99 Problems But a Lich Ain’t One (Hundred)

Jay-Z runs games for Beyoncé and her friends, right?

The Id DM earns an Action Point today as it reaches the 100-post milestone. I previously expressed gratitude to all who have helped me and summarized the first year of the blog. With my 100th post, I thought it might be beneficial to offer some unsolicited advice to other gamers and writers who have a blog or are thinking about starting one in the future.

The following observations and suggestions are not meant to be a sermon on “how to do things,” so please consume at your leisure. In looking back how I went from not having a blog in March 2011 to winning Stuffer Shack’s RPG Site of The Year in April 2012, these things stand out as decisions that were helpful for me. Others may have a different way of doing things, and that is not wrong by any means. But for those curious, this is how I have operated.

Get the know the community. If you have not already, join Twitter and follow the discussions that are transpiring with the #dnd, #rpg and #dndnext hashtags. Join in the conversation and ask questions. Visit other blogs, read the articles other writers post and respond with concise feedback and questions in the Comments. Contact other bloggers by email to ask questions or offer support or feedback about their work. Become involved!

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May of the Dead: Character Death & Player Grief

I was asked by the fine folks at The Going Last Podcast to participate in their May of the Dead Carnival. The blog carnival features a wealth of articles devoted to the undead. Realizing that many other talented writers would take on the task of creating monsters, campaign arcs and other gaming mechanics with an undead theme, I spent some time pondering a different angle for my May of the Dead column. I landed on the topic of character death and player grief during a roleplaying game. (EDIT: The painting below was created by Gene Gould. I first found the image through Google Image Search and did not know the origin. Check out other works by the artist!)

Image created by artist, Gene Gould. http://www.artintime.com/Painting-Gallery-1.htm
“We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else”. ~ Sigmund Freud

It is interesting to think about character death from the perspective of the player in terms of attachment. I previously discussed some thoughts about character death and how save-or-die mechanics can take away a player’s attachment to her or his character. How does one cope with investing effort and time creating a character and bringing that character to life at the gaming table only to see the character die? Everyone does not experience character death in the same manner, and while some players may grieve the loss of their favorite character, other players may not give the matter a second thought after their poor Paladin is pounded to pulp by a Purple Worm. Below, I discuss ideas for how a DM can handle the death of a character at the table. I frame the discussion by detailing the five stages of grief and present ideas to ensure the death of a character is not overlooked in a campaign.

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Selling The Drama

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sadly, the You Tube videos were all pulled by WWE since I published the article.

Regardless of the actions that take place during combat encounters in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, it is the responsibility of the DM to ensure the players know what they are fighting for and both how and why monsters are reacting to them in the environment. Earlier in the week, I discussed how DMs can respond to the increase of critical hits by players during Paragon Tier with new monster traits and immediate actions. These design features for critical hit protection may seem like “DM cheese” to players, so it is important to incorporate the mechanics into the story and flow of combat.

What do you see – two men standing around and hugging each other, or the most important clash of titans ever to take place on Earth?

I sometimes think of combat encounters as professional wrestling matches. Yes, I’m talking about World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), although I prefer the previous name – World Wrestling Federation (WWF). You have the heel (monsters) and the face (player characters) facing each other in combat in the ring (encounter area). They are both playing to the crowd (DM and players) while executing scripted manuevers (powers, etc). The DM needs to be a combination of Ric Flair and Jim Rosssell the events that are transpiring in the ring!

The moves of a wrestling match are often quite mechanical and boring, but when you have one wrestler acting like a move just broke his spine while the announcer is selling the audience that the wrestler may have to retire after the match, the viewer cannot help but be more engaged in the outcome. The wrestlers and the announcer are telling a story. During combat encounters, the DM must tell a story as well. Below, I provide examples of how this can be accomplished.

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Critical Overload

I am discovering a growing “problem” in my campaign. The number of critical hits leveled against monsters during any given combat encounter in our Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign is getting out of hand and it is effecting my ability to balance encounters. For example, I built up a villain over the past two months in my home campaign. The party was informed the leader of Ghost Talon was a murderous criminal set to rid Gloomwrought (and Beyond) of all but shadar-kai. Last week, the party finally took him on in battle . . . and absolutely crushed him and his guards.

My monsters are turned into puddles of blood much too quickly these days.

I imagine the players enjoyed the session much like one might enjoy lazily reading a good book on a beach while the sounds of the ocean massage his or her ears. The question I have asked myself and others since the session is, “How do I respond to the critical overload happening in our sessions?” Below, I describe the growth of critical hits I’m witnessing in our games and discuss a variety of methods to cope with the problem.

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No Assembly Required: Thurl Bal’zud, Cleric of Laduguer

The May edition of my monthly monster-building column, No Assembly Required, is now posted at This Is My Game.

The column, No Assembly Required, features a monster that can be inserted into a Dungeon & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. Each monster in the series includes comprehensive information including Origin, Lore, Combat Tactics, Power Descriptions and Stat Block. Visit This Is My Game to review this month’s monster, Thurl Bal’zud, Cleric of Laduguer. Thurl an Epic-Tier duergar who can be added to any campaign that might venture into the Underdark.

My goal with the character was to capture the vibe of fighting a Boss in an old Final Fantasy game where the Boss would have two stages. The first would be a defensive shell and the second would be a devastating attack. Going through the design process, I discovered that D&D 4th Edition already has this type of mechanic in the form of Lurkers. However, I don’t think Thurl plays like a Lurker.

Visit This is My Game for the full description of Thurl Bal’zud, Cleric of Laduguer, and decide for yourself. And be sure to check out previous entries in the series!

Many thanks to Grant Gould who provided the fantastic design and illustration for the evil duergar.

The Agony of Defeat

Approximately 60 hours before I learned that my blog won the RPG Site of The Year from Stuffer Shack this week, I presided over arguably the worst D&D session I have ever run. The session started out well enough, but the last two hours were a complete debacle featuring players that were either frustrated, annoyed, checked-out or a combination of the three. As for my own response to the session, I was at first confused then disappointed. I started writing about the session earlier in the week but the news of the award lifted my spirits and put my reflections of the discombobulated session on hold.

Anyone under the age of 30 probably has no idea what I’m referring to here.

With a few more days to process the events leading up to disastrous session, I’ve been able to analyze why the session went so poorly and list what can be learned to prevent similar problems. While my confidence was certainly shaken by the events, this post is not intended to make anyone feel sorry for me! And it is also not my intention to bash the players in my campaign. They have actually responded wonderfully in the wake of last weekend’s session and we’re in the process of getting back on track. Below, I present the details of the ill-fated session in gruesome detail and discuss lessons learned. Hopefully this brutal self-disclosure helps someone else out there prevent a similar episode from happening in her or his campaign.

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The Thrill of Victory

This week, I was bestowed the wonderful honor of being named RPG Site of The Year through a contest hosted by Stuffer Shack. It is truly a wonderful surprise, and I want to thank everyone that voted for me last week to make it into the Finals. I also wanted to thank Tourq Stevens from Stuffer Shack for organizing and hosting the contest. His efforts led to the acknowledgement of many great blogs and podcasts. Even though the contest is a competition, the event fosters a great sense of community and brought me into contact with other websites that I did not know about previously. The fact that the judges voted for me as the RPG Site of The Year is truly an honor, and I thank them for that recognition.

Writing a blog is an extremely personal endeavor, but I have benefited immensely from the many talented individuals in the online RPG community. I also need to acknowledge the role of the players (and my DM) in my home campaigns over the last year; they have been exceedingly accommodating with allowing me to discuss our gaming sessions in such a public forum. Some of my favorite moments in the short life of the blog is interactions with my players in Comments or real-life as a result of something I wrote posted in an article. I have also enjoyed the privilege of interviewing numerous members in the gaming community, and the interviews will certainly remain a feature on the site.

Before going any further, I want to express congratulations to the other finalists in Stuffer Shack’s Site of The Year Contest: Gnome Stew, Dungeon’s Master, G*M*S Magizine and Nearly Enough Dice. Everyone should click through those sites for wonderful RPG content. And take some time to explore the over 30 blogs nominated for the Site of The Year Contest.

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