Posts Tagged ‘tips’

Epic! – Not Meek or Casual… EPIC

November 29, 2011 Comments off

Courtesy of WotC - Legacy of Io

A fascinating discussion was started over at critical hits over the holiday weekend. Mike Shea, who literally wrote the book on epic play, laments that scaling challenging encounters is much more difficult at the epic tier than it is in heroic. Having just completed another awesome session of my Scales of War campaign, I can understand the concern, but feel it should be looked at in a different light.

Consider the hours and dedication it takes to get a character from level 1 to level 30. Players even entering the epic tier are not going to be casual or new players. If you have the dedication to play at the epic level, its because kobolds, goblins, and orcs have lost their appeal. In our last session of scales of war campaign, we fought a living typhoon elemental that had the seals of three gods on its chest, in the middle of an ocean floor, while the ocean was held back by the typhoon. In the incredible battle that ensued we used party synergies and effective tactics to whittle down the more than 1400 HP beast, smash him open, grab the Arrow of Fate – an artifact that is a piece of Io, the dragon super-god that split into Bahamut and Tiamat at the dawn of time, just before the walls of the sea came crashing down around us. EPIC!

Will battles take longer at level 25 than at level 5? Almost without exception; but that is as it should be. Will it take more prep-time, flexibility, and skills from the DM? Naturally. An epic game needs an epic DM. I recently DMed a low-epic level module that was not properly scaled for our party. The PCs were walking all over every challenge. Some of it was good luck, a lot of it was character optimization, but in the end I feel it falls to the DM to bump up those stats, recharge that encounter power, and add an extra damage die or two. If you’re not up for the challenge for your weekly game, and feel like you have dedicated all the prep time you possibly can, have an awesome time in heroic. In my other group we limited both the dwarven clan, and we plan on limiting the pirates to level 10. Its fun, and not overly-taxing. There may come a time when you as a player, or as a DM want something more. At that point you can join me and my epic-brethren in the Astral Sea. Look for us on the most dangerous planes, in the deadliest locations. We’ll be the ones challenging the gods for rule over all creation!

Categories: 4e, DnD, Epic, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , ,

Heraldry – History and Hooks

November 28, 2011 1 comment

Courtesy of

Disclaimer: This post is heavily influenced by me just finishing the book Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. If you haven’t read it, do so immediately, it is one of my all time favorites.

A coat of arms can provide depth to a back story and compelling story hooks, even if your character isn’t a knight in shining armor. In fact, Heraldry has been used to enhance D&D since the early days of Greyhawk.

In Game of Thrones, each of the noble houses has a crest with an animal, colors, and words, which act as a sort of motto for the house. For instance House Stark has a grey dire wolf on a white background. Their words are Winter is Coming. House Baratheon has a black stag on a field of yellow, with the words Ours is the Fury. House Lannister, a golden lion on red, with the words Hear me Roar. All of these are used to great effect on the battlefield as units are easy to recognize by their colors and symbols. Also at court, a knight or sworn sword could be identified by the colors he was wearing, or the crest on his helm or shield. Adding these details to your character can do a lot to breathe life into a collection of stats.

In the Greyhawk Boxed Set, Gary Gygax used coats of arms not only for regions, cities, or noble houses, but also for nomads, bandits, and even some tribes of monsters! When a foe has a symbol, and a little bit of history, a DM can strike fear into his party once they spot a banner or flag of a group of enemies.

From the Greyhawk Boxed Set

In our recently completed dwarven campaign, our clan had a symbol, colors, and some backstory to what the different objects in our crest meant. Our new pirate campaign may require us to create a flag with special meaning to our particular pirate crew, but symbols don’t have to be adopted by the entire party. For instance, a rogue could have a tattoo of the thieves guild he belonged to, or the wizard could have some symbol on his spellbook from a particular school of magic. Clerics usually have holy symbols associated with their faith, but they could have a special symbol for their particular sect. Fighters could have a variety of symbols, even if they aren’t a highborn knight. A barbarian could have a symbol of his tribe, a sellsword could have a symbol of his guild of mercenaries. The possibilities are endless.

Inkwell Ideas hosts a Java program that can help you create your own unique crest. Any particularly awesome stories of how heraldry is used in your games? Let us know in the comments below!

Categories: 4e, DnD, Lore, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , ,

Homebrew Tip – Wiki as Campaign Tracker

November 10, 2011 4 comments

Wikis. You may have heard of them.

Wikis can be a powerful tool in your RPG toolbox. With our recently completed dwarven campaign, we used Google groups to help schedule gaming sessions, provide a little history, post summaries of sessions and segues between adventures. It provided a rich database of NPCs and backstories for the DM to draw from to make a great adventure for next session.

Then Google changed things; as is their wont. In the process, they took away a feature of Google groups called “pages” where we had stored a lot of info that wasn’t emailed to us in digest form the way our discussions were. Google claimed you would be able to download that info until a certain date, and if you had trouble to contact support. Well, we always got an error message when we tried to download info, and support from Google was non-existent despite several members trying to make contact several times.

Good luck with that

So this time we’re starting a wiki. We started with a general page about the campaign, then added character pages with descriptions and maybe a picture that inspired the character. As the story unfolds we can add session summaries, as well as pages for recurring enemies or NPCs. Hopefully it will be an even better resource than our Google group was. Also, some of us have iPhones, or iPads that could access that info on the fly, if necessary.

There are some potential problems that could come up. Some of the members in our group use technology and online resources more than others, and one currently doesn’t have high-speed internet access. This could limit how accurate the wiki is as a representation of the group as a whole. We’ll have to see how it goes in our great wiki experiment.

You can get your own wiki at wikispaces or wikidot.

Categories: 4e, DnD, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , ,

A New Beginning – Forget About XP

November 8, 2011 5 comments


With our dwarven campaign completed, it was time to decide what to do next. As the previous campaign was winding down we discussed a number of themes as a group, and settled on a Pirate Campaign. For our next big story arch, we changed a few little things, and one big one.

One thing which I’m sure isn’t unique to the guys of Skyland Games, but may be a bit rare in gaming groups, is that we *all* enjoy DMing. With the dwarves we got together every two weeks, and there was a different DM running a different module for every session. For this campaign we’re going to modify that a bit. Since we are going to be pirates we are going to use islands rather than modules, and have the DM run as many sessions as it takes to get off that island. This will help cut down on marathon game nights, when a particular combat runs long, or there is just one too many skill challenges, and we all start getting too tired to really enjoy the effort the DM has put in to preparing that week’s game. This time, when we are at a good stopping point, we can just call it, and carry on next week until we complete the chapter.

Last campaign felt a little schizophrenic in the beginning. With a different DM each week, and working with a mix of LFR mods and home-brew adventures, it was difficult to construct a true story arch. Once we got close to the end, a few of us put our heads together and came up with a conclusion that tied up a lot of the loose ends, but we didn’t know where we were going until we were about half way there. This time we are providing a rough outline for the whole campaign. Its a bit more relaxed than the 5×5 Method Critical Hits came up with, but I think it will allow for when the party does something unexpected, which of course they will do almost immediately.

What I consider the big leap is this: forget about experience points (XP). Typically your PC gains XP for defeating creatures or completing quests and surmounting obstacles. For this campaign, once the party completes the island, they level. Maybe its the 4e recommended 10 encounters, maybe its a little more or a little less, but once this crew sets sail, they will arrive at their next adventure a little wiser, and a little more powerful.

Have you ever thrown the traditional XP budget to the wind? How do you feel about leveling up when it feels right, as opposed to when the numbers say its right?

There are other questions, as the Epic Llama will point out

Categories: 4e, DnD, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , ,

Combat and Clothespins – DnD 4e Combat Speed Tips

November 3, 2011 14 comments

I know this was the hot topic a few months ago, but Skyland Games didn’t have a blog back then, so you get our 4e combat speed tips now. @slyflourish had mentioned on twitter that removing the DM screen can really open up the table and give you a better view as to what is going on. I tweeted back that I had been rolling in the monster vault box and tracking initiative with clothespins. He requested some pictures of the clothespins system, and I figured I would turn it in to a full-blown post.

"Tap" a pin on that person's turn

Tracking initiative with clothespins helps speed up 4e  combat (really any RPG with init) in a few ways. The biggest advantage is that if clipped along the top of the DM screen or edge of a rolling box, the entire table can see the play order, and can plan their turn accordingly. Once a player has had their turn, the DM taps the clothes pin to one side or the other to show the entire table where we are in the round at a glance. This is also a great cue for the DM to announce its the next person’s turn, and keep combat moving at a brisk pace.

Another great advantage to using clothespins is when a character (or monster) chooses to delay. Once the player announces they are going to delay, the DM just takes their clip off and puts it on the end. I usually try to put it at a different height to remind myself the character is delaying. When they “un-delay” you just drop their clip in the order whenever they act.

The biggest advantage I’ve found using the clothespins system as a player is planning my turn while the another player is up. This became most important as a controller when trying to judge whether you’ll have the right position to pull off that sweet Area of Effect daily that’s burning a hole on your character sheet. You can also request the striker delay until you can set him up for combat advantage.

If a PC delays, you can set their clip aside

Having that visual aide of the initiative order can also have more subtle advantages to speeding up gameplay. As a player, you need to know whether you’ve got time for a bathroom break, or to grab a drink from the fridge; check the initiative order and either plan out your next awesome turn, or take care of whatever you need to and jump back in to the action closer to your pin. No more waiting on players for the little things!

We write our actual names on them, as we play multiple systems with multiple different characters, but clothespins are cheap so you could write the PC’s name on them to help everyone remember the names of their fellow party members. For multiple types of monsters going on different initiatives, we typically use Roman numerals to indicate the different groups. The DM can just make a note next to the stat block of which number pertains to what creature.

There are a ton of great combat speed tips out there, but I felt this is one more that tables could really benefit from. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Scott is angry at the Fire Giant

Categories: 4e, DnD, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , , ,