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DM’s Corner: Managing Meta

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A common question that seems to come up in our Dungeons and Dragons group is whether or not a Character shares a certain piece of Knowledge that the Player has. It is easy enough to dismiss certain items, such as the intricacies of electrical engineering in a medieval world. But what about the much more significantly gray areas? Today we look at Managing our Meta when playing a tabletop RPG.

 

Firstly, an important distinction should be made, even if it is an obvious one; The experiences a Player undergoes in a Game Session are not necessarily the same experiences their Character goes through. For example, a Player may feel intrigued as an NPC discusses a lost treasure, but does the Character being played share this interest? Or is the character very bored at the prospect of yet another wild goose chase for treasure?

 

Another example, a Player may be genuinely interested in the goings on of a group of NPCs just across the bar, but his character might be easily distracted, or be terribly unobservant. In this case it would be prudent to make this distinction clear and play the Character accordingly, much like playing a role in a Play. This level of distinction is not terribly difficult to recognize and play accordingly, but here is where it gets tricky.

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If I as a player figure out a Riddle, did my character figure it out as well? If I have reasoned as a Player that most advantageous moment for using a Special Ability, did my character as well? I as a Player had an insight stringing together pieces of information from four gaming sessions, does my character now share this insight?

 

A good rule of thumb for this level is, if a Player came to a conclusion or realization, it is shared by their Character. Barring obvious exceptions like socially oblivious characters noticing the nuances of a conversation, generally speaking if a Player comes to any realization they should be allowed to incorporate it into the game and let it impact the adventure. There is a bit of a balancing act here. You don’t want to get so hung up on whether or not your character shares a particular knowledge that it hurts your enjoyment of the adventure, or you penalize yourself for a legitimate insight you gained from your interest in the campaign.

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A fair way to arbitrate this is, find a reason for your character to share this knowledge. Look over the character sheet, find a line that is at least somewhat relevant, and draw a connection. Perhaps your character has a Feat or Trait that would justify an insight. Perhaps a certain skill proficiency, even if untrained, would warrant a certain knowledge. Or perhaps an event that happened earlier in the game session allows a certain way of thinking. Work with your party and DM in finding ways to draw these connections with your character.

 

There is a much trickier angle to address though, which is the inverse situation. What if my Character knows something that I the Player do not? For instance, what if my Character is a master thief and can disarm even the most complex trap mechanically, but I am completely ignorant and oblivious to such machinations? How might I play that character in this moment?

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Though it is admittedly difficult to explain how your character knows something if you yourself know very little about it, generally a very surface level explanation will suffice for game purposes. I don’t need to know all the complexities of how a crossbow trap works in order to say, “I look for the primary mechanism to disable it.” Further, I may not be a very articulate person, but if I’m playing a Diplomat I might say, “I make an appeal to his sense of right and wrong” without making the actual verbal appeal myself.

 

The big take away from Meta Knowledge should be a balancing act of sorts. Your character is clever enough to see and realize what is happening in the world, and you should not penalize yourself by withholding certain items of information. However, an effort should be made to keep reasonably in line with your character’s world view and experiences.

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For a closing example, we will consider a Half-Elf Cavalier named Victoria, who tends to be very naïve and too trusting. I as a Player will know when she is about to be tricked or led along, but will play along as this is reflective of her character. However, when plotting the course our party will travel, I readily give input and insight as to the advantages of routes available to us, even though Victoria might be somewhat too aloof to be as thorough as I am. Further, Victoria knows how to Handle Animals, especially in combat, which is something I’m completely ignorant too. So when in combat, I leave Victoria’s description vague, “Steer the horse into the fray an attack”, as opposed to, “I spur my heel in between the horse’s 8th and 9th rib an coax it using the Mandalorian Technique favored by Eastern settlers while whispering commands in a rustic language.” Victoria has that knowledge, not me, so I let her handle it.

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How have you played a character while withholding player knowledge? Have you ever had to roleplay a scenario while playing ignorant to a piece of information? What ways have you justified your character sharing a realization with you as a player? Share your experiences in the comments below!

 

Every Wednesday is RPG Night at Pawn & Pint. DM’s always play Free when running their games, and if you spend more than $5 in our Retail Section you trigger our House Rule, allowing you to re-roll any one dice in your game! And as always, remember well the most important rule when playing any RPG…

Have Fun!

DM’s Corner: Involvement and Investment

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A formidable challenge can come in the form of keeping players involved in your campaign. It’s one thing to be able to keep an audience as you tell your story, it is quite another to have your players actively involved in the telling of that story. Finding ways for your players to contribute directly to an adventure is a good way to increase their involvement, and investment, in the gaming experience.

To start, when your players create their characters, have them connect their backstories to your world. This could be as simple as a few sentences describing the character’s homeland or relation to the region, or as elaborate or complex as you and your party care to be. By making a players character a real part of the world, and not a mere generic Fighter that has magically teleported into the game, you add the first layer of investment for your party to experience.

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Now, as your players explore the world, allow them to aid in the descriptions of the region. While your role as storyteller and referee means you will be setting the stage for major and important locations, let your players aid in describing areas of less impact to your plot. When the party arrives at the inn, have each PC take a sentence to describe the building or the patrons. This allows the players to help create a part of the world that fits their imagination, and lets them contribute to the world building in a noninvasive way.

Note, however, that this is never meant to be an exploit. A player should never be able to say, “I enter the bar and see the King sitting along on a chest of gold, unguarded! How convenient!” Rather, let them describe the meals, the atmosphere, the quirks of the place. It’s okay to let these descriptions impact your story, so long as the main plot is not derailed in the process. For example, a player may describe the odor of a particular variety of tobacco in the inn, and you can choose to allow that to be a hook, or just a unique descriptor. The important point is player involvement.

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Taking this a step further, if your party is encountering a generic NPC, have the players name and describe the character. For your purposes the party has met a traveling merchant; For your party, it is irrelevant to the plot who the merchant is beyond his existence as a vendor, so let them have some fun! Let your layers give him a short description and even story for why he’s a merchant here. Then, take a few notes, and have that same merchant return later! Players will care immensely more about a region if they know the NPCs, even more so if they have an investment from having aided in their creation.

Lastly, allow your players to do some Extra Credit. This can take many forms, so let your players tailor their extra work to their personal talents. Perhaps one player is artistic and sketches or paints his character, reward that! Perhaps one is a writer and delved into a side story his character went on. Reward it! Perhaps your player is a musician and wrote a baric ballad, or is a businessman and designed the guilds of a city, or a math wiz and came up with the economy for a region. Encourage this, and give small kickbacks in the form of gold and experience points, or even items, based on the amount of work done. Now, you should not unbalance a game when rewarding Extra Credit, but you should encourage and reward a player’s work. A good rule of thumb is to reward an encounter’s worth of wealth or experience for an amount of work that an encounter’s worth of time to complete.

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What are some ways you have contributed to a DM’s world? In what ways have you gotten players invested, or invested in a world yourself? How much work have you put into developing a character’s backstory? Let us know in the comments below!

Every Wednesday is RPG Night at Pawn & Pint! Not only do DM’s and GM’s play free, anyone who spends more than $5 triggers our House Rule and earns a Token worth a dice Re-Roll! Mention this article and you’ll receive an additional Re-Roll Token to use in your game! As you play your favorite RPGs, don’t forget the golden rule of all gaming…

Have Fun!

DM’s Corner: World Geography

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When laying out a Campaign the setting is rarely the most prominent nor most emphasized aspect. Story, plot and adventure often take place on a hasty backdrop of “The Kingdom”. Usually this is sufficient for an adventure, but when considering the dynamics of a campaign, some consideration must be given to the world map. Where should the mountains be? How many rivers do I need? How big should my cities be? Today we look at some basic advice for laying out a Campaign World Map.

 

Firstly, your Kingdom needs water. Medieval cities are almost exclusively built along rivers, with smaller settlements near lakes, streams or other waterways. For life to develop, cities to grow and population to boom, there needs to be an ample and readily available supply of water for the Kingdom’s citizens. When placing your Kingdom be mindful of where the water access comes from, as this will most likely be your first prominent terrain feature on the world map.

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Next, you should consider the regional geography. To completely oversimplify the subject, your domain should be of a fairly consistent terrain that only gradually changes. Plains should give way to rolling hills before mountains, and forests should taper into marshes or plains. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t see a sudden or harsh change in climate or landscape. A desert next to a rain forest, or a tundra next to a marshland, are very out of place.

 

Now be mindful at this point, that water flows downhill. From any source the goal of any river or stream is to pool at the lowest point it can, which means the ocean. River currents almost exclusively flow “down” to larger bodies of water. When placing your rivers it is prudent to have them flow from your Kingdom’s highlands down towards lower coastline. It is possible that a mountainous ridge might reach to the coast, but this is a rarer exception to a general rule of thumb.

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Now you should consider appropriate weather for the landscape you’ve created. If you have steep ridges overlooking rolling hills and plains, there would likely by high winds and fast moving storms. A heavily forested region would tend to be very muggy and receive more rainfall than other regions. The harsher the terrain, the more stifling the weather should be. Mountains will feature harsher winters, and deserts more merciless nights. Take a moment to consider what the best and worst seasons for our Kingdom might be.

 

Lastly, consider the ways your world will affect the Kingdom’s economy. What major exports and imports make the most sense for the realm? A forest Kingdom would likely sell lumber and have many artisan woodworkers, but might lack ample farms. A desert realm might jealously horde water and fight over it, but have ample access to remote mines. The way you layout your world map will impact many of the trade aspects and economics of the realm. This is often overlooked, so take a moment to be sure the items available in your Kingdom match and make sense compared to the surrounding world.

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What climates or terrain do you prefer to run your campaign setting in? Do you have landmarks or cities that break the rules of nature and stand out against the backdrop? Tell us about your journeys and adventures in the comments below!

 

Remember, every Wednesday is RPG Night at Pawn & Pint! DM’s and GM’s always play Free, and anyone that purchases more than $5 in our retail section triggers our House Rule, gifting a Token that can be exchange for a dice re-roll. Come on down and experience the adventure of Kansas City’s First Board Game Café, and as always, remember the golden rule of all RPGs…

 

Have Fun!

 

 

The Glass House: Red Raven Horror Module

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The following is a Module designed as a stand alone adventure for players between 1st and 4th Level in a Fantasy RPG Setting. It was written with Pathfinder Core Rules in mind, but is compatible with Dungeons and Dragons with only minor changes.

This is a FREE Module for open use, we welcome anyone to use this adventure and explore The Glass House with their party. Feel free to modify the adventure as necessary to accommodate your adventure group, and don’t hesitate to tweak it as you see fit. We would ask in return that you give us credit for the adventure, and if you feel so inclined to kindly send us a message describing how the module was received among your players. Your feedback will determine how we approach future modules of this sort, and is greatly appreciated!

We strongly recommend Dungeon Masters read this adventure all the way through before running this adventure! It will help immensely with your player’s immersion and enjoyment, as well as aid in your ability to craft the world.

NOTE: This adventure is intended as a tie-in to our recent article on how to run a Horror Game effectively for your players. This game module contains elements of supernatural horror and is intended to be at least somewhat scary when players are properly immersed. You have been warned!

Continue reading The Glass House: Red Raven Horror Module

DM’s Corner: Setting A Stage

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A good way to aid your players in their immersion into your world is to take a few moments to set the stage before important encounters. While it is always essential for players to have a general grasp of where they are, what their environment is like, who is or is not hostile, and who they might interact with, adding some additional flare at key moments in your adventure can go a long way to making the experience feel more complete.

First, be sure that you have a good grasp on the scenario that is about to unfold. You don’t want to misspeak or describe an element that is less than fully present. Take a few extra moments and think about the scenery, the atmosphere, the temperature, the feel in the very air itself. Then, when you feel you’ve imagined the location thoroughly, and only then, proceed with planning your description. A moment of patience at the beginning can go a long way in really flushing out an encounter.

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Now, be purposeful in what you describe first, and what you describe last. The first thing you describe about a lair, a castle, a fortress, that is the foundation all of the other details will be built on. This is the first element that strikes your party, that captivates them, that remains with them. All other details only exist in so much as they relate to this tone setter. The last details you share will be the accents, the cherries on top. This is the symbolic reminder in the distance, the outstanding horror of a realization, the last shiver of terror that you leave the terrified party with. Your opening and your closing are crucial to the description.

An easy trap to fall into is overstating the scene. While it is important to elaborate on details and atmosphere, it is equally important not to get so hung up on details that the dialogue becomes cumbersome, or worse yet, tiresome. Make the reveals big and impactful, insightful and meaningful, but not longwinded and a drudge.

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Consider which elements of your stage will be significant in the imminent encounter, and mention them in passing with particular emphasis. The towering spire that can be knocked over, the aged steel gate that will imminently be sundered, the gaping maw that will expand consuming all who stand too near. Foreshadowing upcoming events will make those events stand out more, and make your players feel more connected to what is about to transpire.

Lastly, you may consider adding props to aid in the story telling to really finalize your setting. Perhaps a miniature or piece of terrain on the game board, or a portrait showing the villain in great detail. Maybe you find an old vile at a thrift store or in a closet and print off a map that you roll up and hand to the party. By adding a real, tangible element to the setting beyond the description, you succeed in making the story lift from the pages an literally into the hands of your players!

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What are your most memorable encounters? What elements of the setting strand out the most in your mind’s eye? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Every Wednesday Night is RPG Night at The Pawn & Pint! All DM’s and GM’s play for Free, and every purchase of over $5 Triggers our special House Rule, allowing you to claim a token that gives one Dice Re-Roll in your game that night! And always remember the golden rule when it comes to any RPG…

Have Fun!

DM’s Corner: Custom Magic Items

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You’ve decided to reward the hard efforts of your players with a custom magical item of your own design. Before you reach into your handy bag of tricks to deliver your painstakingly crafted unique trinket, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves a few important questions.

The first thing you must consider when adding a custom item to the world is simply this: Is the item broken?

Continue reading DM’s Corner: Custom Magic Items

Member Appreciation Month

This April, as a special thank you to all of you, dear members, we are happy to announce:

Member Appreciation Sale 25% Off All Games Retail!

 

 

First of all, thank you so much for your patronage.  We have been in business now for exactly 6 months, and in that time, we have expanded our game library, offered a great selection of snacks and drinks and have run loads of tournaments – resulting in customers winning dozens of prizes!

This month we’ve got a lot of cool things going on – specifically our online membership portal and our Member Appreciation Sale!

Starting April 1st – Members will get 25% off MSRP of ALL GAME RETAIL

Yes, you read that correctly – we are going to be giving you what may be the best deal ever as a thank you for your awesome support!

We’re also willing to order games for you from our distributor – so you can either ask us if we can get you a game or look it up on ACDD’s website and have us order it for you!

Additionally, we are making maintaining your membership simpler with our quick and easy membership portal – simply sign up for a recurring payment by going to our website and sign up in our membership section or simply clicking the relevant link below:

 

Monthly Individual Membership ($25 a Month)
Monthly Family Membership ($40 for 2 Adults and Children)
Year Individual Membership ($195 for a Year) ~ $16.25 a month!
Year Family Membership ($300 for a Year for 2 Adults and Children) ~ $12.50 a month for each adult!
And of course – if you are already a member, you can manage your membership at any time via this portal.

 

In Other News:

There’s a ton of cool stuff coming up (check out our calendar) We continue to work on our construction and can’t wait to serve alcohol; hopefully late spring, early summer, as well as a variety of other delicious snacks!

One of the coolest thing’s we’ve got going on is our new T-Shirts! We are doing a limited print run of some KC Nerd Pride Shirts designed by Jordyn Tuttle, our resident designer and founder of Fluid Atom Design.

Check out these awesome designs, available for pre-order on our website for just $20 [+$2 for each XL]

Come down and visit us soon at our location in the Crossroads at 221 Southwest Boulevard, KCMO!

 

DM’s Corner: To Roll or Not To Roll?

To Roll or Not To Roll, That is the Question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the stings and groans of natural 1’s, or to take up dice against a swarm of mobs and by opposing, crit them.

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In the course of running a game you are going to find situations where it is difficult to say whether or not your players need to make a check. Perhaps they’re in town pumping the locals for information, or examining a room for specific hidden items. It is possible that by leaving elements of the game to chance, you lose out on key story elements by missed rolls. Conversely you can shy away from rolls so much there is no real chance of failure for clever or silver tongued players. Today, we look more closely at when to use a skill check or combat roll, and when to let players roleplay through a situation.

Continue reading DM’s Corner: To Roll or Not To Roll?

Sci Fi Feature: Pandemic!

 

In the very near future, what started as a small footnote on the news has spiraled into a world wide epidemic! Entire cities have been laid low by the emerging virus, with several strands having already mutated and spread across the continents. It is up to you and a small team of specialists from the Center for Disease Control to gain a handle on the worsening situation before the real possibility of human extinction is made manifest. Now is your time to save the world!

Continue reading Sci Fi Feature: Pandemic!

DM’s Corner: Fudge It!

The epic moment has arrived! The Red Dragon roars, its colossal girth swaying in the chamber. Only one party member remains standing. Summoning his courage, he makes one last, desperate attack. A hit! The blow lands with a deafening roar of steel on scale. The hero checks his dice; 14 Damage! You look down at your sheet and see the Dragon’s health…

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15 Hit Points remain…

As the Dungeon Master there often will come a moment where your duty is first to the better telling of the story, and less to the specific machinations of the rule set. Today, we look at times when it is appropriate, even beneficial, for the DM to bend the rules, ever so slightly, to better tell a climactic story.

In the above example, even though our colossal red dragon would certainly be very much alive at 1 Hit Point, and could almost certainly annihilate the last hero causing a wipe, this is a moment when the DM can “Fudge It.” To Fudge a Dice Roll means to adjust the outcome by a small margin to obtain a desirable result. In this case, allowing the 14 Hit Points to Kill the 15 Health Dragon, that likely started well over 750 Health, is a minor concession.

Consider the outcomes. When following the letter of the rules, the Dragon survives, the players perish, the campaign ends in utter defeat. Your friends leave the game dejected, downtrodden and disheartened to have come so close yet be so far.

Alternatively, your friends slay the dragon with their last desperate attack! Elation erupts from the table! Players embrace, their heroes saved, their mission complete, and a story is told between them of the time they bested a colossal red dragon by the skin of their teeth.

The story is better served, the player experience enhanced, and the game enjoyed more thoroughly by the Fudged Roll. Remember that the mechanics of Dungeons and Dragons, like all RPGs, are primarily meant to serve as guidelines. You as the DM should implement house rules, including fudging dice results and health scores, in order to better serve the experience of the story.

his can be done in many ways. You might allow a successful perception check to fail in order for the player’s Rogue to move into position to gain a plot item. You might turn a roll that would incapacitate a player into one that trips him instead, leaving him disarmed with a more desperate situation to snatch victory from. You might allow an area of effect spell like a fireball encompass an extra target or miss an important story item that would otherwise be incinerated. The possibilities are endless.

THis is not to say you should forego following the letter of the law in conulting rule books entirely. Rather, it is to remind you that your roll as Dungeon Master is first to facilitate a memorable and enjoyable gaming experience, and second to ensure the rules are followed strictly. Experiment, and find your own mix of house rules. Every situation is different, trust your instincts, and let the story grow to its mighty crescendo!

In what ways have you implemented house rules or bent mechanics to better serve the story? Let us know in the comments below! Don’t forget that every Wednesday is RPG Night at Pawn & Pint! Mention this article at the door and you will receive a token featuring our own house rule, allowing you to Re-Roll one Dice in your RPG Tonight! And as always, remember the number one rule of any RPG…

Have Fun!