Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ashes to Ashes - Roleplaying a Hero's Death

The other day, my wife and I attended a visitation to celebrate the life of an elderly woman (and member of my wife's church) that had recently passed away. While I had (on a handful of occasions) met the person that had passed, I really didn't have the same strong emotional connection to this person that my wife had. Therefore, while it was a solemn occasion, my mind couldn't help wander to how an event like this (death, funerals, etc.), could relate to a hero's death in a role-playing game, particularly Dungeons & Dragons.

As I looked upon the photographs and other mementos of this person's life, it occurred to me that a hero's death in any fantasy role-playing game, is often treated far too callously. There's a tendency to write off the event, quickly roll up a new character, and continue on as if the first character never existed. However, by doing that kind of hand-waving, I think it's easy to miss excellent opportunities for role-playing.

In order to mitigate the shock of losing a favorite character, and to provide an excellent role-playing opportunity, there are several strategies that can be employed to make a character's death an interesting part of the game.

The DM Should Set Expectations - Regardless of the other strategies I'll discuss, a good DM should state up front how he or she plans to handle character deaths. Are deaths expected to be painful and frequent? Are character deaths likely to be rare? The further strategies listed below will also be helpful to the DM when setting expectations for his or her players.

Can You Be Brought Back From The Dead? - This is probably an important fact for the DM to research for his campaign setting even before the first dice are rolled.  The characters are heroes, after all, and might have access to some extraordinary magic. Questions like "How expensive is resurrection?" or "Will (insert deity's name here)'s church resurrect my character?" As some of these answers may depend upon the region or circumstances the heroes are adventuring in, the DM might require the heroes to uncover this information as the campaign progresses.

Ask Your Players For A Eulogy - In order to provide a great role-playing opportunity, consider asking your players for a eulogy that they would like to have read in the case of their untimely death. Heroes are often buried with honors or with solemn funeral pyres. Maybe it would be nice if someone (even the local shepherd boy) said a few kind words over the grave (or pile of ashes).

Consider Working The Eventuality Of Death Into The Story - Imagine this. The heroes are about to embark on a dangerous mission. Have the king/mayor/chieftain/high priest etc. say something like the following, "You are brave heroes, but the path before you is very dangerous. Are there preparations you would like to make in case, gods forbid, you meet with an untimely end?"  This kind of statement can open up a dialog with the players and get them thinking about what may be the inevitable. In darker campaigns, you might have certain NPCs make it clear to the heroes that their doom is likely. Remember those scenes in Old West movies where the caretaker is making coffins before the big gunfight even begins? Consider having a local undertaker "take their measurements" before a big adventure.

Try To Have A Classic Death Scene If You Can - This should be a regular in the DM's role-playing handbook, but a hero's death should be a big deal. Forget turns, pause time, and let the hero speak his final words in whatever dramatic fashion possible. This is a time to let go of the rules, too. While a character's heroic death shouldn't necessarily end the big bad guy, consider allowing a final curse to damage the enemy in some fashion. Such a curse might manifest as a scar that never heals, or a minor penalty in combat, etc. Let go, and use the Rule of Cool to guide you on this one. Incorporate the hero's death into the story. Bards need work too, you know. 

If for some reason the hero dies quickly (for example, in a "rocks fall, you die" scenario), consider acting out the hero's death in the form of a spectral dream or vision. Perhaps you allow the hero to give the other characters a clue to some great treasure. Again, the goal is to have fun with the hero's death while remaining inclusive to the player who's hero made the sacrifice.

Don't Neglect The Aftermath - Once a hero dies, carefully observe how the rest of the characters handle the situation. Do they drop the body in a ditch? Do they build a cairn out in the field? These actions can reveal a lot about how the player might treat his own hero's death. If arrangements are made, gentle prodding by the DM might be in order, so that the hero's final wishes are carried out.

As far as rules are concerned, a resurrected hero might have no memory of his demise or the period just before he was revived. Or, perhaps the hero took council with his deity and was "allowed" to be revived. Consider that the hero might have had a new vision revealed to him. Remember that priests and churches often demand huge sums of coin so they can afford to cast the rituals that might bring a hero back. Make sure to follow through with the consequences if the other party members decide to cheat the deal.

If a character is likely to be permanently dead, consider having an elaborate funeral and ceremony. Let the player (whose character is dead) sit in on the celebration, but not be allowed to speak. Maybe the other party members take their turns memorializing the dead hero. Make sure a local bard is around to jot down their heroic tales.

Introduce A New Character - Once the funeral is over, there's no need to remove your player from the group. Have that player roll up a new character that can be integrated into the story. Maybe it's a relative or old friend of the hero that recently passed away. That way, some continuity of the hero's original story (and the player's sweat in creating it) can be preserved. New adventures now await!

Also This - One final thing. Death can be a pretty serious subject, so as a DM, you need to make sure that everyone at the table is taking it with the same level of respect. Role-playing life changing events can be dramatic, and might upset players that have recently experienced the death of a friend or loved one. Responsible use, is the key phrase here. Just play responsibly and make sure everyone at the table is one the same page.

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

Thank you, Ann. I'm grateful I had the privilege of meeting you.  Without a single doubt, you will be missed.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dapper Devil is Dandy! - A Product Review

The following is an unsolicited testimonial...

Greetings, Kids! I don't do a lot of reviews on this site, but when I acquire an RPG product I appreciate, I like to give it some space on the site, so I can share my appreciation.  Just today, I received an order from Dapper Devil, and wanted to show it off.

Dapper Devil makes a number of products suitable for use for your tabletop RPG or Board games. One of their biggest products are their tokens and token trays. It is those that I recently acquired.

My motivation for getting some of these tokens started when I learned I would get the opportunity to play my assassin character in a local game. I wanted something that would stand out at the table, and help me (and my DM) to track the various conditions that can effect a character. In addition, the character class has a unique mechanic (shrouds), so I wanted tokens to represent that mechanic at the table.

Here's a picture of the set I received (click on the image for a larger picture):

Here's a close-up of the tray the tokens are designed to be placed in (apologies for the lens flare):

I think it's neat that the token tray will hold up to five different tokens. That way, in the unfortunate case that my character has more than one condition, it keeps track of all of them.

The really nice thing about the Dapper Devil site, is that you can pick and choose the individual tokens you want to purchase (although there is a minimum purchase). In my case, I chose most of the basic condition tokens, in addition to a bloodied token, a generic +2 bonus token, & 4 "skull image" tokens (see the above pic) to represent the shrouds my assassin uses.  The tokens you see plus the rack only cost me a tad over $20, which I felt was an excellent price point for what I was getting.

The tokens and rack are made of acrylic. Most of the condition tokens come in two colors, the smoky color (which I got), and a light blue color. Beyond the tokens I purchased, they have a wide selection of other tokens, ones which will suit most classes, I believe. Do check out their site to see what I mean.

As a final note, I enjoyed conducting business with Dapper Devil. The website was easy to shop, my order was delivered fairly quickly, and they included a clear and understandable invoice with the shipment.

I'll be putting the tokens to good use in upcoming games, and will encourage my other players to look into Dapper Devil for their token needs.

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Acry - What? A Brief Guide to some RPG Acronyms

Greetings, Kids!

I've just a light post today. Something you might find useful, as you flit about the internet to this place or that. You see, I'm on Twitter a lot, and also peruse various blogs. At times, (and this is especially true for Twitter), the lack of room makes people likely to shorten the names of things by using acronyms. This is awesome, but if you don't necessarily know what a thread is about, a random acronym might throw you off.

In order to help with that situation, I've cobbled together a short list of acronyms I've been seeing a lot of on Twitter. The ones listed below are RPG (see, another acronym) related only. I've left out common texting acronyms (like LOL or STFU), as plenty of lists exist elsewhere on the internet to help you with those.

Before you say anything, I'm sure with some careful searching, you could find some RPG related acronym lists as well. This post is one to help my readers and followers should they need it.

Acronym What It Means

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
BSG Battle Star Galactica
CCG Collectible Card Game
D&D Dungeons And Dragons
D6SW Star Wars West End Games Edition
DARPG Dragon Age Role Playing Game
DDI Dungeons & Dragons Insider
DF  Dwarven Forge
DFRPG Dresden Files Role Playing Game
DL Dragonlance
DMG Dungeon Master's Guide
DND Dungeons And Dragons
DND4E Dungeons And Dragons 4th Edition
DS Dark Sun 
FLGS Friendly Local Gaming Store
FotR Fellowship of the Ring
GW Gamma World
HA Hirst Arts
HotFK Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms
HotFL Heroes of the Fallen Lands
HP Hit Points (Also could be Harry Potter)
LFR Living Forgotten Realms
Lot5R Legend of the Five Rings
LotR Lord of the Rings
M&M Mutants And Masterminds
MMO  Massively Multiplayer Online (Game)
MMORPG Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game
MtG Magic the Gathering (Card Game)
OBSG Original Battle Star Galactica
OD&D Original Dungeons & Dragons
PH Player's Handbook
RotK Return of the King
RPG Role Playing Game
RSE Revised 2nd Edition d20 Star Wars 
SF Star Frontiers
SJG Steve Jackson Games
SWSE Star Wars Saga Edition
VT Virtual Table
WeG West End Games
WH40K Warhammer 40,000
WHFB Warhammer Fantasy Battle
WHFRPG Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing Game
WotC Wizards of the Coast
WW White Wolf
XP Experience Points

Well, that's the list folks. It is (I'm sure) no means complete. Feel free to add to it in the comments below.

Until next time....

Game excellently with one another.


Friday, February 04, 2011

Opinionated Old Man Post - 4th Edition Stuff

I'll admit, I've been stuck without subjects to write about over the last few weeks. While there's plenty of controversy & teeth gnashing to be had about gaming, I don't often find myself so worked up that I feel the need to respond.  I'd like to think some of that has to do with maturity (oh gods, surely not!), but I think it's mostly, that when it comes to some arguments, I simply don't "have a dog in the fight".

Still, on some of these issues, I'm asked to give an opinion. I'm a self-described 4th Edition blogger, and so folks occasionally want to know what I think. I hang out on Twitter a lot, but that media is woefully inadequate for addressing some of these recurring issues. Occasionally, I get to espouse my opinion on the DM Roundtable; but after awhile, our twelve listeners get to understand what I'm about, and so probably know what I'm going to say before I say it (oh, and go listen to the DM Roundtable, so you can make that last sentence a lie - thanks).

So, I think what I'm going to do is outline a few of the recent (and some long standing) controversies I've been witness to, regarding gaming. I'm going to give you my opinion on those, and then I'm going to move on. I really need to spend my time creating cool stuff for the game, and not focusing on what amounts to academic debate.  You're more than welcome to comment below, but if your opinion differs from mine, I'm probably not going to say much. You are entitled to an opinion just like myself. However, on the issues that follow, I know how I feel about them. It's not likely we're going to dissuade each other. While that might not make you happy, at least you'll know where I stand.

On the Assertion that 4th Edition D&D can't be "role-played".

Load of crap. Simple as that. My group played for three hours the other night, played no combat encounters, and only one skill challenge. It was three hours of great role-playing.  We were playing 4th Edition. I know that's one example, and I know the power of my words can't make this argument stop, but really. Stop it. If you still believe the assertion that you can't role-play properly using the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, we've got a problem with basic assumptions about role-playing games.

On the Assertion that D&D Essentials is another Edition of the game.

No, it's really not. Does it offer some streamlining in both how characters are designed, and how monsters are handled? Sure. However, it's not changing the game. My opinion? You can use both side by side. I'm using Essential rules but running standard 4e characters. It's just an add on to the game. It's optional.

On the Assertion that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) are a group of money-grubbing devils, hell-bent on being out of touch with their customers.

Not bloody likely. Look. WotC is a company. Companies exist to make money. Public companies (their parent company is Hasbro) exist to make money for their shareholders. Thus, decisions are going to be made that directly effect their bottom line. If you're having issues with this fact, don't buy from them. Make up your own games. Is it okay to make suggestions to them? Sure. Most companies in this kind of business are eager to hear what works for their customers. Let's show some respect though, okay? No one wants to be called a bag of dicks because the company they worked for decided not to make THAT ONE MIRACLE PRODUCT you were looking for, or because their plan for some initiative isn't following  YOUR RECOMMENDED GUIDELINES FOR EXECUTION. If this sounds like you, get over yourself.

One other thing on this subject. I have found that the public face of WotC is accommodating and transparent in the extreme. Several of their employees regularly engage the public in both social media and at conventions, in order to make sure communication is open and forthcoming. I've met some of these folks and they are respectful and usually quite frank in their discussions. Again, show them some respect.

Another note on this subject. The following applies to just about every major company playing in this field, not just WotC. While you have a right to complain if you felt you were wronged in some real fashion (poor/dangerous product quality, bad customer service), be a responsible consumer.

On the Assertion that Skill Challenges in 4e are Broken.

I thought I used to think this. The other day I saw the light. I will say this, though. The execution of Skill Challenges takes practice, and requires some experience on the part of the player. Use Skill Challenges how you want. Start at obvious, and gradually work the mechanics into the narrative of your game. Lead by example, and the players will follow. Not everyone is an experienced role-player. It's okay to hold their hand until they get comfortable.

On the Assertion that Combat in 4e takes too long.

Maybe. How's that for a firm position. Actually, I think that 4e combat comes down to managing the table. You need to have a DM that can keep track of things well (I have to use electronic tools) and equally importantly, you have to have players that are familiar with the rules and prepared to use their powers. Hesitant and "over-thinking" players will kill your time management in 4e. Those kind of players will kill your time in any RPG. I use a sand timer. There are other methods. I don't believe in screwing around with the stats or mechanics, though, just to reduce combat time.

Also this. Combat has always taken time in RPGs where tactical movement and positioning are important. Remember that D&D started as an offshoot for a miniature war game. War game turns can sometimes take 30 minutes for ONE PLAYER. Let's not lose perspective. While I'm sure that some efficiencies can be found playing 4e (in regards to combat), it will probably take a big re-working of the rules to make it right (whatever "right" is supposed to be defined to be). For now, I'm honestly not sure how I'd feel about that, or what that would even look like. I'm happy with the system as is, and will look to table management to improve combat speed.

And So

Whew! Well, I'm glad I got those things off my chest. When these topics come up again, you'll find me silent on the matter. I have spoken my piece. If you ask me a question about these topics, I'll refer you to this post.   I am an old man, and I do not have time for issues that have been ongoing for over two years.  I'd rather be creating something cool for the game I love.

Get Off My Lawn.

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.