s name depending upon their particular demographic flavor. A simple Google search will reveal dozens, if not hundreds, of baby name lists.

 

Another favorite tool of mine is the Silmarillion, by Tolkien, as within the pages are lists of names for various elves and dwarves, many of which conjure forth a vision of a fantasy character just by speaking the name.

 

Also, when choosing names for exotic races, you do not necessarily have to stick to standard tropes of naming characters, such as giving every dwarf a last name that is two words stuck together (Oakenshield, Fireforge, Hammerhand, etc.), nor do you have to give every elf a lilting flowery name, nor does every orc need a name that sounds like a sound effect. However, on the flip side using those regular naming conventions marks them immediately in the minds of those hearing the name. For example, Grak elicits the idea of a half-orc, while Elorissa Thindolin is most likely an elf.

 

For those of us sitting in the iron throne as the Dungeon Master, there are quite a few “random name generators” online, giving quick names of various Non-Player Characters that might populate an area.

 

Finally, sound your character’s name out by saying it out loud. Often what may look exotic or awesome on paper may falter when spoken aloud. Also remember that you’re going to be saying the name fairly frequently, as well as hearing it spoken by others.

The Many Hats of DMing: The Hardhat

When it comes to running a good RPG, you as a Dungeon Master need to wear several hats. It doesn’t matter what version of RPG you’re playing, whether it’s D&D, Numenera, Pathfinder, or whatnot. You will wear several different hats throughout the game that you are running. Each of these hats have specific uses, and are very useful when used properly. I’ll be doing one article a month on these hats, explaining each one.

So what are these hats? These hats represent the different personalities you will assume as you run your game. It’s important to understand that there’s a difference in these hats, and that these hats are useful. There’s a distinct difference in theory-crafting and theory execution. I’ll explain this by going into what I believe is the second hat that every DM wears. That is the hat of construction, or what I call, the hardhat.

The Hardhat

Sully-712186

Think about a hardhat. What type of people do you see usually wearing a hardhat? Odds are you’re thinking of a blue-collar job. Hardhats are designed to keep you safe in case something goes wrong on your job. I don’t want you to think of this hat though as what it’s meant to do (that being keep you safe), and to think of the work that is done by the people who wear this hat. What is that work? Construction. Construction is a vital aspect of every DMs preparation. It is also one of my favorites aspect of the game. Construction is going to be seen in the props you add to the game (I’ll share some of mine), and the extra tools you use in the game (I include maps and minis in this category).

What does it look like? When I think of the hardhat, I think these points sum up best what the hardhat is all about.

1. How much time do you have? This is a very important question to ask yourself before you dive into any construction related project. As we discussed in last month’s post, you need to use your time to craft a quality story. If you don’t have time for your story, or if your story is suffering because of your desire to construct a cool prop for your game, then the effect of the prop will be lost because of the lack of impact in your story. The prop is only as good as your story. There’s no point in having a high quality prop in your game if it makes no sense for your game, if it doesn’t match your world, and if doesn’t add to the purpose of the story.

But if you have plenty of time, and are confident in the quality of your story, then pull out all the stops, and construct a home-run prop that will knock your players’ socks off.

2. If you’re not gonna do it right the first time, don’t do it at all. This is a very important thing to consider. I lost count of how many times my dad told this to me when I was growing up. It really helped define my work ethic as a student, as an all-american soccer player in college, as a husband, father, and as a DM. When you go to the effort of using a prop in your games, you are making the effort to add an element to your game that will most likely be used only once in the actual game. I say so many times that DMing is a labor of love. If you do not care about your players, then you should not be a DM. Yes, it is your world, with your NPCs, and your players help you run a game. Caring about your players doesn’t mean that you don’t test them. My players will be the first to tell you that I put them through the wringer most of the time (our PC death count was at 12 by the end of the last campaign).

But consider this, my players show up every week and they expect me to deliver a great gaming experience for them, and for their characters. Take note of that again, I’m not just building a world for them as people, I’m building this world for their characters too. With that in mind, I need to use my skills in construction to make sure that the world is special. I want them to see that this world is worth their time, because of the amount of time I put into the game.

Props and tools

Props can be a wonderful aid in any game that you run. I’m going to share some of my props I’ve used to give the players a deeper dive into the world, as well as sprinkle in some useful story points. Here’s the main one I used in my last game. The world revolved around the popular D&D setting of Eberron. I spent a long time on this, and I was able to create a fake newspaper published by a company in the world that gave the players 7 pages worth of story development, as well as plot hooks all just waiting to happen. As you can see, it came complete with color pictures, interesting paper, fake ads that were part of the businesses in the world, and even mentioned some exploits of the PCs adding a sense of accomplishment to the PCs lives.

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 10.04.48 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-09 at 10.05.33 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-09 at 10.06.18 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-09 at 10.08.23 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-09 at 10.08.50 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-09 at 10.09.14 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-09 at 10.09.36 PM

Another prop I recently used in one of my games involved the PCs researching through a tower where a professor used to live. Throughout their journeys in this tower, the PCs continued to find burned up pages of his journal. So I spent a few hours writing up a a few lengthy entries in a journal in two different languages and cross referencing them so it was impossible for the PCs to translate them straight out. My beautiful wife then gave me the idea of taking a lighter and burning the edges of the pages, as well as some holes in the pages to give the journal an old, and mysterious feel to it.

These things were/are pivotal to my games because they provided huge plot hooks for my players which will come to define their characters’s quests for many levels to come.

Some DMs construct 3D battle platforms (which I hope to use someday). Others use minis and maps to help tell the story of their games. Personally, I like to use minis and maps in my games. I’ve tried to play without maps and minis before, it’s just not my thing. As a DM, it’s easier for me to do narrative when I don’t have to focus on describing every detail of every location. Other people don’t play with minis and maps, and I think that’s great. All power to ‘em. It’s a style thing really. Using maps and minis are very useful for me because they give the players a boundary of sorts. It helps me by effectively telling the players, “This is what you can see,” and cuts out the inevitable question of, “What else do I see?” That is my least favorites question to hear as a DM. Not because I hate to hear the PCs asking for help. I hate it because it means that I didn’t do my job right, and they are needing more information before they make a decision. I should explain the situation well enough so that that question never needs to happen. That being said, players are deaf, and have selective hearing and will not listen if they don’t want to. You can give them the “rattled” debuff  as an ongoing effect in exchange for you not boxing them in the ears.

Constructing with a purpose

In my previous article we talked about how preparation is like a chef preparing a fine dish to be served to the customer. You need to know what story you’re gonna make, what key elements you need to make it, and how to present it. This month I want you to learn that part of that presentation can show your customers (the players) that you’re wanting to go the extra mile by putting more effort into the game. I got so much mileage of game time and player enjoyment by making that fake newspaper. I believe I put 10-15 hours worth of work into it, and got back almost 40+ hours of gameplay solely because of that. That is huge! I’m not telling you this to brag, but to tell you that with the right preparation, and a little love for your players in the realm of construction, your game can take off to the next level.

Now go terrorize some PCs. You ain’t tryin’ if they ain’t dyin’.

Just ra' Xephon Alternate - Ross

Tips on Running a Horror Game

One of the most difficult things to do in a table top game is to elicit feelings of horror from your players. Everyone is sitting around comfortably, snacking, occasionally being distracted by electronic devices, sifting through rulebooks to clarify a rules question, etc.

The thrill from running a horror game comes from a sense of the unknown and the unexpected, you need to take the players out of their comfort zone. You want to change your surroundings. Something simple like hanging up curtains or heavy cloth over the windows, turning the lights down low, and forbidding cell phones and other distracting electronic devices at the table.

You also want to limit what the characters have access to. For instance, while running Ravenloft, you don’t want your group completely ignoring the theme, flying up to the castle aboard an airship, rappelling in and gunning down Strahd with arrows tipped with miniature Spheres of Annihilation.

A good horror game also has a decent amount of props. No matter how verbose your Dungeon Master is, nothing quite tells a tale like a few pictures, a letter on parchment, the tooth from some unknown beast, or a jar containing something… unwholesome. Instead of elaborate on how to make particular props, there are plenty of sites on the internet, which do a far better job than I. One I recommend is http://propnomicon.blogspot.com/ and another is http://elderprops.tumblr.com/

Any creatures they encounter should never be simply named, as many players have detailed knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of various creatures. Give detailed descriptions if the characters are face-to-face with the creature, but otherwise limit them to only the most generic of attributes as they see claws reach from the shadows.

Take things beyond the table, and use all the senses. If the characters are investigating a village that was burnt to the ground because of some horror, burn a few sheets of paper before game for the smell of wood smoke. Set up a nice ambient track or two to help set the scene. I recommend getting your hands on a music playing device, hiding the speakers around the room, and creating your audio atmosphere at http://www.ambient-mixer.com/

If done right, a campaign with a horror theme will be remembered and talked about for years to come.

 

The Many Hats of DMing: The Toque

I must say, it is a privilege be a contributor to this blog.  I hope what I’ve learned from in my adventures at the table will be useful to you. Please enjoy.

Introduction

When it comes to running a good RPG, you as a Dungeon Master need to wear several hats. It doesn’t matter what version of RPG you’re playing, whether it’s D&D, Numenera, Pathfinder, or whatnot. You will wear several different hats throughout the game that you are running. Each of these hats have specific uses, and are very useful when used properly. I’ll be doing one article a month on these hats, explaining each one.

So what are these hats? These hats represent the different personalities you will assume as you run your game. It’s important to understand that there’s a difference in these hats, and that these hats are useful. There’s a distinct difference in theory-crafting and theory execution. I’ll explain this by going into what I believe is the first hat that every DM wears. That is the hat of preparation, or what I call, the Chef’s Toque.

The Toque

Swedish-chef

For those of you who don’t know what a toque is, I’ve included this awesome picture. As you can see, it’s a chef’s hat and he’s ready to do work. So why this hat? What does this have to do with preparation? Well the obvious answer is, “Because making a good RPG involves that you mix up a lot of good ingredients to create a masterpiece and flerpty floopin’ der bort bort bort.”

That’s part of it. But there is much more to being a good cook than grabbing a bunch of ingredients and throwing them into the same pan or pot and eating whatever comes up. When you are a chef, you need to understand so many different things that are in your kitchen. These principles have helped me craft my worlds and my sessions each and every time. Hopefully they help you too.

Zeff

1. You need to know what you want to make. While it’s true that you can make some quality dishes when you fly by the seat of your pants and make decisions on the fly, it’s usually best to know what dish you’re trying to serve up before you start. Translation: What main point of the story are you wanting to establish in your game? What is the focal point of this session? Is it worth getting to? Is it the best one you can come up with? If you can say that this point of your story is your best work, it’s important to establish, and it’s the next turning point in your world, then you have your goal.

2. You need to know what ingredients are essential to make that dish. While it’s fun to try new things, and experiment (a hat I’ll get too all too soon), it’s always important to know what ingredients you need at the bare minimum to cook that dish. Translation: You must ask yourself what the bare minimum essential details are to get to the story focal point you need. These focal points are things that your story relies on. They are key ingredients, and without them, the story will be changed in some way.

Important note: Players are generally stupid. By that, I mean that they will, some way, some how, at the worst possible time, press the “what were you thinking?!?!?!” button. This is what I call a decision made by players that is so inconceivably stupid that it alters a story point. A good litmus test of your skill as a DM (and one I have to practice all the time) is how well you can substitute these key story points (or ingredients) and keep the same flavor of your story.

3. You need to know how to present your finale. There’s a huge difference between the picture of your food at a fast-food restaurant and what you actually get. There’s little difference between the picture and your actual order at a ritzy restaurant. Why is that? Because presentation matters, friends. Translation: It’s great to have all the details hammered out, all your skill challenge DC’s ready and logical, your monsters all powerful and ready to kill, and your NPCs placed delicately within the world.

This means nothing if your presentation is no different than some “choke ’n puke” burger at a truck stop along the highway. Presentation is the final piece of my list, because it is the final job of the chef. No matter how good the food is, unless it is presented well to the customer, the taste will never be maximized. Your story can be great but become average when you present it like a hygiene video. Finish the job, and present that story. Prepare ways to present it properly. Ask yourself how you’d like to see this story presented. I practice my presentation details by reading them over to my wife. She doesn’t care about RPG’s at all, but she listens, and tells me when it’s interesting, or when it’s a dud. Find opportunities and take advantage of them.

Preparation:

dish-is-poorly-prepared-gordon-ramsay-meme

I cannot stress enough how important preparation is when it comes to running a solid RPG. I normally put 2 hours of preparation into every hour that I plan on actually playing the game (I say “playing” because the DM counts as a player as well in the game). Here’s an example: during one of the sessions of my Eberron D&D campaign, I learned that I did not prepare nearly well enough as I would have liked. When I looked at the material that I threw together 5 minutes before the game actually started, I realized that I had exactly that–5 minutes of actual gameplay planned out. I then had to continuously make things up on the fly and make split-second decisions that I really didn’t need to make. The issue is, there were repercussions. They may not have been major, but aspects of the story had to be changed to make up for poor planning. And to make matters worse, that session was one of the least fun sessions in the campaign for all involved.

Disclaimer: I am not advocating railroading. When I say “be prepared,” I’m referring to being ready for whatever dumb decisions your players are going to make.

Preparation is like grape jelly on a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. It just makes the food go down smoother. You spend less time going “uh” and “um” and more time playing and contributing to the story and to your players’ general enjoyment. You are better able to present the players with better opportunities to shine.

Your players can tell the difference. You can tell the difference. The story just seems to roll off your tongue. The players respond (usually) with great role playing and tell you what their characters want to do, not what they as players want to do (even though they should do it anyway!).The quality of your game is a team effort, and if you expect your players to bring their A game in role playing, then it’s only fair that you as the DM bring your A+ game with solid preparation and a killer story. Now I want to look at the elements of preparation that are most important.

Preparation keys:

key

I’m sure some of you are saying, “But Dungeon Master Ross, what if I’m too busy to do any adequate preparation?” Good question, but it’s the wrong question. The question you meant to ask was, “Dungeon Master Ross, what can I do to supplement my preparation?” That’s better. You will make time for whatever it is that you want to do. I simply didn’t do what I was supposed to when I didn’t prepare. It’s not my schedules fault, it’s mine. Just like it’s your own fault if you don’t prepare for a game (barring an emergency of some kind, of course).

So what can you do? Like many things in life, understanding is key. You need to understand your world inside and out. You need to know how days work, how time works, how religion works, laws, resurrection, kings, queens, successions, cultures, and customs. Also, you need to understand your players, and their characters. One of the things I do with my players is have them fill out a character personality sheet that lists their characters’ goals, interests, and most importantly, points of conflict. I’ll get into points of conflict later as I’ll be referencing a brilliant article written by angrydm.com.

Understanding your world, your players, and your PCs will get you incredibly far when preparation meets on-the-fly creative thinking. Now go terrorize some PCs. You ain’t tryin’ if they ain’t dyin’.

I want to hear what you think. Did this make sense? Tell me what preparation looks like for you.

Just ra' Xephon Alternate  - Ross

Why in the Hell Did I Become a DM?

The past week or so all I’ve had on my brain is the fact that next week begins the final adventure in my D&D 3.5e campaign. So this week I’ve been writing, planning, making maps, finding monster stats, etc for this adventure. After all of this work I wonder, “Why in the hell did I become a DM?” The story begins almost 2 years ago.

At the time, I’d already been playing D&D for about 8 years. I had been searching for a group for several months with no success. A coworker of mine who knew I played came up to me explaining that her husband wanted to get back into it. She also was interested in learning and letting out her inner geek. “Fantastic!” I thought. After adding two other friends to our group and no luck of finding a DM, I figured I would give it a try considering I was the most experienced player in our group. I reached out to every DM I knew for tips, tricks, and campaign ideas. I tried the internet but I didn’t want to steal ideas from anyone, I wanted to come up with my own campaign storyline.

Over the weeks, the storyline slowly came together in my head. I also decided I wanted to make my own world instead of trying to read up on the pre-created ones. Sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper, I began to draw what eventually became my world. Being a huge fan of Final Fantasy 9, I decided to name it Gaia. As I set country borders and gave names to the random shapes on the page cities, cultures, and hierarchy came to life. Major NPC’s started to form. It was becoming a real thing and I could barely contain it. I threw in a reference to every D&D game I’ve ever played somewhere in my new world as well as my favorite character I’ve made as a major NPC. I also included several nods to Final Fantasy 9 because seriously I can’t get enough of that game. The Final product:

Gaia Map

Once we started, I’ll admit I was in over my head. At first I tried to predict every possible move the PCs could make and have a plan for what would happen in this case. As experienced players and DMs know, this is practically impossible. That frustrated me. So I tried no planning at all and winging it which left me spastic and highly unprepared. I eventually got the hang of it with a DM style somewhere in the middle. I normally have a general idea of what’s going to happen and improvise the rest.

After a year of playing, I unfortunately moved out of state and the group fell apart before we could finish, much to our dismay. Then I learned about the wonderful world of Roll20. Having been so upset that the world and campaign I’d created fell apart, I found a new group online and decided I would try again. Now we’re back to the present, where the new group has gone through (mostly) the same dungeons, festivals, NPCs, and storyline my previous group had and has surpassed them. My skills as a DM are much better than when I began and the anticipation of finally having my first campaign completed under my belt excites me probably more than it should.

For two years now I’ve been DMing. Seeing the end to one campaign and the beginning of a new in the near future has made me realize how much I’ve grown to enjoy it. After all the hard work, late nights, headaches, video game music, laughs and beers, I couldn’t be happier with how it’s gone. Getting together with old and/or new friends to tell a story together in a world I’ve created, is a huge part of why I’ve grown to love DMing. When there’s an NPC they hate, a dungeon that’s challenging, an adventure they loved going through, or a player takes the story somewhere completely where I didn’t expect and I have to pull something out of my brain on the spot, it makes for memories that I can keep and stories they and I can tell for years to come. That’s rewarding to me, and is why I’ll continue to DM

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Describing Things As A DM

One thing that I have noticed lacking in many games is small references about the setting, by characters in the setting. Games of the Elder Scrolls series (Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, etc.) have entire books written from an in-character perspective.

 

While a Dungeon Master need not write entire novels, a few passages here and there is sure to create the illusion of immersion. Even a single quote at the beginning of a game session can go a long way toward getting players into a mindset of their characters, or add depth to events that are currently unfolding. Additionally, having a NPC quote a long dead scholar furthers the illusion that the world is much deeper than just the Player Characters.

 

Shared below are a number of passages I’ve written for an upcoming setting from Assassin Games, and many similar references can be found on our Facebook page ( www.facebook.com/assassin.games.rpg )

 

“…and on the coast there were pillars with the faces of dead gods and kings with names long forgotten.” – Ariak Tharsiin, ‘The Book of Sorrowed Paths’

 

“A rose, once cut, is little more than a fading memory, and in time it shall wilt.” – Deothus Kerial, ‘Reflections’

 

“We spent the evening huddled within the protection of the crumbling remains of Tor Aenemar, as the heavens opened and disgorged their tears, and our enemies scoured the forest below. Had we known what was to come, surely we would all have rather flung ourselves from the rocky ledge to be broken on the rocks below.” – Eamin Kastos, ‘The Journey of Five Brothers’

 

“It is said that during the time of Lord Gohar, the First of the Lords of Atovar, there was constructed a series of catacombs beneath the city. The chambers were lined with silver, and the catacombs were sealed with the workers imprisoned within. Many wonder what terrible thing was also sealed within the catacombs.” – Arka Javal, Historian of Atovar

 

“It is said that a heavy mist rolled down from the Fellspear Mountains, covering the countryside. When it dissipated, the villages and farms were left empty. Not a person remained, yet no signs of a fight could be found.” - The Journal of Kalen Firth

 

Background

m4s0n501

Creating a Rogue Sorcerer in D&D 3.5

There are a lot of posts here describing attributes or play-styles etc. so I figured why not create a sample character as well, so that you can see how I do it and what I tend to think of when doing so.

 

Basic Concept

ArcTrixFirst of all we need a concept! I was thinking a rogue/arcane caster kind of character that can act both as skill-monkey for the group as well as dish out considerable damage in combat. I have a feeling we are dealing with a somewhat shady type of character who most likely will rely on spells combined with sneak attacks in combat and, outside of combat will focus on picking locks, disabling traps and other kinds of more or less shady shenanigans. He will be a ruthless (but not heartless) guy who would do almost anything for the right price but he is fiercely loyal towards his comrades as partners (in crime for the most part) that you can rely on is hard to get by. He is a thief of quite some skill, there is only one thing he has failed to steal so far in his career but he’s still working on her. For some reason I picture a regular guy so he will be a human and his alignment will most likely be either Chaotic Neutral or True Neutral. This should be enough to create a basic first level character!

 

Ability Scores

I usually determine a characters stats by rolling three sets of six 4D6:s,  re-rolling any 1:s and removing the lowest die, then I distribute the stats to my liking. The three arrays I rolled for this character are:

14     16     16

10     10     13

14     15     15

13     15     14

13     15     15

18     15     17
The first set is nice since it has an 18 but the third set is on average higher. The middle set is the worst one so we can scratch that one immediately.

What will our character need? A high Intelligence for sure, due to skill points as well as spell DC and all that good jazz. A high Constitution would help as well, extra Hit Points is always nice, and so would Dexterity for the bonus to hit with ranged spells since we will be picking at least some class levels with a bad Base Attack Bonus (BAB) and a to-hit effect is needed to apply Sneak Attack to spells. Strength will not be needed as we will base out damage off of Sneak Attack, same goes for Charisma and Wisdom. Intelligence, Dexterity and Constitution are fairly equally valuable, with Dexterity being slightly higher than the others, since we’re not going to use very high-level spells, so I would opt to go for Ability Score Set 3 with 17, 16 and 15 as highest scores rather than 18, 14, 14.

So, our character will thus get the following stat distribution: Str 13 Dex 17 Con 15 Int 16 Wis 14 Cha 15.

 

Picking  a Class

Picking a class for a hybrid like this is tricky but it will either be a rogue or a sorcerer. I like sorcerer over wizard for this guy since he will not be the utility-type of caster. He knows his small list of spells, mainly one or two nuking spells to apply Sneak Attack damage to and one or two utility spells. Sorcerers also tend to be able to cast more spells per day, albeit from a smaller selection, and that works fine for us – More spells mean more damage! Question is what to go for first, Rogue or Sorcerer? Sorcerer would get the spell-casting which would be nice, as well as a familiar but the Rogue would get D6 Sneak attack, trap finding as well as a boatload of skill points and slightly more Hit Points. Mainly due to the skill points I would recommend tasking the first level of Rogue but then probably take Sorcerer the coming six levels in order to reach third level spells (The reason why will be given later on).

Rogues has a Hit Die of D6, which means that at first level your Hit Points are 6+Con modifier, so 8 which is not to shabby, especially not when compared to the 5 we would have gotten as a Sorcerer.
Rogue also gives us a good Reflex save, which means a bonus of 2 at first level.

 

Secondary Stats and Skills

Being a human means his land speed is 30ft, he has no stat adjustments but he does get an extra feat as well as an extra skill point per level. This means that we will have ((8+1+Int mod)x4) skill points as first level, which totals 48, which truly is a lot! The highest number of ranks we can put into any class skill is four so we have a lot of distributing to do!

First of all, the essential skills for our shady type: Bluff, Disable Device, Hide, Move Silently, Open Lock, Sense Motive, Sleight of Hand, Tumble and Use Magic Device. It costs 10×4=40 skill points spend to max them so we can chose two more to max if we want to and I like Spot and Listen so let’s go for that. We won’t be able to keep all of them maxed as we will take classes (Mainly Sorcerer) that awards less skill points per level but then we will have to start prioritizing either what we suspect will be needed in our campaign or what we feel fit the character when we get there.

Our Base Attack Bonus at first level as a rogue stays at 0 so no addition there!

 

Picking Feats

So we have two feats to play with, one for being first level and one for being human. A feat which we most definitely are going to take is Craven from the book Heroes of Horror. It makes us take a negative penalty of -2 to saving throws to resist fear effects but also allows us to add 1 damage per character level to any sneak attack we make. Since this is no dice damage but a flat increase this bonus is factored in before multiplying damage in a critical hit for example. The second feat we take is Able Learner so that we can keep maxing our rogue skills despite taking levels of sorcerer. My gut tells me that this character will be comparatively weak until around level 6 so anything that can help us being useful is a great pick-up.

 

Equipment and Finishing Up

There we go, almost done! Deck this guy out with standard adventuring equipment and try to afford a Wand of Any Lesser Orb You Fancy. Sure, the DC to activate it is 20 and we only have 7 in Use Magic Device but considering you can Sneak Attack with it (Turning the Sneak Attack damage into whatever type of orb you are using) means it fits right into the niche we want to fill with this character until we can cast spells of our own.

This should be it, now the character is more or less ready to go! But assuming he survives the first couple of battles, where do we go from here?

 

154320Looking Into the Future

To keep going a very simple yet multi-classing route I would suggest heading towards the Prestige Class called Arcane Trickster (Dungeon Master’s Guide). Becoming an Arcane Trickster has benefits; it progresses both your spell-casting and your Sneak Attack damage as well as allowing you to pick locks from afar a couple of times per day. An overall OK class to go into, by far not the best but neither the worst. To be allowed to this, however, you need to be able to cast third level spells as well as have a Sneak Attack damage of at least 2D6. This means at least 3 levels of Rogue and 6 levels of Sorcerer, which is why I mentioned going 6 levels of Sorcerer earlier. Thus, at level 10, our build could look somewhat like Rogue 1/Sorcerer 6/Rogue 2/Arcane Trickster 1.

Good feats to grab on the way includes Practised Spellcaster to make up for the levels of Rogue we took, as this feats give us extra caster level to a maximum of +4 or a total CL equal to our character level, whichever is reached first. Other good feats are Acid Splatter or a similar Reserve Feat as that would let us Sneak Attack with spell damage unlimited times each day and thus allow us to pick more utility-based spells to our somewhat limited repertoire of spells. Another good feat would be the Split Ray Metamagic feat, as the Sneak Attack would apply to both rays, allowing us to do double out number of sneak attacks per round. This is sorely needed as most of our spells will only allow us to hit one target once per standard action so allowing for two instances of Sneak Attack per round is basically twice as good!

This is by no means an optimized character but I like the idea and basic concept and I think I will try it out at some point. If I do I might even update you on how it went! I can see some problems with it, the slow scaling of Sneak Attack means he will probably fall behind other classes in terms of damage output at higher levels while his Sorcerer casting won’t be enough counter that with utility spells, but I also see great potential in him. Picking clever spells for him is a real challenge, as they have to be chosen carefully in order to apply to as many enemies as possible. Finally, if all else fails he will be a decent skill monkey, which is always appreciated in a group.