Monday 18 November 2013

GM Kit : Random Combat Encounter Types

This is part of my steadily expanding GM Kit series of blog posts, mostly concerning (but not limited to) 13th Age. I play either online via Roll20 or during my weekly face to face game and either way i'll be using a laptop. The GM Kit series is designed to get all my tables and useful info all in one place. Hopefully you can get some use out of it too.

This is a repost from Rampant Games After you're done here go check it out.

Roll 2d8 or Choose:

2 - Straightforward
3 - Ambush
4 - Exposition
5 - Tactical
6 - Avoidable
7 - Mixed
8 - Deceptive
9 - Programmed
10 - Hostile
11 - Booby Trapped
12 - Exceptional Enemies
13 - Waves of Enemies
14 - Weakened Enemies
15 - Non-Lethal Attacks
16 - Rule Changers

Straightforward combat encounters - Nothing much to write about here. But often these involved a new monster type or a spellcaster or "boss-level" enemy which the players won't be familiar with. Or the tactics the enemies used might be a little unusual to mix things up.

Ambush attacks - monsters attacking from hiding to get an initial advantage (but quickly devolves into being a straightforward combat). Certain monsters were simply made for this kind of attack - like trappers and lurkers above.

Exposition Encounters - These might be encounters that resemble types 1 or 2, but actually provide clues as to the bigger picture. For example, orcs that are visibly nervous about guarding the entrance to the graveyard, and will not flee there under any circumstances.

Tactical Challenges - these battles involve a significant tactical wrinkle - like fighting on a bridge over a lake of fire, or something as simple as the enemy taking advantage of cover or the high ground. Anti-magic fields are also popular here. Tucker's Kobolds drove players insane with these kinds of battles.

Avoidable combats - battles which smart players can avoid completely by using their brains instead of their swords. There were often varieties of monsters coming and going in those old dungeons, which necessitated some loose agreements between them. The players could often exploit this situation. Using the correct password, or simply bribing the bored ogres might be enough.

Mixed battles - With creatures of complimentary abilities, the classic example is to pair a powerful but easily killed magical enemy with a very tough "tank" to protect it.

Deceptive Battles - Like the ambush encounter, but there's something going on that makes the entire combat confusing and unclear. A canonical example is an illusion that disguises the true nature of the enemies, or adds additional illusionary attackers to the mix. Why is that cow breathing fire, again? Or a field of darkness within which the enemy can see, but the party cannot. Or maybe the party doesn't realize that the beautiful slumbering maiden they've just "rescued" is actually a vampire who is currently attacking with her charm power prior to unleashing her more direct and obvious attacks.

Programmed encounters - these are combat encounters that are directed or triggered by some sort of trap or puzzle. "Lady or the Tiger" situations or room-sized chessboard puzzles with golems as the enemy pieces might be examples of this kind of combat encounter.

Hostile Battlefields - This is a lot like Tactical Challenge battles (4), but there's an active environmental threat that makes time of the essence, or requires an active hand to avoid the threat as well as battle the enemies. An example might be a room with the walls closing in, or filling with water, or a battle taking place around an artifact that is hurling fireballs at random locations.

Booby Trap Battles - These encounters are semi-passive, happening only if the party digs around looking for treasure. Oozes, slimes, rot grubs, mimics, giant centipedes, and poisonous snakes worked well here.

Exceptional Enemies - These encounters involved an enemy more powerful than the players expect, due to nature, spells, or equipment. The Hobgoblin chieftain might fight as a bugbear, the zombies might be outfitted with chain mail and pole arms, the ogre might be wearing a ring of protection and drink a potion of haste before the battle, or the goblin might actually be a vampire. Third edition D&D really took this to the extreme, with plenty of options for advancing or otherwise beefing up "standard" enemies.

Waves of Opponents - Reinforcements are arriving. To avoid facing increasing odds, the party might have to expend a few more resources to eliminate the earlier waves quickly to avoid fighting an overwhelming force.

Weakened Enemies - The party may face a creature typically more powerful than they'd usually be able to take on, but has some advantage which - if they exploit - can grant them victory. A Hydra might be bound on a chain to an area, the ogre camp may be sleeping off a night of drunken revelry, or the dragon may be injured from another battle.

Non-Lethal Attacks - The enemy launches a quick raid set the party back (and gain treasure) rather than to kill them. It may be a quick robbery to deprive the party of equipment (or the functional equivalent via a Disenchanter or Rust Monster), or an attempt to lure / force the party into a trap, or simply to get them to waste spells, potions, and charges on magical items for an all-out battle that doesn't happen until later. Another example is an entirely illusionary encounter, which again may cost the party resources.

The Rule Changers - The wildly bizarre, constrained encounter that the Game Master might have a tough time rationalizing, but really turn combat on the ear. The most common of these would be combats where the party is stripped of all their gear, and must fight unarmed or with improvised weaponry. More extreme rules might be a conflict that must follow the rules of Rugby or something like that. While weird, they can be enormously amusing.

I omitted the following from the table as whilst this combat encounter type can be fun - it can often lead to massive derailing decision made by players. Its your call if you like that or not.

The No-Win Scenarios - Like #5, but this is a battle which - if pursued to the ultimate conclusion - is for all practical purposes unwinnable. The only way to win is - not to play. Or rather, to find the alternative means of defeating the enemy. Players (and Captain James T. Kirk) hate these, but usually only because they don't realize its danger until too late. Presented carefully, I believe it is still a valid and enjoyable encounter.

: If you need something to stock your combat encounters check out the Iconic classic D&D monsters I've converted here :

Wednesday 13 November 2013

D20 Icons - Death Knight

Each week I'll be taking a crack at converting some of the most iconic d20 monsters that, for one reason or another didn't appear in the awesome 13th Age Core rulebook. This week - A Death Knight.

Death Knight
Level 5 (Medium Double Strength Undead)
Init: +10
HP: 144 AC: 21 PD: 19  MD: 15

Soul Hungry Broadsword : +10 vs. AC (2 attacks) - 30 damage, Natural Even Hit: The attack deals an additional 18 damage Miss: The target receives the Enmity of the Death Knight.

Unholy Fire : +10 vs. PD (1d6 nearby creatures) - 18 damage and 11 ongoing damage Miss: 11 ongoing damage.

Enmity of the Death Knight : If a creature has the Enmity of the Death knight and they make an attack that doesn't include the him or they Disengage from him, the Death Knight can make a free Should Hungry Broadsword attack against them.

Unholy Presence : When a creature is engaged with the Knight it has a -2 to disengage checks and attack rolls.

: If you like this monster check out the other Iconic classic D&D monsters I've converted here :

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Why you should just draw maps for the heck of it.

When you run a low prep or improv game you can never have enough maps. Thats not technically true, there are those who literally fly by the seat of their imaginary pants but me - I like a bit of paper to spark and idea from mid flow. Im also a big fan of creating a resource I can use again and again in different ways. 

I've been doodling maps in a little gridded pocket book during lunch breaks, I got a couple of them from the work stationary cupboard - but i'll pick up a Moleskine when I fill them up. I don't spend long on each drawing either, just quick - and I'm not really sweating the finer points of the maps, I just start doodling.

I've been doing it for a week or so - i've now got a enough random maps, should I ever need one on the fly, i'm covered.

Check this afternoons 10 minute doodle :

Saturday 9 November 2013

13th Age NPC Kit - Available for Download

So finally i've put the last little bit of work in and pulled together the NPC Kit, you can download it here, and subscribe to the blog as no doubt i'll putting out updates as feedback comes in.

I've dropped the image background layouts - going with a simple text only layout, i've chosen a mobile/tablet optimised font and thin central text column so hopefully the pdf will be nice to read and use on mobile devices, as well as desktop/laptops.

I've still got to add bookmarks and sort the table of contents out - and do a revision based on any feedback I get but its practically done, i've been using it at my table for the last 2 months without any complaints!

: If you like this you should probably also check out my Trap Kit and the complete list of Iconic D20 Monsters both for 13th Age :

-  Happy gaming.

Thursday 7 November 2013

GM Kit : NPC Racial Powers

This is part of my steadily expanding GM Kit series of blog posts, mostly concerning (but not limited to) 13th Age. I play either online via Roll20 or during my weekly face to face game and either way i'll be using a laptop. The GM Kit series is designed to get all my tables and useful info all in one place. Hopefully you can get some use out of it too.

Here are the Player race abilities, converted to be used for NPC creation.

NB: AB represents the Attack Bonus as given on the Baseline Stats table at the NPC's corresponding level (p254. Core rulebook)

Wednesday 6 November 2013

GM Kit : NPC Descriptions

This is part of my steadily expanding GM Kit series of blog posts, mostly concerning (but not limited to) 13th Age. I play either online via Roll20 or during my weekly face to face game and either way i'll be using a laptop. The GM Kit series is designed to get all my tables and useful info all in one place. Hopefully you can get some use out of it too.

Here are some NPC descriptions.

Its worth noting that for these lists I took heavy inspiration from the Secluisium of Orphone by D.Vincent Baker. I suggest you buy a copy, worth every penny.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

13A Homebrew: Decreasing DC's

So as some of the readers of this blog may know, i'm currently running an Old-School esq Megadungeon Crawl via Roll20 and Hangouts. This has led me to re-read all my OSR rulebooks (OD&D, AD&D and other non TSR products) for inspiration and to try and get the 'mood' right. So far so good, but i'm sure my players are the best people to ask.

(Don't worry if you're reading. No spoilers)

One thing that strikes a clear difference is the lack of a skill list in early version of D&D, there are skills - just not catalogued into neat list that 3e/4e is notable for. For example Elves will find secret doors (effectively the Perception/Search skill) on a 1 or 2 out of 6 on a d6, everyone else its just a 1.

I'd normally houserule this so every turn they spend looking, the odds of success increase - ensuring that a character will find a secret door automatically if the spend 6 turns (1 hour) looking for it. Or, for example, 4 in 6 chance if they spend 4 turns looking (40 minutes) Because if the characters can find a secret door after looking at the same place for an hour - whats the point?

So i've been thinking on how I can transfer this houserule across to my Megadungeon (and probably other) games i'm running. Decreasing DC's. Every turn a player spends performing an action the set DC decreases by 2 (assuming time can be used to increase the chances of success) meaning a Ridiculously hard task to perform in 10 minutes/1 turn at the Adventurer tier (DC 25) is much more manageable if you spend 60 minutes/6 turns (DC 13)

It even scales with tiers, Epic being DC 25, 30 and 35.

I know this kind of rules against failing forward (in a way) but then failing forward is a very 'new-school' story technique* and sometimes doesn't feel right in a certain type of game - after all OD&D teaches us that outright failure can and should happen, and you shouldn't like it either.

Also before i forget, don't suck the narrative out of it. Im not going to use this as a rule that doesn't require explaining. I guess you should come up with someway to let the players know how their time and effort is impacting the task at hand.

I'm going test this over the next couple of weeks - i'm sure my players wont even notice, but at least if I make them aware of the rules - it may impact the way they explore the dungeon. Hopefully that will be fun.

As always glad to hear your comments

- Happy gaming

*I know its not really a new-school technique, i'm sure there are tonnes of games that have been around for ages that either use failing forward or story mechanics to propel the game forward - i'm really using new-school label to act as a distinction between the gygaxian and the more modern approach to handling failure. 

Monday 4 November 2013

D20 Icons - Slaad

Each week I'll be taking a crack at converting some of the most iconic d20 monsters that, for one reason or another didn't appear in the awesome 13th Age Core rulebook. This week - Slaad.

Level 7 (Large Elemental Humanoid)
Init: +10
HP: 216 AC: 23 PD: 21  MD: 17

Vicious Claws : +12 vs. AC (2 attacks) - 23 damage

Gaping Maw : +12 vs. AC - 56 damage

Engulfed by chaos : When a Slaad makes a successful attack against a creature roll a d6, if the players can guess the number they are un-affected - if they cannot, they must roll on the Chaotic Effects table below.

Chaotic Effects :

  1. Ongoing 10 psychic damage
  2. Dazed (save ends)
  3. Gain resistance to (choose one) Fire/Thunder/Poison
  4. Confused (save ends)
  5. The creature takes 15 damage and pops free
  6. Hampered and gains +2 to its next attack roll
  7. The creature may spend a recovery
  8. The creature loses one recovery

: If you like this monster check out the other Iconic classic D&D monsters I've converted here :

Sunday 3 November 2013

Gamesmastering Challenge - Prep

So, a month or so ago I started the 30 Day d&d challenge - I gave it a good crack, but in the end posting everyday just wasn't practical - unless you're interested in reading text that has the same literary content as some written by an author smashing their head against the keyboard (i'm guessing you don't?) So I cam across this site - interesting, I thought, but i'll be damned if i'm posting everyday. I'll do it in nice easy chucks.


What advice would you give a first-time GM?

You'll suck. But thats ok. Seriously though the chances are you'll make a bunch of mistakes, so I recommend just grin and bear it. Don't worry about it and try not to let in fluster you, remember everyone is here to have fun and play a game - thats all. If everyone knows its your first time behind the screen and you amongst good company, nobody will mind if you forget stuff or make mistakes.

What are your favourite GMing tools or accessories?

The AD&D Rules Cyclopedia. Everything you need to run a game in a book, and I dont even play AD&D. I also use several home-brew accessories i've made for running 13A games, my NPC kit and Trap Kit.

How do you find players?

I run a weekly group with some old friends, so we don't really recruit for that. But there is a healthy Tabletop Scene in my town, so if were to need more players at the table I'd go there first - The other games I run are online, so finding new players there is usually through G+ or readers of this blog.

Do you use pre-published adventures or write your own?

I mostly write my own, but i'll always be incorporating elements of written adventures, if I see something good, bastardising them for my own needs.

Stealing like an artist - what inspiration have you drawn from other games, books, movies etc?

Characters, places, items story threads and hooks - i've stolen them all. Seriously steal EVERYTHING you can. If you watch/read/see something and you think 'That's cool' steal it. There's a reason your reaction was to think it was cool, its because it is cool. So share the love and let your players experience how cool it is too.

Worldbuilding - whats your process?

I start off with a small detailed area and let the players fill in the blanks around it. But make sure to build a complete world with very broad strokes - so when asked 'whats on the other side of the world?' you can answer. But i'll never start filling every Hex with stuff until it becomes relevant (why waste prep time on stuff that might never see the light of day?)

How do you prep for the start of a campaign?

Read the Dungeonworld corebook, specifically the section about creating Adventure Fronts and Campaign fronts, I cannot recommend this enough. Basically I'll think about the tone of the campaign, create adversaries (broad ones such as guilds and cults, not individuals really) and set their goals and motivations for the life of the campaign. Determining their final goals will steer their actions and reactions throughout. Then its a case of creating somewhere small for the players to start and building around them as they explore.

How do you prep for each session?

I don't really. Thats a bit of a lie, but I definitely run on the light side for session prep. Most of the content is created on the fly from stuff in my GM Kit. Then i'll let the players Relationship Dice rolls guide the actions of NPC's and story elements.

Player "homework" - what do you ask of your players before and between session?

Nothing. Its not homework its a game. If they want to create content between sessions they can, but i'll never ask a player to dod something, I don't want them to feel obligated. It would be nice if they levelled up when needed but even then I won't bust their balls if they don't. 

What are your tips for running a low/no prep game?

I think i've kind of covered my process in the questions above (and my games absolutely fall into the low prep category) but here's a couple of my thoughts on low prep -

  • Theres no such thing as no/low prep really. Its just about what you prep and when/how many times you do it. 
  • Spend some time creating tables of names, appearances, mannerisms, motivations and interesting things an NPC/Object/Location might have.
  • If you can get an Internet signal at your game you can use random name generators for items and places in all sorts of different literary styles, if not make some tables in advance.
  • Learn how to make NPC/Monster stats on the fly - create a useful list of stats, powers and abilities if necessary.
  • If your running 13th age, roll your relationship dice at the end to drive next weeks session, if you don't run 13th Age, consider integrating the relationship dice mechanic to your game.
  • Get comfortable making stuff up, confidence is key, if the players see you're not too sure - then they wont be too sure either. The more you fly by the seat of your pants the greater your confidence will be.
Hope some of this is useful or insightful. I'll be back with the next couple of sections in the coming weeks.