During the past two sessions, the brave adventurers traveling through The Shadowfell have been without their devote Cleric of Pelor as he is on vacation worshipping the Sun in some foreign land. How typically Pelorian of him! The remaining party members are a Barbarian, Ranger, Fighter and Rogue; healers, they are not. A solution was needed to fill the gap because continuing the adventure without allowing the party access to a healer would have been a death sentence. A variety of options were available.
One option was to allow another member of the party to also play the missing player’s character. I have allowed this in the past, but it presents a few problems. First, while the missing character is still being used, his or her character cannot contribute to the story. Second, the player executing decisions for the missing character is bound to be more distracted from playing their own character, which is not ideal. And finally, it can get quite complicated if the missing player’s character is killed or suffers nasty consequences while they are absent. For those reasons, I wanted to avoid another player taking on the role of the missing Cleric.
I decided to create a NPC that would join the party as part of the storyline in the campaign while our Cleric was missing. The NPC did an admirable job of serving as the healer for the party, but she also served a number of unexpected purposes during the sessions. She increased the amount of roleplaying during a combat-heavy portion of the adventure, and she increased my level of enjoyment because I was also playing a character.
The following column is a description of how I replaced our missing Cleric in two consecutive sessions with a Non-Playable Character (NPC) who fulfilled the Healer role in our Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign. Below I present how I inserted the NPC into the party and the variety of functions she served during the sessions when our Cleric was out of town.
Recently, I was able to interview one of the writers for Geek Out!, Tophan Kohan. Topher functions primarily as the SEO of CNN.com; he was very kind to communicate back-and-forth during his quite busy schedule. He talks about balancing his roles with CNN while finding time to play games, including his dedication to his friendly local gaming store’s 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Encounters campaign. He describes how other writers can boost the findability of their website with a variety of SEO tools. We discuss the relative lack of mainstream acceptance of roleplaying games in popular culture and how that might be remedied. Enjoy the interview with Topher Kohan and follow him on Twitter @Topheratl.
Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. You are the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Coordinator for CNN.com in addition to a writer for CNN’s Geek Out! blog. What is a typical day like for you in those roles and how do they intersect?
So a typical day for me is a lot of writing, reading and meetings. I spend a lot of time looking around and meeting about what is the next thing we are doing on CNN to make sure I know the scope and understand what SEO needs will be on the product. I support CNN.com, CNN International HLNtv.com and a few more international sites. I also read a lot of content to keep up on the latest SEO news and Geek news.
Frequent readers of The Id DM likely know the site started as a result of my interest in analyzing data related to combat speed in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. To satisfy that curiosity, I coded episodes of the Dungeons & Dragons Penny Arcade & PvP Podcast Series and presented the results. One of the more intriguing results was the findings related to the behavior of the DM, Chris Perkins. Here is what I wrote back in March 2011:
I analyzed the behavior of the DM. I was unable to break down the DM’s actions in the same two categories (Roleplaying & Tactical Decisions; Rolling/Calculating & Results) because the DM – quite frankly – moved too fast for me. The DM does not appear to be rolling for his attacks, and may be using an automatic dice roller . . . [and] takes significantly less time to take the monsters’ actions when compared to the PCs. Considering the DM is managing the actions of up to seven monsters, this is impressive.
As much as I like rolling dice to achieve random results, as a DM working behind the screen, I prefer to roll as few dice as possible. In fact, I usually keep only two dice behind my screen. That’s two dice total . . .
Two dice behind the DM screen, you say?
Why the heck not. I know how much damage (on average) a monster’s supposed to deal — I have a spreadsheet that tells me (with numbers derived from a fairly straightforward formula). Should my players care that I’m rolling 1d6 + 25 instead of 4d8 + 10, like the Monster Manual says I should? Why should they care? The only measurable difference is a narrower damage range with results edging closer to the average (26-31 damage instead of 14-42 damage), and my players have more important things to worry about than whether or not a monster’s damage range is wide enough . . .
If I have a choice between rolling 3d10 + 11 damage or 1d6 + 24 damage, I’ll take the single die and the big modifier. It seems like an insignificant thing, but it’s the kind of no-brainer shortcut that keeps overworked DMs like me alive and kickin’.
I have considered alternatives such as pre-rolling attack and damage dice to reduce the number of rolls a DM needs to complete while running an encounter. But one person like myself offering alternative mechanics through an independent blog seems vastly different from theDM of Wizards of the Coast– the company that designed and published D&D 4th Edition – writing on the company’s website that dispensing with the damage-dice mechanic is a “no-brainer shortcut.”
The column by Mr. Perkins – regardless if you agree or disagree with him on the importance of damage dice – is noteworthy. Below, I attempt to explain why I find his column so intriguing and – in some ways – pleasantly shocking.
With a great deal of dismay, I learned last week that our local Smoothie King is discontinuing their customer loyalty program and replacing it with something to be determined at a later date. It was a simple and standard program – buy a certain number of smoothies and you get one free. But this comes on the heels of them eliminating their $1.00-off coupon attached to each receipt from a purchased smoothie. Suddenly our friendly, local, neighborhood Smoothie King seemed to give in to corporate pressures. As I reluctantly enjoyed my Mangosteen Madness (Make It Skinny) smoothie, I pondered what their next customer loyalty program would entail. Giving myself periodic brain freeze, I wondered why more businesses did not try an achievement-based customer loyalty program.
For those of you who do not play video games on a regular basis, Achievements are a predefined goal a player must reach. A game such as Mass Effect 3 will come with a list of achievements a player can earn throughout the course of one or multiple playthroughs of the game. Some of the achievements are earned during the normal course of playing the game; a player will earn multiple achievements simply by playing through the standard single-player campaign mode. But many achievements are meant to entice players to continue playing the game to earn more rewards – even if those rewards are primarily a means for self-gratification and impressing other gamers. I fell into the “I need to increase my Gamer Score trap” for a time and played games that no longer interested me for the sake of earning achievements; thankfully, those days are behind me.
Below, I present thoughts on how achievements can be constructed to be more enticing, meaningful and tangibly rewarding for customers of a business – even if that business is a D&D campaign and the customers are players attending gaming sessions. I conclude with how achievements could possibly be used with players in a D&D campaign to increase loyalty and overall participation in the campaign.
Over the weekend, I was finally able to play Dungeons & Dragons Next. Our group had first playtested the game over a month ago, but I had to miss that session. I jumped into the fray as Professor Giroux, High Elf Wizard. I enjoyed my time playing D&D Next, although I cannot provide grand conclusions regarding the game system for a variety of reasons.
First, it was the first time I played with a DM other than the gentleman who has been running our Scales of War campaign well for the past two years. The DM for our session of D&D Next also did a wonderful job and I enjoyed his style. Second, it was the first time I played with the specific collection of players at the table. A new player joined the group for their first D&D Next session and I had not met him previously. He was also a good addition to the game, but attempting to compare two game systems (4e and Next) between two campaign settings run by different DMs with different players is like comparing apples to hand grenades.
There have been many columns on initial impressions of D&D Next and I’ll certainly offer a few of mine before the end of the article. But I wanted to focus on the specific factor of combat time, which is how this blog started way back when. Below, I present preliminary data collected during my first D&D Next session, which illustrates a vast difference in combat time compared to other data available on 4th Edition D&D combat encounters.