Monthly Archives: March 2017

Role-playing 109 – Character Improvement

After a few sessions of gameplay, you should be in a position to be thinking about character improvement through gaining new skills and abilities. Depending on the system/ruleset this can take many different forms, so this article will be vague (in keeping with the theme of most of these articles) but should be mostly relevant, no matter which system you’re using.

Full disclosure, I play to explore the narrative and different mental states, so that will be where most of the article focuses. I know, however, that this isn’t the only reason people role-play, so I’ll try to do my best to offer advice on a few other ways of determining character improvement.

Without further ado, let us begin.

My first step when thinking about character improvement is to consider my character’s backstory. This is especially true with the first chance to ‘level up’. Because it is the closest to your character’s history, this ‘level up’ should probably represent the culmination of why your character has become involved in the game in the first place.

For fantasy systems with spellcasting, the choice of your first few spells can really help determine your character’s relationship to the game. For other systems, perhaps their initial foray into the game allows them to improve a skill or two that they want to develop.

Beyond that though, are the basic building blocks of personality that arose during their backstory and that you might have been exploring during play. When in doubt, use these to determine how your character improves. As a rule of thumb, choices made during ‘level up’ should reflect how your character feels about themselves, their place in the player party and their place in the world.

A few examples of this would be Muse, my D&D character, who usually selects spells related to obfuscation and word-play because she thinks of herself as a spy/social infiltrator. This is why she multi-classed as a Rogue when she began to practice her training again. Another example would be Christine, a much loved (and much damaged) Call of Cthulhu character who never thought of herself as more than a researcher and never learned any way to defend herself beyond basic unarmed self-defence. The dice may have a played a part in Christine’s development, due to the way CoC levelling works, but as it suited her character, it worked out well in the end.

Beyond making choices that reflect how your character feels about themselves, it is worth considering the needs of the player party. If there is an aspect of your character that could be improved to cover an area of the party’s skills that is lacking, it may be worth considering. This option also has the benefit of driving your character development in a manner which you haven’t planned and will make things fresh again.

Sticking with Muse as an example, our party doesn’t have a dedicated healer so at the last level up, I replaced her one damaging spell with a healing one. I decided that she had realised that, even though her goals didn’t align exactly with the rest of the party, she needed them alive to be able to get what she wants. She may not like relying on others, but she recognises the value of teamwork. Originally, she was going to be so consumed with vengeance that she would have happily left most of the party by the wayside.

The third choice in this method is just pick what seems cool. Role-playing games are, at their core, fantasy. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where there hasn’t been a skill or ability in the rules that didn’t exactly fit with the character but didn’t seem cool enough to warrant going the extra mile for. In my experience, you can usually find a way to rationalise learning new things that your character wouldn’t necessarily learn in the normal course of things.

This is why Christine chose to learn how to dance, I rationalised it as a way to blend in with the high society cult leaders we encountered.


Other approaches to role-playing and character improvement include making characters as efficient as possible. There are plenty of guides and things online to help with this, but this method of character improvement highlights making your character as good as they possibly can be at the one thing (or few things) that they do.
This typically works best when everyone is on the same page about what you want to achieve with your character but usually involves choosing one a prescribed number of options depending on the role you want to fulfill.

You may also make a choice based entirely on what other people recommend, or on what the party needs at that moment in time. This requires a lot of communication, but can produce a well-rounded party and great synergy.
A party that is built to solve any problem will likely have little trouble with any one thing for long, so this approach is usually favoured by groups that know one another well and happily adapt their characters in response to the changing situation of the game and the party’s needs.

The last one that I can think of right now is character improvement to alter the story. This is a method of determining your character’s improvements that requires a lot of communication with the GM.
This could come into play where your character is working at cross-purposes to the rest of the party, has wildly differing goals, or where something your GM would like to happen relies upon a member of the party being able to do a certain thing.
This approach requires you to surrender some control of your character in order to have them more entwined with the story as a whole. As such, it should not be undertaken lightly but can have a great payoff if done well.


Has this article been useful? Which methods do you favour? Let me know in the comments section.

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Role-playing 105a – How I Write the Story

This time around, I’m going to go into more detail about how to design your story. As previously mentioned, because I’m trying to be as system neutral as possible, I will use broad strokes to describe my typical process.

This article will take you through the brief step-by-step method that I usually use when designing campaigns. Feel free to use any and all of it for your own purposes. If you feel like anything is missing or could be improved, let me know in the comments. Each step will be illuminated with an example, using the D&D 5th Edition campaign that I am drawing the Actual Play posts from. Those posts are still taken from the Starter Set but will eventually reach the material discussed here.

The first thing to consider is what you want to play. You aren’t going to enjoy writing, and playing through, a campaign that you personally aren’t invested in.

When writing my campaign, I really wanted to have something grand in scope with a huge, world ending threat at the end of it. I know it’s not very original, but it’s something I’ve wanted to run for a while, and it’s not too difficult for first time role-players to deal with.

The second thing is you NEED to write something your players will enjoy. This can be done through discussing things with them, just by picking up on what they enjoy in the first few sessions of play, or through their characters.

One of my players is a Ranger with ‘undead’ selected as her favoured enemy so that was pretty obvious. All of my players also enjoyed their interaction with the Nothic so I decided to play off of that and have scope for more Nothics later in the game. Nothics being wizards from Netheril, the empire that used to rule the Sword Coast, suggested to me that Netheril could play a large part in what’s to come. I know that my players like history so I felt fine adding Netheril in.

The obvious thing to do is to have a Lich, or similar, from old Netheril be the main antagonist. So I ran with that. I came up with a name of vaguely Latin origin and decided that Netheril was a pseudo-Roman civilisation.

This gave me a history to things (an Empire brought down from within, ruins and remnants all around the area they are exploring, customs and traditions that are accepted as fact but that no one can explain) and gave me an idea for my grand scope. Graeco-Roman gods were frequently extremely human in their behaviours, to the extent that political leaders were often identified as divine themselves and nothing was seen to be wrong with that.

My thought process then ran to ‘what if?’. In this case, it was what if the emperor was actually a god? What if Netheril was ruled by an immortal, divine being? What happened to it?

These questions lead me to the third step; throw a spanner in the works.

An antagonist, to some extent, should do this already, but more than that, this means do something unpredictable.

In this case, I decided time travel was the way forwards.

Netheril, the God, was ripped from his time (leading to the collapse of the Empire) by the Lich (themselves the last scion of a noble family wishing to resurrect the glory of Netheril) and brought forwards into the timeline of the game.

The fourth thing is to decide on rough tiers of experience. Each section of the game should feel appropriate to the player character’s abilities.

In D&D, PCs get stronger and stronger, becoming powerful heroes. As such, things should scale with them. There are rough guidelines given in one of the core books and I ran with those. Levels 1-5 are covered by the Starter Set and represent the PCs coming into their own. Levels 6-10 are designed to cover the heroes realising the threat of the Lich and racing to stop him, reaching a crescendo with the Lich performing the ritual to summon Netheril. Levels 11-15 will, hopefully, see the heroes flung backwards in time and working to take down Netheril (the empire) from inside, contending with mythical heroes and divine beings. Levels 16-20 will (assuming we make it that far) have the heroes facing off against Netheril, gaining allies and bringing order back to a world in thrall of a god.

Into this framework, I inserted a variety of combat, social and exploration based encounters designed to hit the main plot points and narrative milestones of each chapter. Around these encounters, I will insert more sandbox based things that arise during play, to give the players a sense of agency. Something important to note is that whilst the non-sandbox encounters are, by their very nature, less flexible, I’ve designed them in such a way that they can occur in a variety of situations so that the players don’t feel funnelled into one particular course of action.

So that is my rough approach to campaign design. Obviously, it’ll change from game to game, but these are the points I try to hit every time and can be applied to one-shot games, as well as campaigns.

I hope you find the above helpful.

Chapter Five: Speaking with the Dead

Last session saw the party return from Cragmaw Castle and start making their way through the list of side quests they have accumulated.


Cast

  1. – N’idera – Half-elf Ranger (Beast Master)
  2. – Ara’tak – Aarakocra Druid (Moon)
  3. – Sirath – Dragonborn Paladin (Vengeance)

DM – Torvak – Goliath Cleric (Life)


The party, with Vyerith in tow, returned to Phandalin and collected their reward for clearing out Cragmaw Castle. Whilst there, they sold what spare equipment they could and received the Gloves of Revelation from Gundren Rockseeker in return for escorting him to his base of operations.

[DM’s Note: The Gloves of Revelation are a magical item that allows the wearer to cast Identify once a day. The version of the spell that is cast allows only for obvious magical effects to be discovered. I gave this ability to my players because they have no party member capable of casting that spell and my plans for the campaign don’t really include reliable access to someone who can cast it.]

Sildar, relieved at the return of his friend, promised future rewards when his belongings finally arrive. Gundren, for his part, offered to accompany them to Wave Echo cave when they decide to go there.

N’idera, curious about her bow, used the Gloves to reveal its magical properties whilst the party decided, on the flip of a coin, to travel to Coneyberry and converse with Agatha.

By the time they reached Coneyberry, the Gloves had recharged and Sirath gave her the dagger from the hunting lodge to examine. The moment she touched it, vines erupted from the earth and wrapped around her, supporting N’idera’s body as she fell unconscious.

The Ranger appeared on the edge of a cliff and was asked a series of questions by two figures she realised were Malar and Gwaerom. She told them that she protects the wilds whilst Sasha hunts those who would harm them. The two gods were satisfied with this answer and she awoke, to see a blue glow around Sasha’s neck. Investigation revealed a small chain collar apparently growing there.

[DM’s Note: The dream vision was designed to allow N’idera’s player to choose the effects of her weapons by choosing a focus on hunting, or guarding. The answer she gave wasn’t one I predicted, but resulted in some cool character development and a flexible ‘loadout’ of magical weapons.]

Sirath realised the dagger would be better with N’idera and the party found Agatha’s lair. There they conversed politely with the banshee and obtained the information Sister Giraele required.

With that taken care of, the party decided to head towards Old Owl Well.

They approached it from behind and accidentally alerted the zombies working in the tower. Curious, but not hostile, Kostus emerged from his tent to investigate and was forced to shrug off the effects of Sirath’s Abjure Enemy. The party was hard-pressed to fend of the zombies but they succeeded, eventually, and were forced to incapacitate Kostus as he fled.

N’idera took him down, shooting him in the leg, and that was the point at which we ran out of time.

[DM’s Note: I use a rule that a ranged, non-magical attack can incapacitate an NPC but giving the players a round to stabilise said NPC, providing the attack is not a critical hit.]

My Driving Why

It’s a later post than usual today, but I wanted to get this right the first time.

I know I don’t usually ask this, but please, PLEASE, share this article with anyone you know who might benefit from reading it. Thank you.


Recently, thanks to the fine folks at Innovators Hub and their Catalyst program, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my motivations for doing things.

My conclusion is something that I feel warrants being posted on this website.

Originally, That’s How We Roll was created to host a podcast. The plan was to record every game session, edit it down to the highlights and then hope people find some enjoyment listening to us tell bad jokes and play a game together. That quickly fell by the wayside but the intention, to create something that people could find entertaining, remained.

The website went ignored for a while after that. I had to focus on university and student society things, as well as eventually graduating and moving to live with my partner.

The site as it is now really took shape when I started writing the TitansGrave adventure series (which isn’t forgotten, I just lost my inspiration for a while). This was something that I felt would draw people together to try a novel magic-tech game as well as being proof of my writing skills.

So, THWR slowly became a portfolio (of a sort), whilst also being somewhere to host articles and other gaming aids.

I started the Intro to Role-playing series out of a desire to help more people get into the hobby, to show them that it isn’t something to be afraid of and that it needn’t have a high barrier to entry. From there, I just kept adding to the site, writing whatever I thought someone might find useful or interesting.

I started adding the fiction element to things because sometimes I found that the easiest thing to write.

Throughout all of this, the purpose of the website was to inform and to entertain.

For a while, I’ve thought that is the main reason why I do everything that I do. I thought that I wanted to teach people about things they weren’t familiar with, and to entertain them for a few minutes at a time.

I don’t think that any more. Or rather, I recognise a deeper reason behind everything.

I’ve been pretty open on this website about my struggles with disability and mental illness. When I relaunched it with the TitansGrave content, I wanted to be honest with anyone who stumbled across THWR that I’m not perfect, I have bad days and that that’s okay.

Only now, after a lot of introspection, do I realise why.

There is a reason that I want to spread this hobby that means so much to me, and has been such a help on my bad days. There is a reason why I write so much and on so many topics.

The reason that I do what I do with such enthusiasm and passion is because I want to make sure that no-one else feels how I feel.

Mental health, up until recently, was not widely understood. The support for it isn’t there for everyone and this has a knock on effect with treatments and coping mechanisms. I want to change that.

I want to use this soapbox to offer a place where people can, hopefully, find some respite. Even if it’s just for a few hours in an evening, I want people to feel included in something. To know they aren’t alone. To know that their voice can be heard.

So to everyone who struggles with mental health, disability or anything else, I say welcome.

You are not alone.

You are not ignored.

I am here and I am listening.

Illness on the Table-top

Illness in role-playing games isn’t something that is typically portrayed. There is a good reason for this, of course. For most people, rpgs are power/escapist fantasies, they don’t want to be mired down in the reality of disease and illness.

When things like that are covered in a game, it’s typically through the use of status effects, conditions or other things that can be easily tracked. Usually, however, there is only one effect or condition active at a time.

Whilst this is understandable, sometimes (as evidenced by my additional rules for magic usage available on the DM’s Guild), I enjoy adding extra rules to increase the thematic feel of a game aspect. With that in mind, here are some additional rules to enhance the role of diseases and illness in your games.

Before getting started, I should state that if you are ill in real life, tell your group. They will understand and make allowances for slowed thought processes, lack of attention etc. It’s inconvenient, yes, but at the end of the day there is little you can do.

I should also say that the collection of symptoms and game effects below are merely a starting point. I may return to this topic in a later post, but GMs should feel free to mix, match and reskin as necessary.

Any randomised effects are also left to the GM’s discretion to modify as they see fit.

Symptoms encountered without being part of an illness expire when the GM deems an appropriate amount of time has passed.

Symptoms

Headache: The target suffers a minor penalty to mental rolls, abilities and skills related to mental attributes and any roll required to maintain concentration or focus. Taking the appropriate medicine removes this penalty for 1d4 hours.

Migraine: The target suffers a major penalty to mental rolls, abilities and skills related to mental attributes and any roll required to maintain concentration or focus. Additionally, being confronted with bright light triggers a nausea effect (see below). Taking the appropriate medicine removes this penalty for 1d4 hours.

Brain fog: The target suffers a minor penalty to any rolls to recall information, process their surroundings, utilise their self-control (to resist external pressures or for more mundane reasons) or react quickly to a situation. Taking the appropriate medicine, or a stimulant, removes this penalty for 1d4 hours.

Delirium: The target suffers a major penalty to any rolls to recall information, process their surroundings, utilise their self-control (to resist external pressures or for more mundane reasons) or react quickly to a situation. Taking the appropriate medicine removes this penalty for 1d4 hours.

Nausea: The target suffers a minor penalty to physical rolls, abilities and skills related to physical attributes and any roll required to maintain their grip on something or similar physical activity. Taking the appropriate medicine removes this penalty for 1d4 hours. Failing a physical task spectacularly increases this symptom to sickness.

Sickness: The target suffers a major penalty to physical rolls, abilities and skills related to physical attributes and any roll required to maintain their grip on something or similar physical activity. The character also suffers from fatigue easier and must rest at least once a day, around midday, in addition to sleeping 8 hours or suffer any associated effects for being exhausted/fatigued/tired etc. Taking the appropriate medicine removes this penalty for 1d4 hours.

Shivering: The target suffers a minor penalty to physical tasks, anything requiring them to concentrate on mental or physical tasks and social rolls. Taking the appropriate medicine removes this penalty for 1d4 hours.

Fever: The target suffers a major penalty to physical tasks, anything requiring them to concentrate on mental or physical tasks and social rolls. The character also suffers from fatigue easier and must rest at least once a day, around midday, in addition to sleeping 8 hours or suffer any associated effects for being exhausted/fatigued/tired etc. Taking the appropriate medicine removes this penalty for 1d4 hours. Failing any of these tasks spectacularly adds nausea to the symptoms suffered by this character.

Sneezing: The target suffers a minor penalty to rolls requiring a sense of smell, stealth rolls and social rolls. In addition, characters within 10 feet of the coughing character receive a bonus to hear them and a penalty to hear anything else equal to the penalty suffered by the coughing character.  Taking the appropriate medicine removes this penalty for 1d4 hours.

Coughing: The target suffers a major penalty to rolls requiring a sense of hearing, stealth rolls and social rolls. In addition, characters within 10 feet of the coughing character receive a bonus to hear them and a penalty to hear anything else equal to the penalty suffered by the coughing character. Taking the appropriate medicine removes this penalty for 1d4 hours.

Rash: The target suffers a minor penalty to social rolls upon which appearance might have a bearing. Taking the appropriate medicine removes this penalty for 1d10 hours.

Boils/Sores: The target suffers a major penalty to social rolls upon which appearance might have a bearing. Taking the appropriate medicine reduces this symptom to a rash for 1d4 hours, when this duration expires, the boils/sores return over 1d3 hours.

 

Illnesses

When creating an illness, it is advised that each illness has 1d3 symptoms, with a higher number of symptoms relating to more severe illnesses. In addition, it should be clear that each symptom has a major and a minor form (represented by a minor and a major penalty). The only symptoms that may occur together (where the symptoms have penalties affecting the same thing) are sneezing and coughing.

Illnesses should last for either 1d3 days or 1d3 weeks depending on its severity, with each day of appropriate treatment reducing the duration for 2 days.  When appropriate medicine isn’t available, 12 hours of rest can substitute for a day’s worth of medicine.

Thus a character with an illness lasting 2 weeks who takes 2 days’ worth of medicine and completes 2 days’ worth of rest  reduces the overall duration of the illness to 6 days (14 – 8) and has already completed 4 days of the treatment. Another day of bed rest or medicine would cure the illness completely.

Illnesses can be contagious or not. Contagious illnesses require some sort of resistance roll (with appropriate penalties and bonuses) and can be passed on via physical contact, through infected materials or any other normal transmission vector.

Once caught the newly infected character suffers from the illness for a random amount of time, using the same method to determine its duration as the method used to determine the duration of the illness for the infecting character.