101 Days of D&D: Setting stakes and conflict resolution in D&D

There’s a great thread on The Forge right now about setting stakes for conflicts in RPGs. Getting a good handle on setting stakes for conflicts in roleplaying can help any group get the conflict and excitement levels of their games cranked up a few notches so that things really sing. D&D players (and I lump GMs in with non-GMs here) often think more about task resolution than conflict resolution. Play becomes about rolling dice to see if an action succeeds not if a character succeeds at his goal.

Ja’el struggles with the lock on the door. The trio of hobgoblin mercenaries are charging down the hall, screaming and slavering, intent upon hacking Ja’el into tiny little wet bits. Ja’el’s task is to pick the lock. BUT, the conflict isn’t between Ja’el and the lock; it’s between Ja’el picking the lock before the hobgoblin’s get there. What’s at stake isn’t that Ja’el doesn’t get the door open; it’s that Ja’el doesn’t get the door open in time to get through it and down the stairs to safety before the hobgoblins arrive. [editor’s note: apparently, I stole this example (more or less) from the BW Revised book. I didn’t realize that until I saw a related message pop up on the Forge thread linked above. I carry a LOT of BW around in my head, I guess.]

By outlining stakes based on task resolution instead of conflict resolution, a metric assload of tension is inserted into the scene. It’s a seemingly little change, but it gets the players focused on what’s really going on in a game.

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101 Days of D&D: Web resources for Eberron DMs

I am unabashed in my enthusiasm for the Eberron campaign setting for D&D. I think it’s the best thing to hit D&D in a long time. In addition to the seven or eight sourcebooks for the setting, Wizards puts a lot of interesting stuff on their website for Eberron, too.

I use the following sources for adventure ideas (and to enhance my trivia and flava knowledge of Eberron, too) all the time:

  • Dragonshards: billed on the website as “Keith Baker, creator of the Eberron campaign setting, gives us the lore of Eberron, providing information about day-to-day life in Eberron, personalities of interest, history, and geography of this newest game world.” Each one has either great flavor to drop into your campaign or a great adventure hook. Some have additional rules (feats, spells, etc.) in them, too, but they tend to be flavor and not crunch.
  • Steal This Hook!: “This column brings you, the DM, a bevy of Eberron ideas to steal for your campaign. You’ll find several entrée-sized hooks and then a bevy of bite-sized mini-hooks in each installment.” They do these for the other campaign settings, too, but this is the Eberron one. Some of the ideas just don’t appeal to me but a surprising number of them are really good. The best session we’ve had so far in this campaign came right out of a Steal This Hook installment. Very useful for when you’re running out of time and are short on ideas for this week’s session or just for sparking ideas in general.
  • Sharn Inquisitive: “A weekly series of articles that might appear in the Sharn Inquisitive, one of Eberron’s largest daily newspapers. Use them as adventure hooks or local flavor in your Eberron game. ” I haven’t really used any of these yet, but I’m thinking about ways to use them in my campaign. If all of my players checked their email more often, I would consider sending them out (and perhaps expanding them some — I am a newspaperist of sorts, after all) to either add some background flavor to the game or to spur them to come up with adventure ideas themselves. I need to study on this some more.

Even if you naturally come up dry a lot — and it happens to all of us at one time or another — the sources above can get your Eberron game moving again. And, even if you’re normally overflowing with cool ideas for your game, they can still help you make connections and give you some alternate ideas for locations and things.

101 Days of D&D: the Big Picture

I’ve got this weekend off from my game — hmm, that sorta makes it sounds like work, doesn’t it? It’s not — so I’m doing some reading on the web and in print on general campaign management sorts of things, strategizing for the next month or so of sessions. I’m moving from the opening game to the middle game at this point. The players are starting to settle into their characters, and I’m getting my DMing “sea legs” back a bit. Up to this point, the campaign plot has been fairly erratic. So, I’m taking a step back and doing a little plotting and planning.

While I’ve started weaving in some action from what I sorta put forth as the core story for the characters in a previous post, I need something bigger that all of these smaller story threads will be working toward, and I think I think I’ve seized upon an endpoint.

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101 Days of D&D: web resources for D&D GMs #1

Administrivia: VERY busy this week with work projects, freelance projects, and planning a trip to KC this weekend to get the MINI serviced and do some Christmas shopping, so I’m going to hammer out a few short posts for “101 Days…”, though I’ve got a couple of longer posts percolating around the ol’ noggin. I realized I need to pace myself with this project. I’m only two weeks into a 12-13 week project. First up: the first in a limited edition mini-series about web resources for D&D GMs.

  • Save My Game: is Jason Nelson-Brown’s weeklyesque column at the official D&D website about advice for DMs who are having problems in their campaigns. Many of the topics come from posts on the D&D forums where DMs have asked the community for help with a particular problem she is having in her campaign. I don’t always agree with Nelson-Brown, but his columns always give me something to think about in regards to my D&D campaign, and he has helped save my bacon at least once. In some upcoming posts about particular topics (as opposed to particular resources — the othe axis), I’ll have more to say about some particular columns. In the meantime, his column is a good place to start when you’re having problems with a D&D campaign — or a good place to skim and read BEFORE you start having problems.

101 Days of D&D: miniatures vs. counters vs. air

Miniatures are one of the iconic accoutrements of RPGs. First, the “funny” dice, then maybe lots of books, then minis. Minis may be #2 and books #3. Not sure, nor does it matter. Minis are iconic, which is weird, because I’ve been playing off and on for twenty-something years, but I’ve only started using minis since playing D&D 3.5. I had — and painted — a small handful way back in my roleplaying career, but the prospect of getting enough of them to use in all my games was just too expensive then (when I was in junior high). I never got back into them when I could afford it.

But, now I’m playing a lot of D&D again, and D&D 3.5 is a game with combat that’s pretty tactical in nature and is designed to be played with miniatures. I’ve done it both ways now, and I really prefer playing with minis. It makes things like Attacks of Opportunity and dealing with reach so much easier to deal with. Sure, you can play just fine without them, but I think it enhances the tactical nature of D&D combat.

While I like minis, I don’t have the time or patience to paint metal minis (and I don’t really want to spend the money, either), and the way WOTC markets the plastic minis is a pain in the ass for us roleplayers. If they’d market them individually, I’d get the plastic ones. However, I’m too short of time (or too lazy, more likely) to hunt down singles or trade for the ones I need. I’m lucky that one of the players in my game is also a D&D Minis player, and we usually play at his house. So, I can just use his minis (and I usually do). I don’t, however, own any miniatures or counters or a battlemat.

Yet.

I’ve been thinking about what to do about the minis situation. I’d really like to have something of my own to use in our weekly games (and other games as well), but I hadn’t really sat down and looked at all my options until this week.

Since you can’t (affordably) get pre-painted metal miniatures (and I’m too lazy to paint them myself), and the pre-painted plastic minis aren’t marketed in a way that’s convenient for us roleplayers, I’ve decided to go with counters.

Counters, on the other hand, are cheap and useful. If you have something like Fiery Dragon’s Counter Collection Digital (nearly a 1000 different counters), a ream of cardstock, and an ink-jet printer, you can print out all the ones you need for a session and not have to do any substitutions like you might have to with plastic minis. They’re also a lot easier to store and transport.

So, I’m going with counters (specifically the Fiery Dragon Counter Collection Digital, mentioned above). I’ve used a few I’ve gotten from other sources and samples, and I think counters rule.

Of course, once you pick your counters/minis, you need a field to play them on: a battle mat. I’ve played on the vinyl battlemats, and I’m not impressed. I think every one I’ve played on had some sort of “memorial” feature due to someone using dry erase instead of wet erase markers on it. That and they’re expensive and ungainly to transport and store. So, that leaves pretty much two options: Tact Tiles and the Flip Mat. Both are cool in different ways. I’ve got a set of Tact Tiles on my Christmas list, but I’ve already ordered a Flip Mat since they’re inexpensive and über-portable.

In addition to mats and counters, I’ve found one other cool related accessory: Fiery Dragon’s Battle Box. The quick-reference cards are worth the price alone, but you also get some spell effect overlay counters, some optional rules, and a single d20 (not sure why, but there it is).

So, there’s the physical landscape. More on the other stuff coming this week.

[NOTE: I started this last week, but we played our weekly session last night sans minis and I REALLY wished I’d had them. I’m addicted.]