Month: March 2018

Tactical Styles

How to choose who the monsters attack!

Ever have this come up? After the Ogre drops the Fighter, it now has a choice. It can attack they dropped Joe the dying Fighter, Steve the Ranger, or the Al the Priest. The GM rolls a die to choose between them. Might as well make it random. After all, the GM does not want to be seen as being personal.

Anyone who has been reading my blog knows I am against random choices when there is a better way.

During session preparation, the GM could assign the creatures a simple Tactical Style. Then when the monsters have a choice between the PCs, the GM uses the Tactical Style. Now it isn’t personal. It is how they fight! The creature must choose Steve the Ranger, it is the only logical choice for it.

I have seen questions posted about the tactics of monsters. I remember Mike Mearls saying in a podcast that WOTC had considered a tactics section in the 5e Monster Manual. I think a lot of GM would have benefited from including that information. Too bad.

Since they didn’t do it, it is up to the GM. But here is the simple trick to help get you started.

When I am designing races, I give them all a tactical combat style. This simple style makes the monsters play differently.

Here is a list of just some of the styles that can be used.

  • Macho: Focus on the big and mighty.
  • Cowardly: Focus on the smallest.
  • Man-to-Man: 1 to 1 combat, extras tend to watch.
  • Reactive: No plan, attack whom ever attacks you.
  • Teamwork: They will focus on taking down the heroes using complex tactics.
  • Vindictive: Attack the one that hurt you the most.
  • Relentless: Keep attacking the same target no matter what!
  • Racist: There are some racist they will focus on even if tactically it isn’t sound.

How I use these style in play?

Imagine a party of 4 is traveling and get ambushed by 6 creatures. How does the DM assign the attacks? Some would do 1 each and roll a die for the extras. Instead, think about their tactics.

  • Macho Trolls: 2 on each of the mightiest PCs, ignore the others.
  • Cowardly Goblins, 2-3 on each of the weakest looking PC. Ignore fighters.
  • Man-to-Man Orcs, 1 each and 2 in reserves cheering them on and waiting to help.
  • Reactive: 1 each and 2 randomly placed. Then as the PCs attack them, they counterattack each round. Switching targets often.
  • Teamwork Hobgoblins: 3 on the healer. A couple screening off the PC.
  • Vindictive Bugbears: 2 on the front guys and 1 each. But anyone doing well gets extra on them. Make a critical hit, next round 1 of the Bugbears move against you.
  • Relentless Zombies: Whoever is in front gets extras, no changes or adjustments.
  • Racist Drow: 3 on each of the Fey, the others I might do randomly.

All of this can be to degrees as well. If you decide it is mild, then this is how they start the fight, or if they drop a PC how they determine their next target. If they are radical then forget all reason, they follow this approach. Even if it is a wrong tactic!

By having the enemies making choices of this nature, they are less random. They have their tactics and will make decisions base on them. During a campaign, the Heroes can use this information against the villains. They can come up with their own tactics depending on who they fight.

Also, do not forget you can mix them. There is no reason you cannot have Macho and Relentless, Teamwork and Racist, or Vindictive and Cowardly.

I hope this helps some GM in their play. I would love to hear from readers on styles they use!

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Sardusa and the Nagas.

The Mothergod planted the seeds of life which birthed the animals and plants.

It is easy to forget that it was the daughters who designed the seeds. One of these daughters was Sardusa. She designed the scaly beast of snakes and lizards. She took pride in her work and when she finished her chores, she went to heaven to marry.

Unlike the other heavenly gods, Sardusa was restless. She would wake and spend long years alone, while her husband slept. During this insomnia, she would sometimes watch the happenings on the Great Disk.

When Lura, the goddess of Nature, and Sardusa’a sister, created the Anquis she was delighted. The Lizardfolk were a fine people and she could see her design in them. One day, she slipped away from her husband’s bed to visit them. But when the Anquis did not know her, she became jealous. The Anquis worshiped Lura and Attune. Like most of the gods, Sardusa was unknown by the Nine Clans.

Unable to contain her passions, she decided to craft her own people. After all, she too was a Life god. Her first creation was the Medusa, but this was a failed people. Strong and powerful in Echo magic, the Medusa lacked a structure to them. Easily distracted and cruel, Sardua had no passion for them. She abandoned them to the wilds.

She had other failing but then she gave life to the Naga. The tall, four-armed snake people were a perfect rival to the Nine Clans. To Sardusa they were better than the Anquis. They were organized and devoted to Sardusa. Unlike the Nine Clans, she had given them the amount of Reason she desired but were immune from Attune’s influence.

On the eastern shores of the Great Disk, Sardusa had her people. They were of an orderly hive mind with their goddess as their god-queen. For several hundreds of years, they expanded their lands pushing back the Satyrs and humans of the area.

At some point, Lura discovered the Naga. She was both amused, proud, and yet felt slighted. However, this was during the early days of the God War and she was too busy to address any wrongs committed against her. She was fighting with her brother and wanted her sister’s Naga to join her cause.

Sardusa was not interested in Lura and Attune’s squabbles. Lura tried to steal away the Naga but failed. The Naga were programmed to see no other god but that of Sardusa. Lura lost interest in the Naga and returned her attention to the God War.

For a short time, the Naga flourished. Sarduda protected them from her siblings fighting. They staked out their own region and protected it well.

Then one day, she heard her husband wake from his slumber. He was calling for his wife and wonder where she could be. Longing to be in his arms once again, she decided to return to heaven to be by his side. She left the Naga to their own fate but vowed to one day return. In heaven she is believed to sleep in her husband’s arms, but will she become restless again?

Without the goddess to protect them, the Naga lands were divided by the Satyrs and the Humans during the war. They were killed by the Bow and Sword and their great city burnt. And so, the Naga have been forgotten about as they have had no significant presence in the Great Disk for two thousand years.

But there are still pockets, in the wilds, where the followers of Sardusa can still be found. There are tales of the Snake people of the forest and of a goddess who promised to return to them.

I am running my campaign and the Heroes are now adventuring into the old territories of the Naga. This is apart of the lore of the Wildworld. You can find the rest of the creation lore here. It is all apart of the world setting for Age of Swords.

Complex Alignments

I read a lot of 5e D&D FB post. In them, people describe what is happening in their game. I guess I am a snob because most of it sounds horrible. In a typical post of this nature, a person describes a collection of random events and strange responses in their story, they then justify it by saying, “I am playing an evil character….” As if this response explains it all.

Are they expecting others to respond with, “Oh that is why you decided to attack your own party members after setting them up to fail so you could steal all their stuff? Cool.”

Some people see playing an evil character just means being a random stupid asshole. That they can do whatever they want without thought or reason.

Playing a real and complex evil character is much more exciting and challenging. It is one of my favorite types of Heroes to play.

Before I get to my advice, I recommend the following two videos of playing evil characters and not playing a Dickish character. Both of these were created by the video blogger Guy at his site Bacon Battalion RPG. In both cases, I think Guy is right and gives solid advice.

Keeping with what Guy said, I want to introduce the Concentric Circle Alignment system for character creation. A Concentric Circle is a chart of a circle within a Circle. Apparently, this name sucks so I will call it Complex Alignments. By using this method, you can use the D&D alignment system to create more complex characters.

First off, playing the selfish evil character just doesn’t work for an RPG.

As a collective social story, excluding others from the game just by time management alone makes you a bad player. So when playing any character, it has to be a social one. Someone that can function as a group.

The best way to approach an evil Hero is to have a very narrow number of people you care about. This would include family, friends, the party, and perhaps a patron. And that is about it! The rest of the world you could all burn if it gets in your way.

Therefore, when dealing with those you do care about, be a good Hero. And as  BaconRPG suggests, be a super good character!

As it is, the D&D alignment system is inadequate and limiting. However, with a simple modification, I think it is excellent!

The modification requires you to think of alignment as a Concentric Circle chart with 3 or more circles. The circles I use are labeled as Friends, Stranger, and Enemies. You then give each circle and alignment of its own.

By doing so, you will end up making exciting and complex Heroes. And you can play evil characters who can function within a party because they are also good characters.

Let’s put this into play with building a Human Paladin who worships Bahamut.

The first version will be a by-the-book true good Paladin. So I write down my alignment as LG, LG, & LG. So in the case of Friends, Stranger, and Enemies, I am Lawful Good. This is a Hero that is true to his convictions.

In the second version, I decide I want to play a crusading Paladin. This is someone who hates the followers of a rival god. He has been fighting them and has a harder edge. Then I give him an alignment of LG, LG, & LE.

Circles

With this alignment, I am kind to everyone except for my enemies. In their case, I am still Lawful, but I am ruthless. I have no mercy for them. I will not break the law, but once judged my enemy then the gloves are off.

In the eyes of my enemies, I am an LE character. I hunt them down, burn their villages, and kill them. I am ruthless and cruel. But again, to the rest of the world, I am a super nice guy.

This Paladin might have a bad reputation in his church. He is apparently a good and kind person, but something about war brings out the worst in him. Perhaps he feels terrible about it and confesses his sins. Or he feels justified saying to the Priest, “Father, you do not understand the followers of Tiamat as I do.”

Now let’s turn to a third version of the same Paladin and make him more involved. Let’s adjust his Alignment to LG, LN, & NE.

He is still Lawful Good to his church and family. He would do anything for these people. Giving his life and soul to save them.

However, this isn’t true of the random person he meets on the street. By his nature, he follows the law, but he isn’t compassionate. He would not make a personal sacrifice for them. After all, they follow pagan gods, and therefore he really doesn’t care what happens to them. Perhaps if he were paid, he would help them.

Then against his enemies, he is Neutral Evil. This means for them there are no laws. They must be destroyed at any cost, without exception or mercy. In fact, he is cruel to them and enjoys to see them suffer. Not only would he burn their villages, but he would kill the children. It makes sense in his eyes since they will only grow up to be his enemies.

Now I get to play a more believable evil Paladin. Someone who is kind, generous and just to the party and fellow church members, but has less compassion for people as a whole. They must follow the law. Otherwise, he isn’t interested. What he is interested in is destroying his enemies in any conceivable means. The law be damned! Rules are for good people, not for those with evil hearts!

Each of these three Paladin I created would play very different, but not so different to party members. To his friends, he would take the shirt off his back to help them. Lay on track if need be. He is a Lawful Good hero.

Let’s make a second character using Complex Alignments.

I want to play an Elf that hates Dragonborn. I decided to create another circle: Friends, Stranger, Enemies, & Dragonborn. I give this Elf the following alignments: CG, NG, LE, & CE.

At first glance, she seems like a mess. But let’s dig into it.

For the people close to her, she believes that good people are worthy of trust and kindness. That there is no need for rules. Their kind hearts will guide them. For people as a whole, she sees it on a case-by-case basis.

When it comes to the bad people that are where rules are needed. These people don’t have the good in their heart to guide them. They need laws and order enforced upon them. A society needs guards and prisons. Rules are for bad people.

Lastly, there is the worst of the worst, Dragonkind. These are inherently evil. They are beyond laws. Having laws for them is pointless, they don’t have it within them. They should all be destroyed. And while she cannot kill dragons, yet. She can focus her rage on the Dragonborn.

Over time, the center circles must trump the lower Diagrams! Friends > Enemies.

This is important. Imagine a new Hero joins the party and plays a Dragonborn. Here is the trick! After a short hazing period, the Elf must shift the PC from enemy to the friend circle. In doing so, she can claim to have found one of the few good ones. And then she now uses the PC Dragonborn to further justify her hatred. “If only they were all like you, but they are not!”

Using Complex Alignment creates complex Hero that are constant in their view. It allows a Hero to be both good and evil. Lawful and chaotic.

Hit and Run Combat!

The other day, a GM posted about an upcoming encounter where he was sure the Heroes would die. It would be a Total Party Kill (TPK). Knowing his players, he was sure they would press forward with the attack. So he turned to Facebook looking at how to prevent the TPK.

The situation was nothing new or unusual. The Heroes were 5 low-level characters who were attacking a group of 20 Hobgoblins. This group included some unique Hobgoblin villains. In the GM eyes, this was never a planned battle but a way to introduce the villains.

His first instinct was the change the villains. Make them weaker. Yes is one option but not always the best. Here are a few tricks to help get the Heroes out of a TPK in a situation like this one.

The enemies do not need to act as a coherent group. They can waste actions.

This large group of Hobgoblin does not need to immediately react. Some can waste action protecting their flanks, going into the woods seeking other Heroes, or even just watch. Some might be on guard for the real attack, thinking these five are skirmishers.

Once they realize they are dealing with five suicidal Heroes, they do not need to all engage. Many of them can move to the flanks to trap the Heroes. It is crucial for them to be lazy with their trap, leaving a few holes for the Heroes to escape.

There is a tendency of GM either to play villain either as smart or stupid. But there is a lot of room between those two extremes. No need for them to be silly. They can just be lazy, unskilled, or uncaring. Monsters can phone it in too.

Another way to delay is for the Hobgoblin leadership to spend rounds gathering the bulk of the soldiers. In this way, the Heroes can see that the real fight hasn’t even started. They are fighting skirmishers. They are in combat, but the more significant battle is coming.

It is crucial that the Heroes are aware of these delays. It gives them time to realize they are over their heads. But do not expect them to immediately retreat. There is still a strong chance of a TPK.

The real trick to saving the Heroes from a TPK is they need to save face. They need to accomplish something. Otherwise, they will fight to the death.

No one likes to lose or look foolish. Players do not come to play RPG to be incompetent. They want wins. In a case like this, you need to give them a way to have a little victory. Otherwise, they will die trying to get a win.

The best trick is to identify one of the Hobgoblins they are fighting with a title. Call one of them the second-in-command, the drill sergeant, the Shaman, the Ranger, or even the Healer. By singling out a Hobgoblins, you are saying that this one is important.

Now the players have someone they can kill before they withdraw. In this way, they can feel they accomplished something with their risky attack. They can mark this dangerous play as a win. Once that happens, they can think about retreating. Their human egos will now let them because they are winning.

This isn’t to encourage reckless attack as much as to recognize the human nature of your players. They need to have achieved a goal of the attack. Even if it is a goal made up on the fly after the attack. They wanted to destroy the Hobgoblins, but now they can focus on killing the “Shaman” or whoever you labeled.

Once they retreat, the enemy does not need to have the most organized or active pursuit. They might have other objectives, be worried about traps, or not be skilled in tracking.

This can make for several good fights!

I once built a campaign where the Heroes needed to kill an enemy squad of 40 soldiers. It was impossible for them to outright fight them. Each soldier could have given any single Hero a run for their money in a straight up fight. And the three leaders were all boss enemies.

So the Hero started to ambush, hit and runs, and divide and conquer the enemy. They found the trackers and killed them. They set up an ambush and murdered their healer. It took them sessions and numerous fights, but in the end, they destroyed the enemy. They were forced to come up with creative ways to engage without committing to the attack. Each fight, taking out a couple of them.

I am not suggesting every fight be handled this way. I am saying that not every time the Heroes take on more than they can chew does it need to be a TPK.

Hero’s Strengths

A common question I see is a GM dealing with a Hero that is powerful with a skill, spell, or ability. I keep seeing GM asking, “How do I handle a super stealthy Hero. How do I counter this ability.” The general idea is how does the GM take this away from them in combat.

Do not take away the Hero’s strength. Let them be strong.

It is essential for the Heroes to have the occasional easy encounter. As they level, plan some combats that they just win. Let them feel powerful. You don’t have to roll them out. End the encounter after round 1. Or even just say, “This fight isn’t worth rolling out. They are defeated.”

Do not take away the Hero’s strength. They will have to fight a lot of battles as the underdogs. So remind them how strong they are from time to time. If I had to say a number off the top of my head, perhaps 10% or more of combats.

Then you need to create some encounters where their OP ability isn’t an advantage. In the stealth example, have them defending a feeble king. Then stealth isn’t all that important when the Heroes have to step into damage to save the king.

Think outside of the box. Ask yourself, how do get the Hero in a position where they don’t want to use their ability. Not that they cannot, but the skill has little impact.

There was a post about a party that had three wizards in it each with Fireball. The GM wanted to have them face an army of Hobgoblins. He was asking how to make the Hobgoblins immune to the Fireballs. This is not the way. This is taking away the Hero’s strength.

Solutions?

It is possible to just add more Hobgoblins. The Wizards get off their dozen or so Fireballs and wipe out 80% of the Hobgoblins. Then there is just enough for a fight left.

Perhaps a better way is to realize the Hobgoblins are not the fight. Assume they will be destroyed by the Fireballs. Behind them is the real battle.

  • Fire Giants leaders?
  • Hobgoblin Shamans who have protection from Fire.
  • Imps who are immune to fire?

Or while they are destroying the Hobgoblins, an attachment gets into the Castle. Now they have to go into the hallways and fight them. In tight quarters, Fireballs might not have the results they want.

In a campaign like this one, I would assume that as much as 1/2 of the encounters are not a threat to the Heroes. There is no need to roll it out to the end. I would have them roll their dice and wipe out 20 at a time. Then I could just say, “You destroy the Hobgoblins with your fireballs. They are all dead!”

Not all combats are threats. Many are there for a story.

Giving your Heroes challenging battles is vital for producing story tension. But not all combats are battles. Many can be short non-threating encounters, especially as they get more powerful. Got to change the mindset, so not all combats are battles

Once the Hobgoblin army is dead in fire and explosion, have the real battle.