As some of you know, I’m back in the hospital for an MS flare up. Not fun. That said, I got bored last night and began running Baba Yaga with a group consisting of a couple of people I know in person and two of my Discord internet friends via voice chat on Discord. This is not so much about the game itself as it is about the players.
IT WAS AWESOME!
First off, my players got along great, which is a real treat for me as a DM. Secondly, they did very well, especially drawing in the one player that was pretty shy at first. He really seemed to get into it.
I’ll be referring to folks by their first name or User name as I know them.
Firstly is one of my longest known internet friends, Christober. He changes his username often enough that I generally call him by his character name from our Sunday night game, Elren. I’ve told some stories about him (the one about his pet tarantula, Benjamin).
Next is Legion. He and I became friends on a Discord server where we are both admins. It’s called Arryn, and everyone should join/check it out. It’s a great community run by a guy named Gobfish and his right hand Byproduct. They are all about the gaming and D&D and other such comments. In any case, Legion has become a buddy of mine and now plays in the same game as Elren since we were down a player. He’d apparently heard good things about my campaigns and wanted to join.
Next is Joe. When I met him, he was a highschooler who joined my first ever Adventurers League group as my second DM. He’s a wonderful DM and I was lucky to have him. He was a DM in the highschool Game Club in Nebraska where we used to live. He’s a college student now, and he plays mostly by internet if I’m not mistaken. Joe is a gentleman and a scholar and I am proud to mentor him, be it at the table or over life itself. He has become a great friend over time.
Lastly, but not least, is Ethan, Joe’s boyfriend. I’ve only become acquainted with him recently, but he seems like a sweet guy. He was my shy player…at first. Then he really got into playing. He seemed amused at the first time he played with my Thursday Humblewood group, and they TPK’d their first session. Long story, but it began with “Okay guys, let’s split up to explore this abandoned town…Ooh, look! Shiny!” Hilarity ensued. We are rebooting said campaign this Thursday if I can. Really depends on where I am, be it here in the hospital (not likely), at home (slightly more likely), or a physical rehab facility (more likely). If I’m at the rehab facility, I’m not sure of the internet situation, so playing may not be a thing.
That was my group. As Elren/Christober and Legion are part of my Sunday evening, post League group (which has moved totally online due to a positive Covid-19 case at the store where we play), they will be back to back games, and we are looking at having Joe and Ethan join us for continuing this ad hoc game one-shot tonight, if the rest of the group is up for it, then continuing our other game after this is done. I suspect it will be a lot of fun.
I hope everyone enjoyed this player profile! Join us tomorrow for my summary of my Sunday game, and Tuesday for…something else. Not sure what I’ll have that day since I can’t have my miniature painting stuff. I guess it depends on where I am and what I can actually do.
I have some pretty amazing players in my weekly game.
I admit that I was more than a little nervous at first. This started out as a pick-up game at my local for Adventurer’s League. With one exception, I didn’t know them, or even know anything about them, and vice-versa. Would we mesh well? Would they get along with each other? Did they prefer a beer-and-pretzel-type game or something more serious?
It has all worked out beautifully so far. Lots of surprises and lots of laughs. Privately, I’ve started calling them The Zigs because they definitely tend to zig when I plan on them zagging.
So…here’s the Zigs in all their glory:
“17” – A Goblin Totem Barbarian who is turning out to be the most “moral” of the group.
Guy Blankenship – A Human Battlemaster Archer who is perpetually on the hunt for glory and fame.
Kylor – A Tabaxi Gloomstalker Ranger-Archer who has a serious dislike of humans and a penchant for removing the eyes of his enemies.
Mordren – A Human Hunter Ranger two-weapon whirlwind of death with a disturbingly pragmatic moral code.
Winzu – A Ghostwise Halfling Moon Druid who is a hair’s breadth away from going feral.
I started them out in Saltmarsh because I wanted to get a few weeks into the Rime of the Frostmaiden game I’m playing in before I moved them north to Ten Towns. They discovered a strange alliance between the local lizardfolk and a band of pirates where the lizardfolk were attacking the outlying farms and villages, taking captives, and selling the people to the pirate-slavers in exchange for better weapons.
Being the intrepid heroes that they are, the Zigs stepped up and took the fight to the lizardfolk and had some good success initially over the course of a few games. Saltmarsh’s leaders are starting to include them in plans and seek the Zig’s counsel. Their growing reputation amongst the people of Saltmarsh means they’re living the high life; they can’t pay for a meal, a room, or a drink anywhere in the town. Things are definitely Going Well.
Hey all. I’ve talked about it a couple of times, but today I want to break off from my usual type of posts and talk about the reason I’m posting this mostly using voice to text, and even that is difficult…
So, as I have said before, I have Multiple Sclerosis. More specifically, I have Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. What does this mean?
Well, imagine your fuse box. Now imagine that a chunk of the wires are frayed. Now imagine that your house is your body, and the fuse box is your brain and that the frayed wires are your nerves. Yeah, not too fun.
What’s specifically going on? My immune system is attacking the myelin coating on my nerves in my brain and brain stem. Then chaos ensues for me.
In my body, this signal disruption appears as my left side going numb. Sometimes all of it, sometimes parts that become numb then radiate outwards. Like this time, for example. This time, it’s my left hand, and it’s spread to my left arm. My first major episode was my left shoulder and arm and spread throughout my left side. Pretty screwy.
Additionally, mine comes with partial or full paralysis (no pattern or rhyme as to when it will come with one or another), painful back spasms (called muscle spasticity), a weird blind spot in my right eye (controlled by left side of brain), and facial numbness on about 60-70% of the right side of my face (relatively new). I also have balance issues with walking (thus my powered wheelchair, or at minimum, my cane), depression (this one is pretty bad and messes with my military service induced PTSD in a way that REALLY screws with me) and cognitive issues, where I get confused as to where I am, aphasia (problems with word finding or just finding any words when speaking) or dysphasia (same thing, just less severe?), and the FATIGUE.
OH MY GOODNESS, THE FATIGUE!
There are “morning birds”. Then there are “night owls.” I, my Dear Readers, am the “all day exhausted ostrich.”
It’s more than just being “tired.” It’s EXHAUSTED. Imagine taking a nap. Then imagine waking up and you are just as tired. Imagine being so wiped that you have zero energy to do anything. Now imagine it being all the time. It’s pretty intense. The worse part? You can “over do it” to bring on the fatigue worse than normal. Doing too much in too short a time (driving a chunk of the day did it to me more than once) is likely to do it.
Although I mentioned it before, the depression symptom that almost 15% of people get is really bad. I can’t stress that one enough. But you guys help me get through it. You have no idea what kind of joy it brings me to see people reading and following my blog, a labor of love, that I and my partner (yourdorkmaterials) put out.
In any case, that’s been my deal.
And unfortunately, it’s putting me back in the hospital.
You see, when my flare-ups (when my symptoms come back suddenly and I go into full relapse) get to where symptoms don’t go away after more than 3-4 days, I’m having a relapse. When I am having a relapse, it is generally good practice to go to the ER. I sent a secure message to my doctor and that’s what he wants: me to go to the ER.
And since I don’t know the Wi-Fi situation there, I’m not sure what my posting schedule will look like, frankly.
I have worked hard to bring you guys the content that I do. And although I’m going to a Roll20 format for my games (my players are excited, and so am I, for my monthly as well as both weekly games!), I’ll still be able to bring you the awesome content that I have, with the exception of miniature painting updates, as they won’t let me have my mini-painting stuff in the hospital.
I’m not sure what I will be doing for those days. Maybe yourdorkmaterials will be picking up a post, but he’s generally just as busy as I am. Maybe I’ll talk about my hospital visit? Who knows.
On the plus side, I’ll have tons of time to do nothing. On the minus side, the primary treatment for MS in the hospital is a veritable crap-ton of intravenous steroids, and I’m restless as all can be as well as one hungry-hungry hippo (they make you feel like you are starving).
Either way, I’ll be getting you what I can as I can.
On another note, there will not be a post on Thursday, as it’s America’s Thanksgiving Day (a national holiday), and I will hopefully be busy with Thanksgiving activities. They won’t feed me what I actually eat in the hospital so I’m waiting for Thursday to be over and hopefully going first thing on Friday (to the ER, that is).
There should be a post on Friday.
Until next time, Dear Readers…
PS – My Patreon site has a deal going on until the end of the month! Find the link under “Support Us” above!
So, as the title says, I didn’t have a game this past Sunday. The reason? Because I just needed a break. Today, we’re going to talk about DM burnout.
It happens to the best of us: we DM time and time again, likely for multiple games and for multiple days, that stretch into weeks, months, and even years. I’ve played all of three game sessions in the last year, if that tells you something.
Okay, now that you’ve read it, you can see that being the Forever DM, however rewarding has a major drawback: burnout.
So, here are my tips to avoid burnout.
1: Take a Break (like I’m doing this week):
Seriously, take a break. Especially if it’s a weekly game or something, take a week off! I’ve known many a DM that not only DMs every week, but hosts as well (I know this because I’m one of them, at least pre-Covid). A break, like any type of vacation can do wonders for the mind and body of a Dungeon Master.
Think of it like being at work. You go there day after day after day, right? And what happens at the end of the week? You get some sort of day off or weekend or some such to recharge.
What do I use my breaks from being Dungeon Mastering to do? I write. I plan for the campaign. I write adventures. Or, sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly burned out, I don’t do anything related to Dungeons and Dragons or any other sort of tabletop roleplaying game! I actually took a break! I hung out with my kids, particularly my 3-year old in just a special time to play with him. My family is really cool. We watched Hamilton. Awesome production.
You do you. But you do you in a relaxing and recharging sort of way.
2. Have Someone Else DM a One-Shot or Short Adventure/Campaign:
This cannot be stressed enough for the Forever DM: LET SOMEONE ELSE HAVE THE REIGNS AND DM!
I have control issues, okay? Most Dungeon masters that I know have this problem to one degree or another. It is part of the reason, in my humble opinion, why we are good at what we do.
But be willing to give up the reigns and play.
You cannot imagine the relief it can be to be the obnoxious player for once (just kidding! Be a good player!). Be the rules lawyer. Be the model player that you want your players to be.
Try to enjoy yourself with playing, planning your character out, creating that character you thought would be awesome but had to make an NPC instead!
The possibilities for this are endless here.
Here’s the catch: what if none of your players wants to step up and DM to give you a break? Well, pretty easy fix: do step one (above) and find a game while you are taking your break. Find a Discord or Roll20.net game.
Two of my favorite servers on Discord are Arryn or the DnDBeyond servers. Easy to find a game to play in.
Roll20, on the other hand, has a “Join a Game” option, where you can find a game to play. It’s got a customizable search function to find just the right game for you.
3. Change Game Systems and/or Genre:
Okay, now I’m going to say something that may offend some of you. Are you ready? Yes? Okay. Here it goes.
Dungeons and Dragons isn’t the only RPG system or genre out there.
There, I said it.
There are SO many systems and genres out there. To name a few: Runequest, GURPS, Pathfinder, d20 series (Modern, Future, Apocalypse, Past, etc…), Shadowrun, and the list goes on and on and on.
I can remember being disillusioned with D&D. Yeah that happened. Remember that edition we don’t like to talk about? 4th Edition? Yeah, that made me quit playing D&D.
The next game I ran? A Fallout themed d20 Future/Apocalypse game that went swimmingly and turned into a zombie survival game (long story; I’ll tell you all about it some time; I even incorporated The 100 in it). It was one of the best campaigns I have ever run and my players still love to talk about it. In fact, when I moved away from there, they got me a Super Mutant Pop! figure as a parting gift, signed by everyone.
Switching things up a bit can always help alleviate boredom and burnout.
Do you have any tips about avoiding DM burnout? Leave them in the comment section below!
Once again we take a stroll down Amnesia Lane back to the mid-1980’s, and this time the game was Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. For those of you that are unfamiliar, CoC is a cosmic survival horror game based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft; it’s a very fun, very deadly game where you’re really just trying to be the last party member to get eaten by the Thing In The Well or go hopelessly insane from contact with Unfathomable Wisdom Man Was Not Meant to Know.
One of the original members of our group was Bob, and Bob was what we now call A Metagamer of Staggering Proportions. Combat skills aren’t really needed in CoC; it was much more of an investigation game, and most of the monsters you couldn’t actually kill anyway. But, Bob just couldn’t bear to make a character who couldn’t fight.
So, for this game, he decides to roll up an assassin – an Australian assassin at that – who had to flee his homeland because he was wanted in connection with several hits on very high-profile targets (which Bob explains in some detail). He was able to escape because his cover was…? A well-respected archaeologist! (This way he could “justify” having high combat and stealth skills in addition to some actually useful investigation skills). And to top it all off, his name was – I swear to God – Jack Hack, and he always dressed in black (I kid you not).
The party is investigating a small traveling carnival that is filled to the brim with cultists to the Outer Gods, mutants, and alien horrors. The old “People Are Missing, Sheriff!” type story. First trip to Lovecraft Fun-Town, they mainly succeed in alerting every cultist within 5 miles that The Heroes Have Arrived with a series of appallingly bad decisions and tactics like something out of Perry Mason, Mob Lawyer. They’re shaking people down, threatening to torture them with our very own Happy Jack leading the way.
After learning absolutely nothing during their daytime expedition, Jack convinces the party to go back that very night after hours and burgle the place…because he has those skills too, of course. And, of course, all of the Evil Guys are having a little prayer meeting trying to decide what they are going to do about the party. The party finds the Evils…all 40 of them…in the big-top tent. How convenient! They have all gathered together in a nice group that (apparently) makes it easier to arrest them? The players rush in filled with Righteous Fury.
The cultists? They attack them. Folks are mutating. PCs are failing Sanity loss checks left and right. The carnival sharpshooter takes out Matt’s journalist character with a shot to the head. Terry’s character gets pulled down by the Fat Lady and The Dog-Faced Boy (who actually has a dog face with working fangs and everything).
Good Old Jack is in Heaven. He’s blasting away, using his personal arsenal in a running gun battle through the grounds in an attempt to “lure the cultists away”. Eventually, the Carnival’s knife-thrower gets him in the back with a lucky shot, but Praise the Lord here come the cops to save the day, right?
Lots of dead people. Lots of eyewitnesses. Lots of guns on poor Dr. Hack. And he’s a foreigner in 1920’s America. He gets arrested. His picture and information get sent to the British Consulate for identification. Whoops! Special Branch has been looking for Smilin’ Jack for some of those high-profile assassinations Bob so enthusiastically told us about.
Extradited. Hanged. No mo’ Jack Hack the Australian Hit Man/Archaeologist!
Hello Everyone and welcome! Last week we discussed one philosophy behind building encounters. Today, I’d like to talk about some practical mechanics behind implementing those philosophies into a game.
For our purposes here, let’s assume a party of 5 4th level characters: a Goblin Totem Barbarian, a Human Moon Druid, a Human TWF Ranger, a Tabaxi Archer Ranger, and a Human Archer Fighter.
They have unwittingly wandered into a kobold complex, and I want to really challenge the Druid and Barbarian with the very real possibility of death without instantly dooming the rest of the party.
So let’s talk about tips on the mechanics of building encounters in this week’s How To DM!
Don’t Trust the Challenge Ratings (CR): I find CRs only marginally useful because they are a limited tool at best. A creature’s CR just can’t account for things like a party’s use of tactics or spell selection or the effects of terrain. CRs also don’t reflect a party’s ability to capitalize on things you didn’t consider in your design or a mistake in your placement of bad guys. I’ve had groups waltz through “deadly” encounters with barely a scratch only to lose several members to an “easy encounter” later on.
Determine the Total HP of the Party and the Opposition: I always start here because the results can be deceptive. On paper, the party has 142 total HP on paper. However, the barbarian effectively has double his HP due to damage resistances, so that brings the total to 187. The Moon Druid likes the Dire Wolf shape right now. With two Wild Shapes, he can add as much as 74 more HP to the group, so now we’re at a whopping 261 group HP!
Considering that the average kobold has 5 HP…that’s 52 Kobolds just to equal the party’s effective HP in one fight!
Consider the Action Economy: I always compare the party’s action economy to their enemies. The party can put out 7 attacks a round (if the TWF Ranger can use Horde Breaker).
The kobolds? 52. Even if you send them in waves, that’s a lot of Kobolds!
Determine Damage Output: Enemy AC isn’t normally a factor for me; I just calculate maximum damage and assume all attacks hit. Now that equals an average damage of around 50 points a round, but any damage output over 35 points is wasted because Kobolds only have 5 HP each.
But the Kobolds have 52 attacks, at 4 damage each. But Pack Tactics gives each Kobold advantage as long as an ally is within 5’ of the target. That’s potentially 208 average damage a round once the kobolds swarm over them. Even at half that damage rate, the party has maybe 3 rounds before they’re wiped out.
Conclusion? Now we have a clearer picture of what each side brings to the table.
In a straight up fight – with the Kobolds fighting with even minimal brains – the party is doomed to death from the beginning. Mechanically, they really have no way to win.
But, sending them in in waves of 10 is no challenge at all, and waves of 20 will maybe challenge the Druid and Barbarian somewhat with the very real possibility of killing some of the other party members.
So, what can we do with this mess? How do we construct this encounter to be both challenging and fair for all our players?
Come and see us again next week when we talk about Including Victory Conditions into our encounters and how to balance combat with Terrain and Targeting. What tips, tricks and advice do you folks have? Put them in the comments below, so we can all share in the info.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week for another installment on How To DM!
So…everyone, by now, should know that I try to tell these stories objectively; that is, I try to tell the story as it happened and no more. I really can’t do that today…it was too funny and just too bizzare. If my objectivity breaks, well, I apologize…also, I don’t have too many pictures for this one, so my apologies for the mostly text.
When we last left our heroes, they were leaving to find a young woman to be willing to serve Baba Yaga for a period of 2 years (in absolutely grueling work) in exchange for treasure and magic items.
Upon leaving the hut, they found a youngish woman lounging in a chair with sunglasses. Introducing themselves, the woman introduced herself as Tasha…
After some decidedly witty banter, in which Tasha found out that they have the Nether Scrolls, that she refers to Baba Yaga as her “mother,” and that Tasha wanted the Nether Scrolls, the party parted ways, feeling more than a little uneasy.
With that, the party headed to Waterdeep.
They decided that an orphan who wished to “change their stars” would be their best bet, and visited their own adopted orphans (whom they immediately discounted) to get a lead. Finding out that there was an orphanage in town, the party left for that location, led by Squiddly, one of their own former orphans.
Finding that Alanna was the oldest orphan and having not been adopted due to her older age (17), they immediately decided she was the one. After doing the adoption paperwork and paying the city fee, the party took her out for food and clothes shopping while explaining to her that she would be staying with a “friend” and that, in exchange for two years of work, she would be rewarded with near unimaginable treasures. She agreed.
On the way back to the hut, the party was accosted by 5 mind flayers surrounding them in a glade. The leader, whichever it was, demanded the scrolls as “Iouloum and Uosbinoss wants them.” Recognizing these names as the names of two of the arcanists of Netheril that were named in the cache inscriptions, the party denied their request, and the mind flayers proceeded to all mind blast the party. A pitched battle ensued, but after all was done, the party stood victorious and Alanna surviving (barely). After healing Alanna, the party continued.
Arriving at the hut, the party looked for Tasha, and not finding her knocked on the hot door. Getting no answer, the party headed inside, quickly realizing that they were going to have to locate Baba Yaga themselves.They went through the ways they had already known until they came to the room they affectionately called the tea room (the laboratory). One of the party noticed something on the back of the door, a symbol of fear. Everyone but one of the party failed their save and they ran across the room and down a set of spiral stairs. The one person who made their save quickly followed suit.After a good minute of running, the party found themselves in some sort of mechanical works. In the mechanical works, the party dodged and ducked and dove out of the way of pistons and bursts of scalding steam littering the room at uneven intervals. The bloodhunter/rogue, however, found a bronze door inset into the floor.unable to get to it, the party looked around the room and found two additional rooms, which appeared, upon inspection, to contain buttons and dials for controlling the pistons and the steam vents.
After much trial and error, the artificer figured out how to turn off all of the events and the pistons.The party carefully approached the bronze door and knocked a pattern on it which opened it into a room full of cabinets, where the gravity was reversed in the room so that they were coming up through the floor although they were going down through the floor in the room they were currently in.Inside the room, they found a cabinet after cabinet with, apparently, stuffed animals put inside of dioramas of their natural habitats.Seeing a hallway bisect to the room, the party looked and saw to their left, a gold door, into the right, a bronze door.
Deciding to try the bronze door, as well as the pattern that they have had success with regarding bronze doors, the party opened it. What the party saw confused them: a 20 ft by 20 ft room with a door on each wall centered. Each door was bronze. Party members tried to go in one at a time, and seen by the party members remaining outside. Each party member seemed unable to bump into another but each one seemed to be seeing a different thing and unaware of one another or those still outside the room. After a lot of trial and error, the party members managed to get a door to appear for each of them.
The party members each walked through their door, with some members being reunited, while others were separated. The sorceress, Alanna, The gnome wizard, and the dwarven spicy cleric all found themselves back inside the room with the cabinets and dioramas. The paladin found himself inside what appeared to be a strange armory. The rogue/blood hunter and artificer found themselves in a strange room with cabinets.
The artificer, deciding that enough was enough, decided to make a mess of the contents of the cabinets in order to summon Baba Yaga. He and the bloodhunter/rogue were unfortunate in getting her attention, being transported to her prison after cleaning up the mess the artificer made.
The paladin, seeing nothing else to do and refusing to steal from Baba Yaga, crossed the room and walked up the stairs which somehow led back to the laboratory!After an attempt to open one cabinet ended in an encounter with a rat infected with vampirism, the ladies of the party called out again for “Grandmother” with her answering this time. Some serious negotiations ensued, with Alanna realizing her plight. She turned to Gram-Gram and said, face deadpan, “I will never forget you,” and agreeing to be Baba Yaga’s servant for two years.
Gram-Gram asked for the location of another cache, and was granted it: it is located in the area formerly known as “The Hollow,” a former Netherese city that was a precursor of the ancient floating Netherese cities.Securing the release of their companions, the party departed the hut, not knowing when or where they would see Baba Yaga again, but knowing that, in two years, Alana would be again delivered to that spot.
What will the party do now? Will they go after Connor on the Plane of Fire? Will they go after the next cache? Will they find out why mind-flayers are now involved? Join us next time to find out, dear readers!
Author’s Note: due to my health issues and at the insistence of my players, as well as due to the holiday coming up in the United States (Thanksgiving), there will be no update for this coming Sunday’s or Tuesday’s games. Instead, I will have another article for you, whether that be a miniature painting update, a DM story, or something of the like.