Thursday, October 20, 2016

DM Lessons: Improvisation Building Blocks

Sometimes, you can really force yourself to think on your feet if your players decide to do some investigating and look deeper than the surface of things.

In our last Over the Seas and Far Away session, one of the players went off to his temple to inquire if they have any work. As the DM, I want to remind players of the horrible system of oppressive slavery and corruption that the party is working around the edges of. So he does have a job, alright.

Job is: escort these clearly innocent virtual slaves to their new life of hard labor in a logging camp. Temple is getting paid to transport them.

Player winces, but hey, might be something interesting here, so he does some investigating as to why these prisoners haven't been moved already. "Let me see their paperwork".

Instantly, he's getting paid a bunch more because this shit is shady. Also there are about 50 of the prisoners.

So now as the DM, I have to think up several things.

1. Why haven't the prisoners been moved?
2. What makes this shadier than usual?
3. How can I make this scenario more interesting?

One of the keys to running an effective campaign (sandbox or otherwise) is to have done enough worldbuilding that you have components to put together to flesh out a scenario like this. I improvised thusly:

The prisoners haven't been moved because there are a lot of them, they are dangerous, and the company that contracted for them hasn't sent anyone to get them.

This is shadier than usual because the prisoners aren't from the usual prisoner's channel, and everyone knows it, but are being paid to ignore that.

How can I make this more interesting?  The prisoners are of the same persecuted minority as one of the characters.

I need to put this all into context now, so I start pulling worldbuilding from my back pocket. In the Empire, the half-orcs are a persecuted minority, and lots of them live on the fringes of the Empire.

Transported are only supposed to be convicted criminals, but the amount of labor needed in the Colony has created a thriving secondary market for "off-brand" Transported.

Half-orcs are strong and tough, making them more dangerous than standard prisoners.

So now the party has to transport 50 or so angry half-orcs a hundred miles through fairly dangerous forests and deposit them in the same sort of logging camp they LITERALLY just rescued 50 people from. Irony is fun.

Now, this is a really important DM tip: if you set up a scenario, don't get at all tied to YOUR solutions. Just sit back and see what your players come up with.

In this case, one of the players is a half-orc, so make friends is the answer. They spent hundreds of sp getting them blankets, food and clothes, and promised to free them from the logging camp after delivery. The prisoners were suspicious, so Wrenaldo, the half-orc in question, accepted their offer to temporarily join the coffle and get rescued with the rest of them.

Happy day! At least for me. Not sure they're going to enjoy this.

Monday, October 17, 2016

D&D With Kids: Into the Northern Wilderness

D&D with Kids! Session 1: Adventures in the Northern Wilderness.

The daughter and nephews are now all old enough to play D&D. So the 7, 9 and 14-year olds sat down with me on the weekend to play full-on 5e for the first time.

We made characters first. The oldest played a Dragonborn Noble Fighter named Kriv, the younger nephew played his old character, a Wood Elf Rogue named Adrak, who used to be a librarian, and my daughter created a Human Druid who was raised by wolves named Foxy.

The game started with Adrack finding an old book that described a hidden temple in the Great Northern Forest that supposedly contained a great treasure. He recruited Kriv and Foxy to go with him to recover the treasure.

The group left from Port Tanner on the Black River and headed north to Shale Pass, the only route through the northern mountains.

They decided not to travel on the road, and Foxy's skill in the forest led them easily through the wilds. On the 3rd day, they encountered and Owlbear trying to raid a wolf den. The party helped the wolves defeat the Owlbear, then Foxy healed the wolves (and Kriv), and cast Animal Friendship on the alpha female. The female detached a young male (quickly named Scruffy) to accompany the new member of the pack and make sure she didn't get into trouble. They also got an Owlbear pelt.

The following day they encountered a camp of the Ulthar tribe, locals who proved friendly. They traded the Owlbear fur for some amber necklaces, and when Leos, the leader, offered them work, they took it. Apparently a huge beast-man has been attacking Ulthar hunters, and Leos offered them more amber to kill it.

They were guided first to the Ulthar village, then to the valley containing the lair of the creature. A critical success on Foxy's scouting roll meant they discovered the creature (a Yeti) came to the same spot each night to drink from a stream, so the group set up an ambush.

Using Kriv's high strength, they positioned a boulder above the pool, then Foxy and Adrak worked together to track down a mountain goat, which they killed and placed as bait.

When the Yeti came down to drink, it was lured under the rock by the goat, but the plan almost failed when Kriv couldn't move the rock. Adrak raced to his aid, and they dropped the boulder on the Yeti, then quickly finished it off before it could get back up.

They then plundered the Yeti's cave, finding some jewelry and a magical pendant (a Periapt of Wound Closure). They also found a strange engraving far back in the cave, a map leading to "the gates of Karak-Norn".

Returning to the Ulthar village, they got more amber in payment, and also got more jewelry made by the tribe, a spiked collar for Scruffy and Yeti-horn and tooth necklaces. The shaman identified the pendant for them, and they learned that the mountain shown on the map was about 3 days travel east.

The party decided to check out the map location instead of continuing through the pass to the temple. They travelled to a mountain pass where they discovered and opened the gate to Karak-Norn, an ancient dwarven city.

They explored into Karak-Norn, encountered and handily beat some goblins, and we called it for the day. They all leveled up, and fun was agreed to have been had. Then my daughter and the younger nephew headed off to the basement to continue to play make-believe as their characters.


Things I learned:
1. Simplify the character sheets. I used simple 5e sheets and they worked OK. None of the kids are super readers/writers yet, due to age and some learning disability, but they are good enough if you make things simple.

2. I'll be adding spell cards, animal form cards and probably equipment cards to the game for the next session. Should make it easier for everyone.

3. When making characters, if kids are having trouble picking, let them flip through the Players Handbook until they find something they like, then make that. Iris liked the female druid on page 67. Art directors, take note.

4. Framing choice of action and possible benefits/repercussions is CRITICAL. Kids can easily make decisions if you spell out the possible results of different courses of action. Give them a reasonable number of options and their sagacity will surprise you.

5. Give them help. I added Scruffy the wolf to the group so I could have a kinda-sorta DM PC, but not one they could ask for advice. He warns them of dangerous situations by growling or showing reluctance, which makes them thing about what they are doing.

6. Go with it. If it's fun for them to spend half an hour designing jewelry for the local tribesfolk to make them, that's a good use of time. Further, have them draw the jewelry on their character sheet.

7. Be generous and kind. More magic items are good. Levelling is very good. Their plans succeeding is awesome. Listening to them tell their grandparents about their characters and the game is immensely rewarding.