Monthly Archives: May 2016

How to Use The Awesome Story Telling Technique

I have a special opportunity coming tonight just for Roleplaying Tips Patrons (you can become a Patron here).

I’m starting up an epic, weekly online campaign for just 6 players.

I’m taking three of my all-time favourite mega-modules and converting them to 5E. Then we’ll tell some incredible stories together every Wednesday evening.

To ensure everyone has fun, and to help Patrons decide if the campaign style is for them, I created a campaign guidelines video.

And I thought you might be interested in what I put in the video and the tool I used to figure out what guidelines to add to help everyone be on the same page at campaign start.

You might use this tool too for your next campaign.

D&D 5E Campaign Session 8

We had another great game last Friday. I missed an obvious group choice I should have anticipated, so I had to do a lot of thinking on my feet.

Last session, the mercenary PCs had just defeated a Dragon Cult cell in a ruined town, while surviving a green dragon attack. The group decides to go the long way back to their town of Phandelver (I thought they’d take the direct route through the forest, lol.)

Just before hitting the road, the group releases the cult member they were holding prisoner. Then Reidoth the local druid appears. He needs Roscoe to help him find “an escaped pet.” This was an easy way to remove the character of an absent player for the session.

ANOTHER NEW PLAYER JOINS

Reidoth also introduced the group to Luther Goldhand, a servant of a “mutual friend.” Luther joins the party, and we welcome a new player to the group!

So to recap, as the group has had member changes recently due to schedule conflicts, we have:

Six the wizard who seeks his past
Malchor the fighter who wants one more big haul before retiring
Kriv the barbarian who serves his wise forest master
Belenos the cleric/monk who seeks redemption
Roscoe the rogue who yearns to have his unicorn tattoo removed
Luther the warlock who champions the Queen of Air and Darkness
The PCs head up river to the Conyberry trail. Along the way they see a new totem has been built at the site of the alligator attack. The party muses over what the totem’s purpose is before destroying it.

GOBLIN LAIR

A couple of days later they spot goblin headbands and crossbow bolts in the bush beside the trail. The group quickly detects it’s a ruse and that the creatures are actually a ways further up the trail waiting in ambush. Just as the party attacks, the green dragon they encountered back at the ruined down flies down the trail and strafes Belenos and Kriv. Both mercenaries go down. The goblin fight suddenly becomes challenging!

Then the dragon comes back and deposits the last few days’ meals on the unconscious forms of the cleric and barbarian. There’s evidence the dragon has been dining on the Cult of the Dragon members the party slew. Ewww.

The wyrm flies off then, and the goblins are on their own. A quick fight ensues, and after cleaning themselves off the characters decide to follow the creatures’ trail back to their lair. This turns out to be caves in a small hill.

Six casts a spell to make it sound like an angry cave bear is outside the entrance, ready to eat any goblins who emerge. Luther, Malchor, and others take out goblins guarding the rear exit. then the whole party rushes into the caves.

Unfortunately, during the battle, the party had successfully surprised the goblins. But I had the creatures running towards the rear exit to greet the PCs. This was a GM Time Bomb, as the goblins should’ve been surprised. Grrrr.

So we retcon’d the current round, and instead the PCs found the goblins heading towards the front of their lair to check out the bear. The battle ended quickly, with 20 goblin lives lost, and the group continued on their way.

A DISTURBING GAME

Several days later, Six’s owl familiar spots a trio of men playing cards in the middle of the Triboar trail. The group creeps up, only to discover it’s the old farmer and his two sons the party had robbed on this spot a week ago.

However, the men have daggers in their backs and are actually dead. There’s a spider symbol drawn in the dirt in the center of the grisly card game.

A couple of sessions ago, after the group had robbed the farmers, they encountered goblins. After the fight, Malchor arranged a few of the dead gobbos in a mock card game in the middle of the road.

Belenos gives the victims last rites, and the group concludes the farmers are a message sent by the Black Spider, a warning. Startled by this, the PCs travel on, warily watching the trail for Black Spider dangers.

BACK HOME

We finally make it back to Phandalin. Many changes have happened in the two weeks the PCs have been travelling, the biggest being a large caravan calling themselves the Blue Diamond Traders has arrived and is constructing a permanent home for themselves outside of town.

Six and Belenos go to spy on these newcomers. Luther, Malchor, and Kriv head to the Lionshield Coster to cash in all the goblin weapons and armour they’ve looted. The coster says they’ll give them a fair rate but they only want to buy 1/3 of the PCs’ inventory.

The PCs decide to go to management. That’s Linene Greywind, who’s also the new Mayor of Phandalin. (The PCs helped “Create” that vacancy by disposing of the old Mayor during a robbery gone wrong weeks ago.)

Linene has a long line of petitioners at her door. Miners wanting deeds and permits, residents with complaints, people with petty needs. When the PCs enter she welcomes them with relief and has an ale with them out back. The abandoned petitioners start to get unruly about this, but some merry tunes and soothing words from Luther calms them down.

On the porch, the characters negotiate a private arms deal with Linene. She does not say why she wants all the arms and armour, but the PCs are just happy to have a buyer to take the equipment off their hands.

The party reunites, debriefs, and splits up again.

THE BROKEN DEAL

Kriv takes his share of the loot, buys a chest, and buries it outside town. Belenos quests for healing potions to purchase. Six resumes spying on the Blue Diamond. He detects several magical auras around their camp!

Malchor and Luther go speak with the head of the Blue Diamond, a Khemed Mostana. The leader offers a higher prices for the goblin equipment than Linene, and the PCs sell to him instead!

We end the session there, with the group agreeing they’re headed straight to Cragmaw Castle in the morning.

It’ll be interesting to see what Linene does about the broken deal. Plus, the party is quite suspicious of the Blue Diamond, and with magic detected, I fear the merchants now top the Murder Hobo list of targets for the party.

Know More About War, winning Missions

HOW TO SEND THE PARTY ON DECISIVE MISSIONS THAT TURN THE TIDE OF WAR

Ever struggle with how your PCs can make a difference in war campaigns while the battle rages on all around them? I have the solution for you today: make them war heroes. Send your party on elite strike force missions to turn the tide of war.

First, figure out the current state of the war. Then send the party on three specific War-Winning Missions. The party strikes at the missions’ critical targets and influences the war’s direction – but whether that’s towards victory or defeat is up to you to play out.

What is the Current War State?

Is the PCs’ side currently winning or losing the war? If you’re unclear on how they sympathize, ask them. It might also be a stalemate, neither side budging or gaining ground. In this case, ask which side the party would most like to help.

Why is identifying the current war state important?

Sets the tone of epic warfare as the central theme – a bigger-than-the-party event
Gives the PCs a feeling of agency when they go on specific war tide-changing missions
Identifies the number of critical missions needed for the party to change the tide of war
Each war state has a different feel in the larger scale of war. A number of major battles remain in the background (i.e., the PCs don’t participate in mass combat), but the specific number of war tide-turning objectives for the PC party is determined by war state.

There are three current war states:

Winning
Stalemate
Losing
In a winning war state, the war is nearing a positive conclusion for the side the party supports. On a larger scale one or few major battles remain. From the party’s perspective, completing one critical mission will deal a final blow to the opposition and end the war in victory.

In victory, you may decide to fittingly end your war campaign. You could also have time pass to introduce a new war. A new world order shaped by the party is in place, setting the stage for new conflicts.

In a stalemate, the war hangs in the balance. Neither side has managed to make headway towards victory. Both sides have won and lost a similar number of major battles. The party has more work to do to swing the war to their side’s advantage, and must successfully undertake two critical missions to first move into a winning war state and then win the war.

Finally, a losing war state means the party’s side has taken heavy losses in several major battles and is on the brink of losing the war. The party has its work cut out for it and must complete three critical missions to swing the war back in their side’s favor, moving into the stalemate and winning states before finally achieving victory in a third and final mission. Mission failure while in the losing war state means the war does end – but with the PCs and their side as the losers. And this particular new world order might not be to their liking.

In defeat, you decide whether to end your war campaign. However, an opportunity to rise up and fight again after some months or years have passed is powerful motivation for the party. May they be victorious in the next war!

What are the Party’s War Missions?

Decide what war missions the party will go on. One excellent way to do this is to have a notable allied NPC (e.g., a key officer or influential noble) suggest or assign missions to the party.

Wars are won when the party captures or eliminates mission critical targets. There are up to three critical war missions your PC party must undertake to achieve victory. The total number depends on the current war state:

War State # of Missions for Victory
Winning 1
Stalemate 2
Losing 3
These tide-turning missions feature notable NPCs, essential supplies, and strategic locations. Skim through your notes or the adventure and identify the names and locations of these in your adventure or campaign. For each mission, provide the party with at least one option in dealing with the critical target:

CRITICAL TARGET: ELIMINATE NPC

capture or kill
CRITICAL TARGET: DISRUPT SUPPLIES

cut off or seize
CRITICAL TARGET: CAPTURE STRATEGIC LOCATION

control or destroy
In the Eliminate NPC mission, the party must capture or kill a major enemy persona in the war. Choose an NPC leader in the war efforts, on the battlefield, or in financial circles. These influential people motivate soldiers and sympathizers, sustaining war efforts for days, months or years. Removing this person from the war turns the tide, a stroke that earns the party great recognition and respect.

For example, a soldier of rank (an officer such as a major) is an excellent critical target for the party to locate and capture or eliminate. Alternatively, a wealthy noble or merchant who provides the enemy side with soldiers from her private army is a fine target.

In the Disrupt Supplies mission, the party must cut off or seize a major shipment of supplies for the enemy army. Wars are expensive, and feeding large armies so they have the strength to fight is its greatest expense. Thus, disrupting supplies deals a crippling blow to an army’s ability to fight well while dealing a major financial loss to the enemy side as well. Choose major cities or organizations to receive or hold these supplies.

For example, have the party intercept a major caravan or travel to a large supply store. The party prevents the caravan from making a timely delivery to a large army or seizes the supplies for their side’s armies.

In the Capture Strategic Location mission, the party takes control of or destroys an important location that serves as an excellent defensive base or similar bottleneck. Enemies are funneled or limited in effectiveness in this environment. The location greatly enhances the ability of the controlling side’s ability to fight. The strategic location essentially counts as an army by itself.

For example, choose castles with high walls, mountain passes, a plateau or valley, or towers built into mountains. The party must infiltrate and take over or tear down these strategic locations.

Discretion and Isolation are Key

The party doesn’t need a whole army at its back to achieve mission objectives. Major battles are background flavor or serve as distractions for the party’s missions. Remember, the party is a small, elite strike force. This tight-knit group has special skills beyond the rank and file that swing the pendulum of war.

For strike forces to achieve their objectives, discretion and target isolation are key. Like any special strike force (or adventuring party), they are typically smart, quick, and quiet. If they must fight, they do so briefly and decisively.

If the party is detected, raises an alarm, or simply breaks down the door at every turn, mission failure is the result. The party is overwhelmed, captured, or killed, and the war tide moves at least one step in an unfavorable direction. For example, a stalemate war state shifts to a losing one when the party fails to capture or execute an enemy war hero.

Test Your Might

Here is an example war scenario, described in the journal writings of Kreel, a soldier in the Queen’s army. Read the journal entry and answer two questions:

Can you identify the current war state?
What critical mission(s) might the PC party undertake to achieve victory for the soldier’s side?
Your example missions must include at least one campaign-specific named person, location, or item from Kreel’s journal entry. My answers are posted below the journal excerpt.

KREEL’S JOURNAL EXCERPT: A WAR STORY

“The Nine Lives War has been brutal, and its battles only grow more costly as winter coats these crimson lands in ice and snow.

Far to the north, we won the Battle of Tor’Laen Tower somehow, though their champion, Vrolg the half-dragon, managed to survive and withdraw to his nearby allied airship fleet. Those gnome fools should be helping us, not them!

Still, victories have been few on both sides. After all, we lost Tor’Laen’s sister tower – Ur’Mahr – across the valley a month prior. Now only a handful of enemy soldiers and the ghosts of the drowned haunt it.

And here we are now just a week later defending Giants’ Pass with the southern army with all our sapping strength. Where are those supplies from the merchant-city of Logdrin? The snowfall must be delaying them.

Still, the enemy hasn’t breached any of our southern mountain fortresses or passes yet, just as we have yet to take any of their nearby walled cities.

Gods, I grow tired and hungry, and miss my wife and little ones dearly. Perhaps what we do here at the Battle of Giants’ Pass will finally push The Nine Lives War forward – one way or the other.”

MY ANSWERS

The current war state is stalemate. Victories have been rare on both sides, and Kreel finishes by suggesting the battle he’s about to fight might finally move the needle on who is winning the war.

Little does he know a small band of adventurers is about to do just that! A stalemate war state means the PC party must undertake any two of the critical war missions to achieve victory for their side in the war.

EXAMPLE 1: CRITICAL TARGET: ELIMINATE VROLG

The half-dragon currently hiding out on a gnomish airship is a key enemy war figure: he is a “champion” who survived the Battle of Tor’Laen Tower.

EXAMPLE 2: CRITICAL TARGET: DISRUPT LOGDRIN’S SUPPLIES TO GIANTS’ PASS

The merchant-city of Logdrin sent needed supplies to Kreel’s forces at Giants’ Pass, but they’re late because of the snowfall.

EXAMPLE 3: CRITICAL TARGET: RE-CAPTURE UR’MAHR TOWER

The Tor’Laen and Ur’Mahr towers are described as significant battle locations. A skeleton army – and apparently actual undead, too – now guard the place. A perfect place for the PC party to infiltrate and clear out!

Did you come up with different critical war missions for the party? Why did you choose them? Let us know.

A Few Good Adventurers

You’re now ready to send your parties to war. You’ve learned how to identify a war’s current state and how to GM critical war missions that turn the tide of war – towards victory.

Know More About Monsters Under The Skin

Another Milestone

It takes at least a year to write, edit, markup, and publish to reach 50 issues, and so RPT#650 means another great milestone, another year of having more fun at every game.

It’s also a “monster” of an issue with that topic being the theme of #650 and the contest kicking off today.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the changes in the past few months wrought to the ezine. Thanks to generous Patrons, I have not missed publishing an issue in months.

Also, small ongoing tweaks to the layout and format have hopefully made the newsletter easier to read on mobile devices and bigger screens.

And I feel the GM advice quality levelled-up thanks to the talented regular columnists who now fill your inbox each week with new GM tools, techniques, and tips: Christopher Sniezak, Jesse C Cohoon, John Large, Phil Nicholls, Tony Medeiros. Plus guest writers, and of course, you and other readers who share your tips, experience, and expertise with me and RPT subscribers worldwide.

Thanks for a wonderful 650 issues. Game mastering is a never-ending quest for improvement. For being a better roleplayer and storyteller. For crafting better NPCs, encounters, and adventures. For building better worlds and magical gaming moments. Hopefully Roleplaying Tips has helped you on that quest. Please grab a die and roll a toast for another 650 Roleplaying Tips issues!

Murder Hobos 11 – Near TPK in a Hole

Foes are getting smarter as factions and escapees come at the PCs for revenge. Last session saw one big combat with minions of the campaign’s first villain. I normally don’t like a session to be 75% taken up with a single fight, but this one came down to two wounded spellcasters standing over their fallen comrades trying to save the entire party from driders and an angry ankheg mother.

The session started with the PCs doing last-minute preparations before heading to their enemy’s base at Cragmaw Castle.

The wizard Six spied on the strangers setting up a compound just outside of town – the Blue Diamond Trading Coster. All prior attempts to glean information about these people failed. It seems like they just appeared out of nowhere, with no past, and a too good to be true agenda. So Six hunkered down throughout the night and used Detect Thoughts to read sleeping minds and steal dreams.

Alas, the guards dreamt of mundane things and gave no clue as to the faction’s intentions in Phandelver. However, the wizard did glean enough personal details about the NPCs – at his player’s request – to aid future impersonation attempts with his Disguise Self spell. Well played!

AMBUSH ON THE TRIBOAR

Early morning the party heads out again on the Triboar Trail, murder and mayhem in their hearts. Their progress is halted, however, by large spider webs blocking the road. Strands as thick as the barbarian’s neck, and webs as tall as the lute-player’s tales. The PCs disperse and try to walk around the sticky obstacle, but that triggers the drider ambush. The half-spider, half-drow abominations fire their poisoned arrows and then retreat down freshly-dug holes in the forest floor.

The Murder Hobos think about just running away. But the sudden presence of VenomFang circling overhead yet again drives them into the ground. (VenomFang is a green dragon whose Dragon Cult followers the PCs murdered weeks ago. Since that event, the dragon has been menacing and strafing the PCs at every opportunity.)

The party pursues the driders, tentatively at first, then headlong from impatience. The barbarian and fighter climb into the holes and discover earthen passages leading into darkness. They proceed carefully, followed by Belenos the monk. The driders fire more arrows and retreat repeatedly, drawing the characters deeper into the tunnels.

Suddenly, the PCs round a corner and understand the Spider’s trap. The mother ankheg that escaped the party’s clutches days ago has laired here, and the drow have lead them straight to her nest, with a pair of recent hatchlings to guard her. Now the PCs are in dire straights, flanked by driders and ankhegs underground, while the remaining party members hide from VenomFang above.

Down goes the barbarian. Down goes the fighter. Belenos heals his friends frantically, but the enemies are too strong. The warriors go down again.

LUTHER’S LUCK DAY

Meanwhile, Luther the warlock creeps up to one of the holes. He peers cautiously down while staying hidden from the wyrm circling above. He can hear his comrades’ cries for help, and decides to chance the climb down. Unfortunately, the warlock’s grip slips and the caster plummets 40 feet. Though the wet earth cushions his fall, the warlock is seriously injured. Stumbling into the dark tunnel, following the screams of his dying friends, he soon confronts the drider versus ankheg versus Murder Hobo battle.

Then Belenos falls. Six joins Luther, and now it’s just the two casters versus monster mayhem.

Out of desperation, the warlock beseeches his patron, the Queen of Air and Darkness and ruler of the fey winter court. I ask Luther’s player to roll d100 to summon deity and he rolls a 02!

Blessed by the dice.

The Queen whispers in Luther’s ear his plea has been rewarded. I let the player know he can choose any 5th level spell to cast one-time right now. Luther picks his spell and unleashes it, paralyzing the remaining drider so the warlock and wizard can drag fallen party members around the corner to safety.

Unfortunately, moments later the drider overcomes the magic hold and starts to pursue his enemies. But mother ankheg, enraged at the interlopers in her nest, lashes out at everything as she crashes through the tunnels. This buys the PCs more time to heal and recover.

Finally, with sword arms and spells, the driders are brought low. One drider escapes out the hole and the party also retreats. Mother ankheg drags a dead drider back to her nest and starts feasting. The group withdraws back to the surface.

VenomFang is delighted by this. Still circling the skies, he swoops down and pursues…the fleeing drider. The PCs lose sight of the dragon and then hear a brief combat take place deeper in the forest. Then the wyrmling takes flight again and sails away.

The group finds a defensible location nearby and takes a long rest.

THE HAG

Our Murder Hobos resume their journey the next day. But another encounter stalls progress.

A trio of people sit in the middle of the trail, playing poker. Malchor has seen this before. He strides forward, thinking it another warning from the Spider. As he approaches though, one of the card players turns his head 180 degrees to face the fighter, neck twisting and breaking while body remains still, and says in a low, grinding voice, “Maaaaaaaalchoooooooooorrrrrrrrr.”

This brings everyone to a halt. Then a beautiful maiden appears behind the party and greets them. She dismisses the illusory card players and tells Luther the Queen of Air & Darkness has need of him. As thanks for her aid the day before, she demands Luther return to the stone circle the PCs discovered awhile ago and repair it. All Luther needs to do is ring an iron sword against each stone on the next Winter Solstice.

Easy peasy.

Luther agrees and the maiden starts to withdraw. But as she does, her appearance changes to that of a horrible green hag, and she stares at the fighter and says, “Maaaaaaaalchoooooooooorrrrrrrrr.”

Tips to Use Meddling Gods to Make Life Very Interseting For Players

lkaMythic Gods & Monsters Guide Coming Soon

Today’s tips celebrate a new guidebook I’m putting out soon for you called Mythic Gods & Monsters. You’ve seen excerpts in recent issues with the Mythic God Generator and Mythic Monster Generator.

I wanted a quick and easy way to create gods for the new sword & sorcery world I’m building, and to populate it with new, unique monsters that have great backstories. Thus, the Mythic Gods & Monsters Guide was born.

I’ll be sending you an email about how to purchase the guide in the next couple of days. Keep an eye out for it in your inbox.

Phandelver Campaign Reaches Climax

What do you do when you’re the last man standing, bleeding and nearly out of spells, and a floating green skull gives you a do-or-die one-time offer? That’s what happened to the Murder Hobos last night. Let’s find out what they decided to do.

I’ve GM’d two sessions of my Murder Hobos 5E campaign since you and I talked last. The PCs have been working through the introductory adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, since 5E was released. And I’ve added my own sandbox elements, factions, and quests to the campaign.

Session One had the characters hired to bring mining supplies to the town of Phandalin for the dwarven Rockseeker Brothers. But just outside town the party discovered the Rockseekers had been kidnapped by the adventure’s villain, the Spider.

From that session onward, the party has been cursed by a god, stalked by a green dragon, harassed by goblins, and assaulted by drunken miners. It’s been a tough slog to finally trap the Spider in his lair at Wave Echo Cave, but the PCs have done it.

And so sessions 13 and 14 have been a dungeon crawl. The party triggered traps, fought undead dwarven miners who used to call Wave Echo Cave home, and spelunked their way to the penultimate encounter with a flaming skull named Mormesk and his ghast and zombie horde.

The battle against Mormesk starts simple enough. The barbarian recklessly attacks a pair of ochre jellies. But then dead miners in a gully nearby get up and join as a second wave. The party steps things up but maintains the upper hand. It isn’t until Mormesk and his wights charge in as wave three that PCs start to go down.

Ghasts paralyze victims for a minute. Mormesk the floating green skull divides them into squads and deploys them for maximum carnage. Meantime, he casts fireballs to soften the party up.

Malcor the fighter goes down and starts to bleed out. Then the barbarian. Then the druid. It’s just Six the wizard left, and his big spells are spent. Looks like a TPK in Johnn’s wife’s basement!

But then Mormesk demands Six to surrender. He then says he’ll let the Murder Hobos go if they agree to storm the Temple of Demothoin deeper in the dungeon where Mormesk’s hated enemy lives. If the party tracks down and attacks Nezznar the Spider, Mormesk will call off his “sweeties” and let the PCs go.

Six agrees and starts handing out healing potions. Soon the party is ready to go, though they are still battered and bruised.

Using a map drawn by a ghast, the party tromps through caves and tunnels until they spy a group of bugbears ahead. As per Mormesk’s information, they creatures must be the Spider’s advance guard keeping an eye on the main tunnel to the temple.

A fireball takes care of the poor bugbears, and the Hobos charge into Demothoin’s shrine. There the party is just in time to see Spider go invisible while a drow rogue and a long-hated enemy Glasstaff run behind a statue and open a secret door. The only one left in the room is Roscoe, the party’s rogue who was captured at the beginning of the session (due to the player being absent), who is tied and gagged in a corner.

The Hobos chase after their enemy down a long tunnel. The clever wizard stays behind, casts See invisibility, scans the temple, and spots Spider in the corner holding a knife to Roscoe’s neck.

Mayhem ensues. Glasstaff eventually drops. Then the Spider goes down. Six catches up to the female drow in the tunnel with magically enhanced speed. Then, at last, the drow goes down. The party is victorious!

Something weird happens, though. As Six catches his breath, the dead drow changes shape. She turns into Six! Then the ghost of Six floats through the wall. It’s Six, Six, Six! This triggers memories locked away until now by the traumatized wizard. Six remembers being part of an experiment. He was being cloned, used as the template. He was part of an evil program to create dopplegangers.

As the wizard reels from these revelations, the ghost of Six moans, “Break the chain, break the chain!” and fades back into the wall. Six flees. The party rests.