D&D Notes…

Commenting to something Tim Gray said, I came up with the following pointers to myself for my D&D game on Tuesday nights.


• Pacing: A session where the players don’t sit idle too long, listening to NPCs exchange banter.
• Combat: My group needs to have blood on the walls of the typical 10×10 room. With two warrior-types and a sorceror, that’s the experience they’re going for.
• Perks: The players have to at least try to improve their station in the world.
• Role-play: The more the players act in character, the happier I am.
• Change: Things have to improve as a result of player actions. I sent my PCs off on a mission to rescue a little girl. Their mentor started out almost hostile to them, but became friendlier when they demonstrated they were on the case.
• Familiarity: They do like to have a drink in the tavern in town from time to time, and see familiar faces, hear familiar rumors.
• Challenge: I almost killed my players last time. They’re still excited that this is a real possibility.
• Continuity: One player asked, “Are those spirals still over the walls?” and I hadn’t remembered that detail, so I said, “no.” He said, “Ok, so this part of the complex was built by a different group, or later, than the earlier rooms.” He was determining the layers of history, because he knows that I am a history teacher and care about such things.
• Preparation: My game meets once a week for two hours for four kids. Last year I tried doing it two nights a week, for eight kids, and it caused a lot of ill feeling. Part of that ill feeling was due to how I prepared — not much — compared with now. For that 2-hour session, I need to put in about 2-3 hours of time a week, BUT… with this caveat, I’m typing up all my notes, printing them and putting them into a binder, so that next year (when these kids graduate), I have a substantial amount of prepped material already. For example, I have my first village finished, two more begun, and my first two dungeon complexes pretty-well laid out, described, and partially statted.
• Long-term: If you start at first level, and play out two challenges and some roleplay each week, it’s going to take a month or so to advance to second level. In my case, December will get my kids to second level; January and February will probably see them almost to third; fourth and fifth will get them to June — and then they graduate. I need to plan out material and encounters to see my students to sixth, seventh or eighth level, but then I’ll be starting with a new batch of players in the fall (most likely) and starting them at Level 1 again. So that’s my challenge — to develop a campaign that bears repeat play for first through eighth levels.
[added:]• Variation: I’m thinking about buying the Heroes of Battle book, and developing levels 6-9 as a military campaign, so that there’s a sharp break between the early dungeon-crawling and the later battle-field encounters. With two fighters and a sorceror in my current group, it’s not a bad idea. At the least, I think I should scale back the sizes of dungeons and increase the number of wilderness adventures, developing random encounter tables for the fields, forests and highlands of the Rhodas Valley. That will put the ranger’s talents to better use, too.

Mostly, this was a break from writing recommendations for secondary schools for my English students. It’s hard. Currently I’m washing my dress shirts, but when they’re up on hangers and drying, I plan on going to the café for a beverage, going to the laundry to drop off dry cleaning, going to the supermarket for fixings for dinner, and coming home to do some minor cleanup around my house. Getting the laundry folded and organized yesterday took some time, but it left me with a lot better feeling about myself and my space.

and I are going to see the new Harry Potter film tonight, but I’m feeling antsy because I haven’t re-read the book. I probably don’t have time to do it today. I know I want to re-read the Order of the Phoenix in the near future.

Which reminds me. Book list, soon. I’ve added two new titles, and need to put them on the list.

24 comments

  1. […] D&D Notes: I used to play D&D a lot with the group at my school.  Now I don’t…. partly because the new school isn’t exactly set up for that kind of activity, but partly because the students aren’t present in the all-pervasive way they used to be.  All the same, I think that the notes I took about this D&D game indicate how eager I was to use games as a teaching tool for my students.  I wish I could figure out how to do that. […]

  2. Re: off topic: journler (late reply)

    Weird… this comment got forwarded to me again.

    In fact, I am using Journler, and I’m writing twice as many journal entries as I used to — including my exercise diary — but not posting all of them. The Tabbing function, making it possible to switch between entries, is especially useful to me.

    Thsnk for the tip-off.

    The other program you might try out is Notebook, available through Circus Ponies, which I’m giving some effort to demoing thoroughly. I’ve been looking for something like this for years… and the advantage it has over Journler is not much, except that they’re looking into developing a suite of drawing tools for the Notebook. Downside? It’s around $50…

  3. Re: Better or Worse?

    Hah! You won’t trick me that easily – think I can be drawn into comparing a setting book and a campaign-style book directly?

    Heroes of Battle is a superlative guide to running D&D sessions set on battlefields – it’s very focused on that, it doesn’t provide mass combat rules, it’s all about PCs having adventures on the battlefield. It gives very reasonable statistics for army detachments (like Generals usually being ~12th level, not ~30th), and heaps of great advice for fitting the PCs in and making it all about them.

    Bastions of the North is a great setting book. Why not own both? ^_^

      • Re: Better or Worse?

        Hah! You won’t trick me that easily – think I can be drawn into comparing a setting book and a campaign-style book directly?

        Heroes of Battle is a superlative guide to running D&D sessions set on battlefields – it’s very focused on that, it doesn’t provide mass combat rules, it’s all about PCs having adventures on the battlefield. It gives very reasonable statistics for army detachments (like Generals usually being ~12th level, not ~30th), and heaps of great advice for fitting the PCs in and making it all about them.

        Bastions of the North is a great setting book. Why not own both? ^_^

  4. Re: Miniatures…

    I don’t have a battlemat. I really should get one, and some markers. I have some miniatures, but not as many as I’d like, and probably not nearly as many as I need. They tend to be expensive, and I don’t usually feel like getting lots at once.

    My kids for the most part don’t know the rules, the methods of gaming, or any of that stuff. It’s worthwhile to teach them how to work through the first few levels of the game, plus it builds their understanding of creatures and capabilities slowly. Yes, 5-15 is the most interesting progression for adults. But none of my guys has ever played a D&D character before, unless in a MMPORG, and frankly they know nothing of the monsters or the conventions of play. My sorceror has to keep looking up basic spells like Magic Missile and Sleep, for example. How’s he going to play a 5th level sorceror?

    • Re: off topic: journler (late reply)

      Weird… this comment got forwarded to me again.

      In fact, I am using Journler, and I’m writing twice as many journal entries as I used to — including my exercise diary — but not posting all of them. The Tabbing function, making it possible to switch between entries, is especially useful to me.

      Thsnk for the tip-off.

      The other program you might try out is Notebook, available through Circus Ponies, which I’m giving some effort to demoing thoroughly. I’ve been looking for something like this for years… and the advantage it has over Journler is not much, except that they’re looking into developing a suite of drawing tools for the Notebook. Downside? It’s around $50…

  5. Re: Miniatures…

    The miniature rules are a slimmed down version of the rules you use for regular combat. They dispense with the grid, but the ground scale is like 1″ = 5′ so it’s really just the same thing. It’s not the miniatures you want, but the new rules/classes/feats/etc. that you can carry over right into a d20 game.

    How do you run combat in your game? Do you use tokens on a grid? I highly recommend having a battlemat and some wet-erase markers. And while tokens are fine, I really like having some minis to push around. If you don’t want to deal with minis, you might consider getting “Cardboard Heroes” from SJG, which give you a bunch of stand-ups to move around. They’re cheap and easy to use. But having markers of some kind around is really useful because D&D is mostly a tactical combat game.

    As far as levelling up goes, there are a couple of options:

    1.) Start the characters out at 3rd level. A lot of games I’ve been in do this.

    2.) Skip a few levels. Have a solid adventure, move it along to a stopping point and then say “OK, a few years pass and you all go out and do stuff. Each of you gets enough XP to go up 2-3 levels, tell me what you all have been up to”. They advance their characters up and then you pull them back to your storyline for the next chapter. The 10-level span between 5-15 is probably the most interesting set. By the end of that progression, the party has so many magical resources that it’s harder to get a fair challenge. Happily, if you’ve got your students up to 15th though, they’ll end the game on a real high note (“It was just the three of us and 500 orcs. Poor suckers never had a chance!”).

    later
    Tom

  6. Miniatures…

    Doesn’t the miniatures rulebook kinda assume that you have minatures? I have some, but the general expense of owning them, the hassle of storing them, and the attendant issues with managing and maneuvering them… it seems like a lot of extra work.

  7. What I should do is get you and some friends of yours to make the rivals, and you play them doing stuff over the summer… and then your guys can run into this year’s PCs. Next year, your PCs will become NPCs in next year’s game… and so on….

    The one difficulty with that is that the players turn over every year. If I start the D&D game on the first tuesday of school, they won’t get much beyond 10th level. Whereas if you play for a summer and occasionally during the year, for several years on end, you’re going to advance a lot farther than they ever will.

  8. Heroes of Battle is a fun book. I really like the options it puts out on the table and the stuff it offers up on running military adventures. If you get it, you may also want to pick up (or at least look through) the Miniatures Rulebook — there’s some overlap between them.

    You might also consider making up a rival “adventuring party” — one that isn’t necessarily evil, but often working at cross-purposes to the PCs or trying to show them up. Nothing like havinging a strong rival to spur PC activities.

    later
    Tom

  9. Heroes of Battle is a fun book. I really like the options it puts out on the table and the stuff it offers up on running military adventures. If you get it, you may also want to pick up (or at least look through) the Miniatures Rulebook — there’s some overlap between them.

    You might also consider making up a rival “adventuring party” — one that isn’t necessarily evil, but often working at cross-purposes to the PCs or trying to show them up. Nothing like havinging a strong rival to spur PC activities.

    later
    Tom

    • What I should do is get you and some friends of yours to make the rivals, and you play them doing stuff over the summer… and then your guys can run into this year’s PCs. Next year, your PCs will become NPCs in next year’s game… and so on….

      The one difficulty with that is that the players turn over every year. If I start the D&D game on the first tuesday of school, they won’t get much beyond 10th level. Whereas if you play for a summer and occasionally during the year, for several years on end, you’re going to advance a lot farther than they ever will.

    • Miniatures…

      Doesn’t the miniatures rulebook kinda assume that you have minatures? I have some, but the general expense of owning them, the hassle of storing them, and the attendant issues with managing and maneuvering them… it seems like a lot of extra work.

      • Re: Miniatures…

        The miniature rules are a slimmed down version of the rules you use for regular combat. They dispense with the grid, but the ground scale is like 1″ = 5′ so it’s really just the same thing. It’s not the miniatures you want, but the new rules/classes/feats/etc. that you can carry over right into a d20 game.

        How do you run combat in your game? Do you use tokens on a grid? I highly recommend having a battlemat and some wet-erase markers. And while tokens are fine, I really like having some minis to push around. If you don’t want to deal with minis, you might consider getting “Cardboard Heroes” from SJG, which give you a bunch of stand-ups to move around. They’re cheap and easy to use. But having markers of some kind around is really useful because D&D is mostly a tactical combat game.

        As far as levelling up goes, there are a couple of options:

        1.) Start the characters out at 3rd level. A lot of games I’ve been in do this.

        2.) Skip a few levels. Have a solid adventure, move it along to a stopping point and then say “OK, a few years pass and you all go out and do stuff. Each of you gets enough XP to go up 2-3 levels, tell me what you all have been up to”. They advance their characters up and then you pull them back to your storyline for the next chapter. The 10-level span between 5-15 is probably the most interesting set. By the end of that progression, the party has so many magical resources that it’s harder to get a fair challenge. Happily, if you’ve got your students up to 15th though, they’ll end the game on a real high note (“It was just the three of us and 500 orcs. Poor suckers never had a chance!”).

        later
        Tom

        • Re: Miniatures…

          I don’t have a battlemat. I really should get one, and some markers. I have some miniatures, but not as many as I’d like, and probably not nearly as many as I need. They tend to be expensive, and I don’t usually feel like getting lots at once.

          My kids for the most part don’t know the rules, the methods of gaming, or any of that stuff. It’s worthwhile to teach them how to work through the first few levels of the game, plus it builds their understanding of creatures and capabilities slowly. Yes, 5-15 is the most interesting progression for adults. But none of my guys has ever played a D&D character before, unless in a MMPORG, and frankly they know nothing of the monsters or the conventions of play. My sorceror has to keep looking up basic spells like Magic Missile and Sleep, for example. How’s he going to play a 5th level sorceror?

        • Re: Miniatures…

          Sorceror Cards makes a lot of sense, actually. I’m also tempted to create a spellbook for any wizards we have, so that at least their initial spellbook is done for them. You can get one of those spring-rings to hold the index cards together, too, so he doesn’t have to worrry about losing them one at a time or worse.

          The beginning player character sheet is a good idea. Its greatest challenge is the amount of information you need to put on it at first, and it’s hard to let players make their own character. On the other hand, if I made up three fighters, a cleric or two, and a rogue or two, then I could have NPCs who could suddenly become PCs at a moment’s notice, if a new player showed up one day.

          If you ever felt like coming out for a Tuesday night game, you’d be welcome. You could even have a traditional character sheet.

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