For those about to die (Player Character Death)

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As you know I just finished rereading The Crystal Shard which is the fourth book in the legend of Drizzt. There are twenty eight books in the entire legend series so you can be fairly certain that if you are reading book four that the main character is not going to die despite how dire his circumstances may get. As GMs as opposed to authors though it seems that without the existential threat of player character death then there is no stick and if you only us the carrot of treasure all the time the game soon become too over powered or rich.

If you give great wealth away but then take it back by robbery, trickery or other nefarious means then the players will soon stop being motivated by money as they know they will not be able to spend it. There is also the problem of can the players even carry it all or if they have a base to operate from why bother adventuring if you are as rich as Croesus? Using items of great wealth has similar issues or even worse if you start giving away items that can be used in adventuring such as magical kit. Non adventuing kit is often not really valued by the players because it doesn’t really add to their enjoyment of the game right here and now.

So carrots on their own are not very good motivators for player characters. You need the stick some times.

If you are never going to kill the player characters then the players will start to throw their characters around knowing they are invulnerable. I saw this happening in the last game I played in. Once the players got seriously wounded the GM was obviously fudging the dice rolls to keep the players alive.

Killing player characters does seem at first glance to be a bit drastic but player character death does not have to be final and irreversable.

In my current face to face game the party is sponsored by a priest from a local church. This means that as long as the party can get a dead character back to the church then there is a chance of being raised. At least while the party remain in and around Shadowdale. Once they move away then things will get more difficult for them. The party is between first and third level so the chances of a character death is probably higher now than it will be later*. I do have the option of packing the party off with a rune of life giving if I want to make a player character death a setback not a disaster.

In the game I mentioned earlier the party had a potion of life giving which they had been carrying around for quite a while. If I was the GM I would have been very tempted to kill a player to make they aware they are mortal just because I knew the party could bring them back. As it was I think the GM forgot the party had the potion so was not inclined to kill anyone.

I don’t think players should be dying left right and centre, if they are then probably the encounters are over powered for them. I think though that knowing that the GM will not save you make the party more risk averse and consequently heroic actions more heroic. Stupid actions though will cost the party and have consequences.

There is of course the player that just deserves to be killed but that is another story…

So do you kill players or not? Do you think that the risk of death adds anything to the game or does it detract?

*At low levels the spell casters are so limited that a fight that takes down the principle fighters leaves the spell casters exposed. Higher level spell casters on the other hand can fly, go invisible or teleport to get themselves out of deadly situations making a total party wipeout less likely.

The Crystal Shard: Bk. 4 (The Legend of Drizzt)

This may be book book four in the legend of Drizzt but this was the first Drizzt book written by R A Salvatore. It is also the first book in the Icewind Dale Trilogy.

The interesting thing about this book is that Salvatore says himself that he was inspired to write having read Lord of the Rings and this book really chronicles the coming together of a fellowship before embarking on their quest just like The Fellowship of the Ring. That though is where the similarities ends.

The thing about Forgotten Realms novels is that they are written, I believe, with a target audience of 14 to 6 year old boys in mind. Reading them now you should not be looking for great literature, all the Drizzt novels are just a damn good read and great fun but they are not deep, meaningful or challenging. If you have read the novels in order then the fact that this was written first is really quite amazing, It really does feel like part of a continuum from the end of Sojourn rather than the first three books being an extended bolt on prequel.

If you are a roleplayer then the thing about these books is the combat, we all like killing things, wading through orcs, goblins, ogres and all the rest of the goblinkind. The combat portrayed in these books is not DnD combat where you are grinding down the hitpoints and D8 of damage at a time. These books are Rolemaster combats where your strike to the back of the knee slashes tendons and muscle and drops your opponent or you slash severs the trolls arm.

Back to the book though, it is a good read, on Amazon amazon there are second hand copies sellig for 70p and it makes you feel like a 14yr old again. It is almost a guilty pleasure. What more reason do you need to give it a go?

Original Forgotten Realms PDF Sale

You may or may not know that TSR and Wizards of the Coast (WotC) have ‘rebooted’ the Forgotten Realms with every new version of the DnD rules. Each reboot followed a major world shattering even. The version I like and play is set after the Time of Troubles when the gods were thrown out of their planes and forced to live on Faerun as their avatars, priests were cut off from their magic unless they were in close proximity to their deity and the gods could be killed.

Right now there is a half price sale on original 1st edition forgotten realms PDFs on RPGNow and adventure modules are just $2.50, (that is about £1.80 in real money). There are also some 2nd edition pdfs available in the same sale.

The best thing about the 1st edition (1e) materials was how open ended they were. They do not define each area strictly but rather convey the feel for the areas. They give you the cultures and personalities and everything  you need to use the region as a GM but at the same time leave you free to make the realms your own. There are ‘dungeon maps’ of key locations but not a linear plot line you must follow. Most of the modules closely follow the plots of the Forgotten Realms novels or integrate events portrayed in those books into the world. What I mean is, in the module FR5 The Savage Frontier key NPCs such as Drizzt Do’’Urden and Regis  are listed as currently travelling with the Fellowship of the Hall adventurers’ band. This firmly places the module as taking place just after the first Icewind Dale novel ‘The Cystal Shard’. I like this ‘light touch’ approach. I do not need TSR or whoever telling me that what the players must do and when.

If you are buildig your own world then I would recommend grabbing a coupleof these while they are cheap and using them for inspiration, if you just grab the maps and the NPC names and descriptions they are worth the money alone.


My three Favourite Weapons

Most professions in Rolemaster can only afford to develop one class or weapon. It just gets too expensive and too slow to learn more than one unless you are a pure fighter type.  Over the years I have come down to three favourite weapons that I seem to go back to again and again.

In order of preference I think they must be…

  1. Spear
    There are two really cool things about spears. The sheer number of ‘similar weapons’ that you can apply the skill to and its versatiity in its own right. You can use it one handed with shield, two handed and if needed you can throw it. It is similar to staves, polearms, javalins, pilums and the ultimately cool weapon the mounted lance. You can poke suspicious objects with it from a distance and even polevault with it.

    Looking cool with spear and shield
    Looking cool with spear and shield
  2.  Hand Axe
    This is another ‘swiss army knife’ of a weapon. Not only is it a useful tool, you can climb with it, throw it, fight with one in each hand and it is similar to the shortsword. The hand axe is also relatively easy to conceal within a backpack unlike a broadsword by comparison.

    Now here is a girl who likes her axe.
  3. Shortsword
    What did the romans ever do for us? It appears the answer is quite a long list but shortsword and shield is a classic combination that worked well enough for the roman empire. This is another in hand or thrown weapon, concealable and comes in a variety of sizes? Why is that important? Because some are no bigger than a lot of daggers so you can use it at full skill in that roll. A lot of town guard object to people hauling swords around town on a night out but a dagger for personal protection is accepted. With your trusty shortsword you get to have both AND you get to do that Crocodile Dundee scene “That’s not a knife, now that’s a knife”.

    Thats not a knive, this is a knife

I can imagine a lot of Rolemaster old hands will say that none of these weapons do a huge about of damage. That is true but in RM it is rarely the ‘hits’ that take you down. It is the criticals that kill you and give or take 5-10 points on your attack roll most weapons are pretty similar in that respect. For those characters that want to get into hand to hand then their OB (offensive bonus) massively outstrip most people DB (defensive bonus) and maxing out the attack tables is a common thing by the time you reach 5th level or so.

So those are my top three. What is your favourite weapon(s)?

My First User Poll

I have been writing this blog now for about nine months and I am curious about who is reading the blog. I know from the website stats that about 800 unique humans visit the blog each month.

What I would quite like to do is write content that is of interest to both me and the you. To do that I need to know more about what eho is reading the blog, and what is of most interest to you all.

To that end I have decided to start creating some quick single question, multiple choice polls. You can comment below once you have voted (and please do!) but that is not necessary. I also intend to chop and change a bit and ask some questions about your playing, some about the actual blog, about professions, skills, spells and so on.

So to kick it all off here is the first Poll!
[yop_poll id=”3″]

More On Pre-Gens

I have been thinking about how to best handle pre-gen characters and my conclusion is that there are two ways of making this work.

You either create maybe 30 characters, several of every profession (if you are a full blown RM2 GM then several of every kind semi’s, pures, arms users etc) and then give every player a choice from the full spectrum of characters or you hold a Q&A with each player in advance and then develop the character they described to you for them.

Either way the player gets the character they want, the GM gets the characters at the level they want to start the game at, with the skills the party need to complete any specialised tasks and with the GMs prepared for the mix of characters in the party so the adventure can be tweeked to best challenge the players.

I would always give the player the final choice of weaponry and if possible the spell lists. As a GM you can determine how many lists the character has learned but the choice of which specific lists they are should really fall to the player at least in part if not totally.

There is another consideration that can make the difference between whether a player enjoys their character or not and that can be how many skills the character has. I like characters with a wide skill base and I am happy to accept that each skill will be weaker as a trade off. Most of my players prefer few skills but all of them developed to the maximum possible. That choise generally means that you know only one third as many skills. The average skill cost is something like 2/5 so buying 2 ranks costs 7DPs. With 7DPs spent just buying single ranks you can get up to 7 really cheap skills to 3 typical skills.

Characters how have fewer fully developed skills also ed up with less skills that round a character out, less languages and less flexibility outside of combat. I say that as it is normally the combat related skills that suck up all the development points.

I have recently had to create two pre-gen characters and I used the Q&A method both times and I hope that both players got what they wanted. I have taken copies of their character sheets at 1st level and I will be interested to see how many of the skills I bought for them they carry forward and continue buying as they level up and how many new skills I hadn’t thought of buying they pick up.

I will feed back.

If you use pre-gens what do you do to make them as good as they can be for your players?

Do Pre-gens need a strong GM Hand?

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This is the first of two posts about pre generated characters or pre-gens. I have been thinking about them a lot recently and thought I would get some ideas down.

In a recent game it started out as being intended at a one off session and set at about 10th level. The GM then took four characters from Heroes and Rogues and modified them slightly to fit his idea for the party. He stripped out skills, changed weapons and armour skills and other modifications. He like me feels there are too many skills in RM2 but that is a different can of worms.

When we came to play he was going to dish out the characters and the impression he gave was that he was going to put characters to players in such a way that the person who never plays a spell caster was the magician, the one who always wants to be the elven mage would be the human fighter. The most agressive in your face player would be given the subtle thief and so on. This was met with horror by most of the players.

The one who never plays a magic users did so because he didn’t like magic users, had never read spell law, never intends to read spell law. The one who loves mages has always hated fighters and only realy roleplays because of his love of magical fantasy and so it went on. Most of the players only play in the single group whereas I play with several groups. The GM thought that I and a dyed in the wool fighter because with him I played a very successful fighter for may years. In reality one of my favourite characters was a Lay Healer but I never played it with him.

Anyway the GM gave in and everyone took the character they most wanted to play of those on offer. The sessionn got under way and everyone had a great time. When we next got together everyone wanted to carry on the game and the GM said yes, fine. At this point it became apparent that some of the skills that the GM had stripped out to make the characters really easy to get to grips with in session one were actually really important to an ongoing campaign.

So we started to add skills back in. Some skills the characters had in the original book really didn’t exist in the GMs version of Shadow World and so we asked could we reallocate those development points into skills that the GM does use and the character/player wanted. “Yes, fine” said the GM. When I say ‘we asked’ I mean two of the four players had thought of this. The other two either didn’t have the rules or never read their copy of the rules. So at this point the characters started to form into two tiers. Those that had full use of their development points and those that had lost out on abut a quarter of all their development points because they had been stripped out and not reallocated.

The other change the GM had made was in creating the pre-gens was to choose their weapons and armour to suit his vision. Some of the combinations were far from practical. The rangers prime weapon was a bow and he only used a soft leather jacket for protection. The thief was given thrown Dagger as his main weapon, again just with soft leather. The Fighter was given greatsword as his prime weapon and Frenzy as a skill to go with it. Put the party in confined quarters for a fight and they were as likely to kill each other as any of the enemy.

Because of the way the skills system works in Rolemaster it is really really difficult to learn a new weapon at 10th level so you are kind of stuck with what you have. Also your weapon really defines everything about your character in combat. An archer is not going to charge into battle, a frenzied greatsword wielder is not going to go for subtle sword play and stealth and if you only have a dagger you are not going to live very long.

I think leaving the actual specific choice of weapon down to the player would be been a better option. That is not the same as having to roll up a character. I also think that reallocating the development points should have been all or nothing. Either the GM says to all the players you can have X points to spend on any skills to personalise your characters or he says ‘No’ across the board and you start learning those missing skills from the minute play starts.

I don’t know which would have been best but what happened in the end was that the mage was one of those that got the extra development points and ended up about 8 levels higher than those that didn’t and the thief who likewise got the extra DPs spent them on learning two weapon combo and adrenal move speed and was the walking, talking Shadow World gattling gun. He ended up the highest level character in the party.

At the start of the game none of these problems were foreseen but with hindsight they are glaring but would we still have had problems if the GM had insisted on no character changes and a level playing field?

Favourite Monsters

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Every GM must have a favourite monster. I have played under GMs that loved Orcs and another that loved dragons. In the later’s case in any ‘benefit of the doubt’ call chances are the GM would side with the dragon. With dragons I think that is fine, they are meant to be the top of every food chain and you should take fighting one very seriously and relying on Luck is not a good plan.

A Kool Kobold

One of my favourites is the humble Kobold. I kind of like the concept of ‘monster’ and underdog both concepts are definitely present with these little chaps. Life is cheap when your No. Appearing is 3-300. (Actually it is 5-20, 3-300 is for their slightly tough Urd cousins who have 2-5 hitpoints.)

At the other end of the scale I quite like Pit Fiends. they add a certain je ne c’est quoi to a battle field as only a Lawful Evil Genius can. With one of those at the back it gives otherwise easy cannonfodder a bit of backbone and an excuse to out smart the players, they are geniuses afterall.

I don’t think I show bias towards my personal favourites afterall is it not as if you need to keep them in tip top shiney condition as I have as many of them as I want, as often as I want. It is not the same as having a favourite PC in which case every one is an endangered species and the last of its kind. If a horde of kobolds kill the party it does not enhance the game or add to the fun. Having an uber tough fighter crying for help and parrying for his life and then being rescued by the party healer; now that is fun and everyone lives to tell the tale and fight another day. If the fighter is less arogant and the healer feels a bit more involved in the game then that is cool i my opinion.

But what about you? Do you have favourite monsters? If so why?

Canon ends where the table starts

There is a massive canon of work to support a GM using the Forgotten Realms setting. The minute play starts (even before the players enter the game) it becomes my world and what I say goes. I am god(s) and I have the ultimate authority.

What brought this thought to mind is that I finally started play in my PBP game last night and created about 150 civilians, several named individuals and several locations within ‘my Waterdeep’ that exist in no other.

This was not a “set ’em up to knock ’em down” cannon fodder creation exercise, it is entirely possible the players may well grow to care about some of these people. The beauty of having an entire city to play with is that you can create and destroy quite a lot before you start to change the nature of the location but at the same time you can take just a small area and give it real flavour. That is what I am trying to do at the moment.

I am a little surprised at how long it took to get characters created. The first is now actually in play and I hope to have a second ready for play by tonight but a third is still in a work in progress. It is a general misconception that RMC is RM2 and that may well have been the idea when the reborn ICE tidied up RM2 and re-released it under the RMC banner but the reality is that RMC is not 100% compatible out of the box. Even without a lot of optional skills, optional rules, and companions it has taken my players a while to adjust to the RMC ruleset. Character creation is one of those areas where differences can be most acute.

So the idea of Canon vs Play has become apparent in the rules as well as the setting and in making the rules fit the setting. This is pretty much another manifestation of what I was saying in Roleplaying Games Do Not Exist everything is just a framework from which to hang the stories we want to tell from and everything is up for evaluation and has to earn its place in the game. If it doesn’t work for the GM and players it is gone.